My Favourite Painting: Barry Cryer

'Like all her work, it displays a ripe sense of humour, which is what attracted me to it. No pretension, just joyful observation.’

Barry Cryer chooses ‘Ladies Night’ by Beryl Cook:

‘Beryl Cook based her paintings on observations of patrons’ behaviour in her local pub made as she sat observing them with her husband.

‘The occupants of her pictures are often somewhat large, to put it delicately, and represent a coming together of different strands of society.

‘Ladies Night shows a female audience reacting mirthfully to a male stripper. Like all her work, it displays a ripe sense of humour, which is what attracted me to it. No pretension, just joyful observation.’

Writer, comedian and actor Barry Cryer is a panellist on Radio 4’s comedy programme ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue;, which has been running since 1972.

John McEwen on ‘Ladies Night’ by Beryl Cook:

The late John Craxton RA would have rejoiced at Barry Cryer’s choice of Beryl Cook. He regarded her as the Hogarth of our English time and persistently nominated her for Royal Academy membership, to no avail.

She received an OBE, her pictures are in public collections in Plymouth, Bristol and Glasgow and were chosen for a set of Royal Mail stamps, but the academicians and the British art world looked down their noses at her pictures – perhaps because their flamboyant colour and shrewd observations of the human comedy were by a self-taught outsider.

The third of four sisters, she was born Beryl Lansley in Egham, Surrey. Her parents separated when she was very young, so she was raised in a female household in Reading.

She showed no artistic inclination as a child and left school at 14. After various jobs, including a summer season as a chorus girl, which taught her that she disliked the limelight, she married her childhood sweetheart, John Cook. They were briefly pub landlords before spending a decade in Southern Rhodesia.

On their return, they went to Looe and then Plymouth, where they had a large guesthouse on the Hoe. She began to paint for fun, among her influences Edward Burra and Stanley Spencer. Her first exhibition came through one of her paying guests.

Cook liked to sit in pubs and secretly draw the clientele on small cards. Of this picture, she wrote: ‘I’m rather pleased with the expression on the face of the lady in black – exactly right I feel – and I tried to get in all the hands extended towards him.’


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