Louis Barfe – In Conversation

Since the very conception of popular culture, nostalgia has become a vital part of the shared cultural experience and has contributed to our collective understanding of modern British history. Throughout its primitive years, British television was unable to realise the significance and sacrality of recording and analysing the many landmarks which have now become part of Britain’s cultural identity. Tragically, by the time interest in this groundbreaking era had been declared, much of the tangible recorded information had been destroyed, leaving a wake of intrigue and shared enjoyment in its path. This spurred an academic and cultural revolution as writers, journalists and digital archeologists worked tirelessly to bring such a pioneering generation of entertainment back to life.

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Writer, journalist and author Louis Barfe graduated with a degree in politics from Lancaster University in 1995 where he honed his skills as a thorough researcher and student of facts. Despite realising that a career in politics was not for him, the skills in research would inform Louis’s following move. This coincided with a subtle shift in the collective public consciousness together with an overhaul of TV senior management who slowly realised the importance of celebrating and preserving Britain’s finest television moments. Just two years earlier in 1993, the controller of BBC Two Michael Jackson encountered a major problem when he realised a gap in the Christmas night schedule and decided to insert a repeat of the 1971 The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show and was shocked by the overwhelming reception it received. This spurred a minor revolution and suddenly audiences were slowly rediscovering the magic of the golden era of television Light Entertainment.


Such a cultural renaissance sparked intellectual debate and suddenly comedy wasn’t just something to be enjoyed but dissected. With a passion for the glory days of Light Entertainment, Louis loved discussing and analysing the changing face of British comedy. As a child of the 1970’s, he had an affinity with the programmes and stars which he’d grown up watching and slowly developed a cultural awareness and reverence for what was the most important period in post war history. Writing opportunities and roles at several broadsheet newspapers began to build Louis’s reputation as an unrivaled authority on the history of British television and it was only a matter of time before he was able to put such an encyclopedia into book form.


In 2008 Louis finished his first of a whole repertoire of books surrounding Light Entertainment entitled Turned Out Nice Again; a title based on the well known catchphrase of Arthur Askey. This was the story of Light Entertainment told through the eyes of the figures who were instrumental to its success. 2008 was the perfect time to embark upon such a project and Louis was lucky enough to interview many of the protagonists of the story from John Ammonds to Barry Cryer. Sadly the inevitably of time has taken most of these prolific figures, yet Louis acknowledges how incredibly fortunate he was to obtain such a plethora of witness accounts from these pioneers of entertainment. In this sense, Louis views his role not as an author but a vessel in which remarkable individuals can tell their own story.


Having already tackled the history of Light Entertainment as a whole Louis was now one of Britain’s leading experts on the subject and became inundated with requests for further non fiction masterpieces. Les Dawson has always been a fascinating subject for analysis due to his somewhat unconventional rise to fame from struggling smooth entertainer in the early sixties to becoming one of the true icons of modern Light revolution. A highly academic individual who was more at home debating Greek mythology than discussing comedy and yet had an unique outlook on performing which made him relevant for any audience. It’s all these elements that made Les Dawson one of the most fascinating figures in comedy in the latter half of the twentieth century and Louis wanted to convey this in an unabridged biography. The Trials and Triumphs of Les Dawson was published by Atlantic Books in 2012 to rave reviews and elevated Louis to one of the leading cultural historians of his generation.


His reputation for presenting such cultural comedy figures in an honest but reverential light, propelled Louis into the academic elite and it wasn’t long before another request came his way. One of his most cherished projects came in 2018 when he was commissioned to write the official biography of Ken Dodd in light of his sad passing which was felt throughout the comedy fraternity. Despite being one of the most prolific comedians in Britain for over sixty years, Ken Dodd remained an explicitly private individual who forever separated his performing persona from his private life. This meant that there was very little known about the man behind the tickling sticks and one liners. Therefore creating a biography of the man was incredibly difficult and there is little to say about a man who lived such a private existence. The only time when Doddy’s lifts came into question was when he was accused of tax evasion in 1989. Yet together with Dodd’s widow; Anne, Louis began to formulate a plan for a book which would celebrate the many faces of this remarkable comedian.


Like Dawson, Ken Dodd was a hugely intelligent and well read individual who shied away from the glory of fame. For Ken, comedy was so much more than merely making people laugh. It was an art form which should be treated with the utmost respect and reverence and it was this aspect of his life which Louis wanted to convey to the reader. Unlike some comedians of his generation, there were never any skeletons in Ken’s closet, no dramas, little tragedy or scandal. Essentially, here was a man who despite nationwide fame and adoration, chose to live his entire life in his childhood home in Knotty Ash. So beyond the elongated comedy routines, the touching ventriloquism and the tickling sticks, there lay a highly intellectual who thrived upon comedy. This aspect of the book gave Louis’s book Happiness and Tears much needed weight and offered a fresh insight into one of the most important entertainers of the 20th century. Endorsed by Doddy’s wife Ann, this is the definitive biography of the enigmatic, legendary entertainer and wouldn’t have been possible without Barfe’s unique reverence and flair for comedy.


Following perfectly grasping the very essence of two of Britain’s greatest solo performers, Louis received his biggest challenge yet when his publisher commissioned him to write an unabridged biography of Morecambe and Wise. Probably the most celebrated and significant act in modern history, a lot has been written about the juggernauts of 1970’s Light Entertainment and therefore it proves difficult for an author to add to the already existing body of knowledge. When researching around the subject, the first thing that Louis noticed was the huge significance of Ernie within the partnership and the development of his role throughout their career. Writers Syd Hills and Dick Green laid the foundations for Ernie’s embellished role but it was only when Eddie Braben came on board that Ernie grew into the character who the public adored. This is what Louis found fascinating and if he could capture this essence, he knew that he’d have something new to add to this popular story.


The research and interviews which Louis conducted in preparation for his 2008 book Turned Out Nice Again now developed a new significance as he now was able to use them as primary sources for Eric and Ernie. Revisiting old interviews with pivotal figures in the story of Morecambe and Wise including; producer John Ammonds, writers Eddie Braben and Barry Cryer and choreographer turned producer Ernest Maxim offered the piece authenticity. Having such a catalogue of personal insights from some of the major contributors to the Morecambe and Wise Show offered new perspective of this well known story and Louis was able to collate these offerings into a definitive celebration of Britain’s favourite double act. Sunshine and Laughter was published on the 8th July 2021 to coincide with the opening of the brand new Eric Morecambe Centre in his hometown of Harpenden which Louis played a pivotal part in opening. It’s clear that after almost 38 years since his death, the British public remains both fascinated and entertained by these two men who attempted to bring sunshine to our lives every Saturday night. Thanks to Louis’s work, Eric and Ernie shall forever remain ingrained into the fabric of the nation and will continue to epitomise the very best in shiny floor Light Entertainment.


Of all the incredibly talented Individuals whom I’ve had the pleasure to welcome on to Beyond The Title, Louis Barfe remains arguably the figure who I share the most affinity with due to the similar nature in which we work. Although there is no doubt that I could ever rise to the unrivaled reputation which he enjoys, I feel that we share a lot of the same values for Light Entertainment and that’s always a joy. It was an absolute pleasure to interview the cultural whirlwind that is Louis Barfe and in a transient society, it’s reassuring to have a figure who remains so passionate about Britain’s comedy heritage.