We’re all massive fans of Sky’s Games World that aired back in the 90s (see our Rob’s article on it here) so it’s an honour that Alex Verrey, none other than the ultimate Videator Big Boy Barry from the show has given Adrian some of his time for this interview!
You became a huge hit as a Videator and co-commentator on Games World – how exactly did you get the opportunity to work on this great show?
Like so many tales of TV success, my role as Big Boy Barry came about as blind luck! My buddy and I (Martin Mathers who later played the ‘Megabyte Millionaire’!) were video game fans as kids. We saw on ‘Teletext’ (Look it up kids!) that a new show called GamesMaster was in production and they were offering free tickets to be in the audience. We jumped at the chance. Sadly, this was a new show being shot in term time, no one had heard of it before and when we called the hotline to enquire about audience tickets, they asked us if we knew of anyone with video game skills to audition as a contestant! We jumped at the chance. Marty appeared on the series later in the run but I showed up on the second episode of the series battling for a Golden Joystick on Sonic the Hedgehog. I won and the producers remembered my cocky bravado and called me randomly a year later saying they were working on a Sky One spinoff show called Games Zone (later becoming Games World). They asked if I was interested in auditioning for a regular gaming champion role. The rest was history!
Games World spawned four successful series and became one of Sky One’s key shows during the 90’s – what was it like working on the show and can you explain a typical day on set?
Simply put, I had the time of my life. Like so many things in life, I really had no idea how fortunate I was until it over and I could reflect on the time with the wisdom of age. For a couple of years the show really was pretty popular and I had a pretty large following wherever I went. I was involved in two very different shows. Beat the Elite was where I battled kids playing very real video game challenges and Barry TV/Barry’s Joypad was my own show presented with David Walliams. I enjoyed my own show much more of course. It was scripted and shot like a sitcom with two to three days to shoot each script.
Beat the Elite was much more immediate and the shooting schedule much more hectic. They would shoot three episodes of that show a day and the schedule was brutal. It was also more stressful as the competition was fierce in later episodes and the standard of contestants very good indeed. A lot of practise had to go in to remain sharp. The schedule for Barry TV was far from easy however. We would usually be faxed (again, look it up kids) a script on Friday and start shooting on the Monday. Many sitcoms shoot with a ‘multi camera’ setup, capturing the same scene with three cameras at once. We however, shot everything single camera which meant we would often have to repeat the same scene again-and-again to get the shots we need. This was made very tough by Mr Walliams who simply couldn’t resist adlibbing. I still find him one of the funniest guys alive and every take would be different. Keeping a straight face when I was that inexperienced was literally impossible to me. I’m embarrassed when I go and watch tapes of the earlier shows, I’m constantly corpsing throughout….
We have already interviewed Dave Perry and Andy Collins on Arcade Attack – are you still in touch with anyone from the show and do you miss working with your old co-stars?
Andy is a top bloke, I run into him from time-to-time and we follow each other on Facebook. He’s a brilliant improvisational entertainer and the best warm up man in the business. I lost touch with Dave ‘The Animal’ Perry a few years back but our paths cross from time to time. I’m still to this day a good buddy with Martin Mathers who was at my house for a BBQ this summer. Rik Henderson who played ‘The Violet Blade’ also produced the show and I still see him all the time. He’s now a successful journalist and we meet regularly, he’s awesome. Still buddies with cameramen, sound men and directors from the show, social media is a great thing! The lovely Sarah Phillip played my girlfriend Charlene and she’s also a friend who keeps in touch. David Walliams and I were great buddies for a while after the show and then his schedule obviously skyrocketed! We talk occasionally over text but he’s one busy guy these days. I have no idea what my colleagues truly thought of working with me but I can say with certainly that I never had any enemies on set. I got on well with everyone and genuinely thought of us as a big happy family. I have very fond memories of them all.
You were easily the most successful Videator on the show – did you get along with your fellow Videators or was there a rivalry on the show to be the best gamer/most popular character?
I think part of my character’s appeal was again down to luck as I was the most fully formed character from series one where the quality was kinda’ sketchy. I try to get on with everyone and I don’t think I had a bad relationship with any of my fellow Videators, although maybe they will tell you otherwise! It was hard as the roster would change every year as some characters stayed on and other got dropped. As the show went on, I was fortunate enough to be granted my own series, I think I was naturally seen as the one to beat. This caused some friendly rivalry amongst us and certainly as the series went on, I’ll be the first to admit that some of the later Videators had better raw gaming skills than I. So much of my time was being consumed with the sitcom side of production, I simply didn’t have the time I needed to practise. There were a couple of Videators in later years who perhaps took the friendly rivalry a little too far. One even told me to my face that he was after my job, I laughed it off but perhaps it was a little inappropriate. Each year, the big prize was being selected to appear in the final. That was when you knew you were over with the audience. I think I was the only guy to make each and every final of the show! I don’t know, a little rivalry is healthy for a show like Games World and I can’t imagine it is any different in the WWE!
Which Videator/co-commentator was the best video game player across the four series?
Many of the Videators had one or two specialist games that they were very good at and would play again and again, however, I would say that technically Martin Mathers was the best pure gamer amongst us. When he didn’t let nerves get the better of him, he was superb.
You worked closely with David Walliams (who played Lesley Luncheonmeat), what was it like working with David and did you ever get the idea he would become such a famous celebrity?
I owe David quite a lot. In series one of Games World he was working behind the scenes as a researcher and he helped me form the character that would go on to be Big Boy Barry. We worked on the personality of the character, mannerisms, catchphrases, etc… He’s a master of characters. Season one has a show called ‘Madame Pixel’s Peep Parlour’, which was dropped in season two for the Big Boy Barry show. David and I would appear on this show together though never on screen at the same time. He would perform a range of characters who offered tips and cheats to kids. Think GamesMaster but much much funnier. David was amazing in this capacity. We had no budget and no time yet he created many characters, some of which shared similar attributes to characters he would later make famous in Little Britain. As a young kid breaking in to TV, I had a high degree of hero worship for David. We would spend a lot of time together and I thought he was hilarious. It’s easy to say in hindsight but I swear: I absolutely was convinced that he would go on to become a global star. I told him this daily and he would often jokingly reply “Yeah, I don’t think it’s gonna happen Big Boy”, but I was right! That’s not to say he’s not naughty. He is. He was very very naughty, he’s a big man child. Shout at him and he will laugh in your face. Some crew and directors could simply not work with him over issues like this. He would always change takes, ignore orders to tone down risqué behaviour and generally go with his gut. I admired him for this, even if he revelled in telling me I was sh*t in a take when I was!
Who do you think was the better presenter of Games World; Bob Mills or Andy Collins?
OW! Not fair! Both of those guys I consider friends. Bob and I worked well with each other. Personally, I don’t think Bob had a lot of time for some of the Videators. Some of these guys were gamers, not performers and Bob was not a fan when they fluffed their lines and had to perform retake after retake. We got on because of our ability to ad-lib and get the job done in a single take. During the Bob Mills years, Andy was the warm up guy for the show. Andy took over for the final series of Games World where my role was one of a commentator and the setting switched to an Aztec setting. Ultimately they were both great in their own ways but I think Bob is the presenter you simply associate with Games World when you think of the series.
Were you disappointed that Games World didn’t appear for a fifth season?
YES. Gutted. I think the show could and should have gone on for longer, we were just hitting our stride! We had all kinds of ideas where we would go next and the show was still rating very highly indeed when we came off air. I wish we could have continued and in fact, I don’t think anyone in the case and crew would have refused to do another series if asked.
Do you a have a video game you feel you completely mastered and almost unbeatable on?
LOL, I was pretty mean on Rock N’ Roll Racing and NHL Hockey by the time the show came to an end! I could hold my own on many titles but again, my gaming skills were not as sharp as others as my schedule meant I couldn’t practise as much as I needed to…
How exactly did the Big Boy Barry character idea come about and what does the character mean to you today?
When the show was being formed they knew they wanted in house champions, much like the TV show ‘Gladiators’. They needed to find folk good at games and who could hold their own on TV. As stated above, season one was sketchy at best. Some were great at games and terrible in front of the camera, some great on camera and awful at games, the key came to finding people good at both and I guess I fit the bill! Originally, the character was going to be called ‘Fat Boy’. I’d have no issue with this as a 38 year old man but as a 13 year old kid, the producers soon wisely changed the name to avoid accusations of cruelty!
Originally we were going to play him as a much more nasty Essex wide-boy, very much like the Harry Enfield ‘Loads-of-money’ character. When rehearsing and brainstorming with David however, we felt there was an opportunity to go softer with him and make him a more loveable character, friend of the stars and a rich gaming kid who was living the life most teenagers could only dream of. It was year two when the character got his own show however, when we could really build the craziness of Big Boy and give him his own live in roommate and girlfriend!
Can you name your top three favourite video games?
Last of Us
Resident Evil 4
Games World helped open the doors to numerous other TV shows and presenting gigs – was this the most exciting time of your career?
Truly Games World was my favourite gig. I presented many other shows for Children’s ITV, Sky TV, but none were nearly as much fun as year two and three of Games World. Again, I am truly humbled and blessed by what was a very special time in my life.
Do people still call you Barry in the street?
Yep, still happens but of course not as much as when the show was in its prime! Naturally, it’s people of my own age who recognise me today, kids have no idea who I am! I’m still very involved in the video game industry and many of my colleagues give me the stare when they meet me for the first time! I know the look so well now and can instantly tell when they have clocked me as the Big Boy!
Did you ever get to keep any video games/memorabilia from your time on the Games World and other TV shows? If so, which is your prized retro gaming possession?
Yep. I still have my Bog Boy Barry costumes which are pretty mouldy by today’s standards! I have all the costume jewellery, the mobile phones as big as a bud and the Big Boy Barry baseball caps! In my show, I had a device called the ‘Barry Net’ a modified Casio Mini TV which I used to communicate with my review staff. It was a cool looking piece of kit and I proudly nicked it when we finished shooting!
You currently still work in the video game industry with Mad Catz – can you explain a little about the company and your role?
Sure. About a decade ago, I made the choice to invest more of my time to the industry which treated me so well. I still perform as a presenter and actor but most of my time is dedicated to video game PR and I’m pleased to say I have carved out a successful career in gaming. I currently serve as the Global PR & Communications Director for Mad Catz. We make video game hardware like the Street Fighter FightSticks and we’ve just published Rock Band 4 which is keeping me incredibly busy! I spend a lot of time in San Diego where Mad Catz is headquartered and get to travel a lot which is always interesting. It’s been an interesting ride so far, you really never know where life will take you!
If you could share a few pints with a video game character who would you choose?
Nathan Drake. Pretty sure he could share a good story or two…
Thanks for your time Alex!