Image of the Liverpool Cathedral

Paul Barber

Oration

Presented by: Professor Frank Sanderson

Honourable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Paul Barber for the award of an Honorary Fellowship of Liverpool John Moores University. 

Paul Barber's 2007 autobiography, Foster Kid: A Liverpudlian Childhood, gives a moving and candid portrayal of his troubled early life: after the death of his mother, he spent his childhood in a succession of children's homes and in foster care before embarking on a successful career as an actor. 

Best known for his performances in two of the most popular comedies of recent times, Only Fools and Horses and The Full Monty. Today, Paul is being honoured for his outstanding contribution to the performing arts over the last 40 years.   

Paul was born as Patrick Barber in 1951 to Margaret and Samuel Kay Barber in Crown Street, Liverpool, the youngest of five children – two of his brothers, Mike and Brian and step-brother Ben, are here today. His father, a retired merchant seaman originally from Sierra Leone, died two years later.   

Patrick, known as Paddy, first went to Windsor Street School, but he soon lost interest in lessons and frequently bunked off school. One of his favourite diversions was to ride the ferries back and forth across the Mersey. He remembers one time falling asleep, waking up in the dark and jumping off the ferry. Not recognising the streets, he ran towards the familiar Anglican Cathedral in the distance, but soon realised he was in Birkenhead.   

Patrick was 7 when his mother became seriously ill with TB. He and his brother Brian and sister Claudy were then taken into care, first at Druid's Cross, Woolton. Despite the generally unhappy experience there – they named one of the staff "Attila the Nun" – what Patrick has described as the happiest day of his life was when his mother came to visit – he worshipped his Mum and longed for the family to be reunited with her when she was well. But not long after her visit, he was told the devastating news that his mum had died.   

Next came the family's first experience of foster care in what Patrick describes as "a boarding house from hell". He recalls with understatement that his foster mother's behaviour was anything but motherly. In fact in his three foster homes, he had never been made to feel part of the family.   

Patrick's escape from the misery was through listening to the popular music of the 1960s: Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, Gene Pitney, Helen Shapiro, Del Shannon, and a particular favourite was John Leyton singing "Johnny Remember Me" – a song that triggered thoughts of his mother. 

The Sydney House Hostel on Linnet Lane was his last experience of the care system and the most positive. He particularly remembers how helpful Mr Culshaw was, and how for the first time in his life, someone was thinking about his future welfare, not wanting to give him orders, but give him chances.  

Patrick's early experience of acting was when he told sob stories to passing strangers about how he'd lost his bus fare down a drain and couldn't get home – for which he'd usually get a sixpence or a threepenny bit.

In his early teens, he would get laughs by impersonating pop singers, and he did some bingo calling in North Wales. Further valuable experience was gained when he and some friends started a group called Soul Motion. 

When he was working at Lewis's, he went along to support a friend at an audition for a musical at the Empire Theatre on Lime Street. His friend's audition was unsuccessful and Patrick ended up being offered the part playing Hud in a rock musical called Hair. At last, after a life of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he was thankfully in the right place at the right time and grasped the opportunity with both hands.   

There was another Equity member named Patrick Barber, so he adopted his confirmation name of Paul, thus becoming the actor Paul Barber. After Hair came Jesus Christ Super Star with Paul playing Caiaphas, followed by the Liverpool-based Lucky for Granada TV in 1974. He then played the flamboyant but vicious gang boss Malleson in the BBC cult series Gangsters from 1975 to 1978.   

Paul's first full-length feature film was The Long Good Friday, released in 1980. Since then he has featured in numerous TV productions such as Minder, The Return of the Saint, To the Manor Born, The Brothers McGregor, The Boys from the Blackstuff, and in Only Fools and Horses where he became a household name playing Denzil.   

His most famous film role was playing one of the stripping steelworkers in the popular 1997 film The Full Monty. In 2001 he played alongside Full Monty co-star Robert Carlyle and Samuel L. Jackson in the Liverpool-based crime movie The 51st State (2001). Recent films include Dead Man's Cards and Going Postal

From unpromising beginnings, Paul Barber has achieved fame and acclamation as an actor, and he has used his high profile to help others by raising awareness of the difficulties facing people in care and of the need for foster and adoptive parents to come forward and offer safe and loving homes for the many children in need. 

He has visited care homes to motivate young people, urging them to believe in themselves and realise their ambitions. And his autobiography has provided comfort and inspiration to many people who've been through broadly similar experiences in childhood. 

Paul Barber is a fine actor and a fine role model, and we are delighted to be honouring him today. Well done our kid!   

Thus I have great pleasure in presenting Paul Barber, this most distinguished son of our city, for admission to our highest honour of Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.