Retro Gamer


Alex Verrey and his screen persona Big Boy Barry were stalwarts of gaming television in the Nineties. Meet the man who made fluorescen­t green tops cool. Sort of…

- Words by Paul Drury

Alex Verrey was only 14 years old when he appeared as a contestant on Channel 4’s Gamesmaste­r, but his Sonic skills caught the eye of TV executives and soon he was appearing regularly on Sky’s Games World as elite gamer Big Boy Barry. He went on to front his own segments alongside a pre-fame David Walliams and presented ITV’S TIGS with Gail Porter. He moved into videogame PR in the Noughties and is currently CEO of his own company, Little Big PR. When we told Alex that more readers had submitted questions for him than for any of our In The Chair interviewe­es since Matthew Smith a decade ago, he was genuinely surprised. “Wow, I’m truly humbled,” he grinned. “That’s lovely to hear. I suppose that I’m the right demographi­c for your magazine!”

Is the highlight of your career beating Dave ‘The Games Animal’ Perry at Street Fighter II on national television?

Yes. But it was just another day at work for the

Big Boy [giggles].

Have you seen his show on Youtube?

He’s actually asked me to be on it and get tattooed live on camera while we chat about the old days, but I’m too scared to get a tattoo. Dave’s a good guy and I’ve got nothing against people who put themselves out there. At least they tried – better than sitting at home being ‘Joe Critic’.

Do you still get recognised as Big Boy Barry? Yes, and it surprises me whenever it happens. I get asked for selfies, and my wife thinks it’s weird but I think it’s humbling. I haven’t changed a lot, I suppose. You see those, ‘What The kids From The Goonies Look Like Now’ [articles online], and you’d have no fucking idea if you were sat next to them on the train. But me, I’m still an overweight gamer who likes to laugh.

Well, we reckon that there are worse ways to be remembered!

Big Boy Barry is still very much a part of me. I have a personalis­ed ‘BBB’ number plate and my luggage is monogramme­d BBB. I’m very thankful for it, and I don’t shy away from it.

Reader Matofthede­ad wants to know where that persona came from?

When Hewland Internatio­nal started talking about this new Games World show for Sky, they wanted to have house champions called ‘Videators’, an obvious take on Gladiators which was big at the time. They got me on board and the original persona was a rip-off of Harry Enfield’s ‘Loadsamone­y’ character – this Essex wideboy. He was going to be a villain, saying he was great, you were crap… but it wasn’t working so it morphed into a more likeable character, a playboy gamer who was pretty unbeatable.

These days you would probably get accused of body shaming with a name like Big Boy. The original name was actually Fat Boy! [Laughs]. I was a 15-year-old kid still at school and I didn’t want to be known as Fat Boy. Jesus, it was hard enough growing up as a big guy. I didn’t feel comfortabl­e with it and neither did David, so we changed it to ‘Big’ and then Barry was added at the end.

I haven’t changed a lot. I’m still an overweight gamer who likes to laugh Big Boy Barry

Is the David you are referring to David Walliams, who would go on to find fame with Little Britain with Matt Lucas?

Yeah, he was a researcher on the show and helped develop the character. If you watch ‘Peep Parlour’ [the tips section of Games World] it really was a testbed for his crazy character work and the voices he made up – you can definitely hear Lou [of Little Britain’s Lou and Andy]. The budget was nonexisten­t so he created all these characters from a bag of tawdry joke shop props.

And frequent nudity.

Oh he loved nothing more than getting naked just to piss people off. He’s an exhibition­ist and doesn’t really care about offending people if it serves the comedy. There would be people on the corporate side with their head in their hands at what he was doing.

Did you get in trouble?

Regularly. We’d get notes from the higher ups… like, his ‘Lesley Luncheonme­at’ character had an obsession with Ewoks, which were all his own gags and full of innuendos, and we were told we needed to scale it back. His response was to replace a whole section of the next show with him discussing in detail an Ewok village he’d built. For five minutes. On a videogame show. If you push him, he’ll butt back!

You sound like you were good friends. Without a doubt but he’d piss me off as well, especially on ‘Barry’s Joypad’. Every scene I did with him I’d be corpsing because he’d bring in something different each take. The director would have shouting matches with him. Often they would set a camera running and the crew would have to leave the room because David would say something and one of them would burst out laughing… you’d hear the director shout ‘action’ from another room! Yeah, there was a lot of hero worship from me because I thought he was the funniest person in the world. I’d tell him every day he should be a superstar.

Reader psj3809 asks if you keep in touch with David and other stars of the show?

I’ll text David from time to time and I keep in contact with some of the Videators like Rik Henderson [The Violet Blade] and Mr Mathers, the Megabyte Millionair­e, who’s an old friend I have known since school. I have bumped into Bob Mills [the presenter for the first three series] a few times, too.

On-screen, Bob always looked like he was rather above it all. Did he get exasperate­d at having to work with these amateurs?

Yes he could. He really didn’t get videogames and didn’t really give a shit about them but he wasn’t apathetic about the work – he cared about how he presented the programme and that made him a good entry point for those who weren’t fantastica­lly into games. I look back and think he was inspired casting. We’d shoot three episodes in a day – the contestant shows and the ‘Beat

The Elite’ weekly finale – and that was a long day. Some Videators were stronger than others when it came to their performanc­e and, yeah, Bob would get pissed off if they fluffed their lines. I don’t wanna toot my own horn but I think he was pleased when I was on the roster because we always had fun together.

Maybe that’s because this wasn’t your first time on television. Didn’t you appear on the first series of Gamesmaste­r back in 1992? [Laughs]. I have Teletext to thank for my career. How many people can say that? That was the source of breaking news before the internet and there was a call for audience members for this new show they were filming called Gamesmaste­r. The first series was set in a big church in the East End [of London], the arse-end of nowhere, they were shooting in term time and there was no buzz about the show yet. They had real trouble getting an audience along. If you watch the first few episodes, you’ll see they only really shoot the first few rows of the audience and then switch people around. Hilarious.

So you were originally just going to be in the audience?

Yeah, me and Martin Mathers applied for tickets and we were going to bunk off school. They came back to us and asked if we had gaming skills so we got on the show that series as contestant­s!

During your appearance, you come across as quite cocky by asking for your challenge to be made harder.

I was definitely a cocky kid, but that isn’t how that happened! They had set me the challenge of collecting 150 rings in two minutes on the second stage of Sonic The Hedgehog and I had a month to get ready. I spent every minute I could practising. A week before filming, they phoned me to see how I was doing and I said I was up to 160 rings. Then when I got on the show, Dominik Diamond [the presenter] said, ‘So you’ve asked us to increase the challenge to 160 rings, eh?’

I was as shocked as anyone! I suppose it made for better television…

And you managed to do it!

It was a sliding doors moment. My career could’ve been so different. You see, you have to start with a spin on that level. They started filming, I messed up the spin and I died immediatel­y with no rings. I was almost in tears. They could have, and perhaps should have, left it at that – and my television career would have been over in two seconds. Thankfully, I heard this voice from the gods saying, ‘I think he deserves another go at that.’ It was the director, and on my second go I smashed it.

Do you still have the Golden Joystick you won for completing the challenge?

I’m looking at it as we speak! I’m very proud of it.

Have games always been a passion?

For as long as I can remember being alive. It was all about finding arcade machines on holiday. I can remember taking 2p pieces over to Spain because the coins were the same size as the pesetas you put in the machines over there. Always thinking is the Big Boy!

Did you have any computers or consoles to play games on at home?

We had a Pong machine at home and then we got a rubber-keyed Spectrum 48K one Christmas. We were a Spectrum household and I was obsessed. Manic Miner, Hungry Horace, Harrier Attack… and our granny bought us Sam Fox Strip Poker without realising what it was. My parents confiscate­d it. I was six years old and devastated they’d taken away a game and I just didn’t know why.

So games were always part of your life, but was acting too?

I do come from a theatrical family. My grandfathe­r was a singer in the war. He was of Polish

Jewish descent and he performed as ‘Bernard Kanarienvo­gel The Singing Canary’. That wasn’t

a good name to have in lights at that time so he had a favourite restaurant called

Verrey’s and changed it to that. My dad was a keen actor and wonderful singer, and my cousin David Verrey is a profession­al actor. He was in Knightmare back in the day and in Game Of Thrones recently. And he was the first Slitheen you saw in Doctor Who!

Impressive, but what about you?

I had drama lessons as a kid and used to perform in shows with my dad. I was an extra in some ITV shows as a child but nothing big.

So was it a surprise when a year after appearing on Gamesmaste­r, you got a call about this Games World show?

I thought it was a wind up! It came totally out the blue. When I got the gig as Big Boy Barry, I was 15 years old and still at school and it did cause problems. Initially, it was just going to be five or six performanc­es with a day rate of £70, I think, which was a pittance but I was thrilled to be doing it. When the show aired and my character started gaining traction, they began bringing me in for more filming through the series and that meant taking time off school. The local council and my school were not happy with that. I had GCSES coming up! I’d have to go to school in the morning and run out in the afternoon to shoot my Big Boy stuff. It was quite bizarre.

We’ve been revisiting Barry’s Joypad and BTV and we’ve seen you in drag, David Walliams in Union Jack pants and the

Games Mistress in leather mixed with news, reviews and serious segments on the latest VR headset. It was a real mishmash of stuff. [Laughs]. I remember David and I once stole a document from the studio that described BTV as a mixture of Going Live, Tiswas, Noel’s House Party and basically every light entertainm­ent programme ever with Tomorrow’s World and News At Ten. We found that hysterical. No one could really define what our show was about.

That left it pretty open to do what you wanted, then!

It really did and we were a nice little team. It was the same production company that did Gamesmaste­r but different teams and there was always some rivalry. They were the Channel 4 ‘premier’ show that had a big budget and we felt we were doing more fun stuff and could get away with more – as long as it got through the Sky censors. Sometimes it didn’t. There were times when 30 minutes before air we were told we had to take out some of Walliams’ double entendres.

You mean lines like, ‘I’ve got some pork that could be right up your alley’?

Yeah [laughs] but that one got through, obviously. As long as we were getting good ratings, they

I have Teletext to thank for my career. How many people can say that? Big Boy Barry

were pretty happy with us, though, and it did evolve. Barry’s Joypad was the first year and BTV was the second and that was much stronger. We’d do things that were serious and quite technical and others that were insane. I’m not sure we’ve seen anything quite like it since.

The game reviews did not pull any punches. Did you ever upset a publisher with one of your scathing verdicts?

Because it was TV, which is kind of the crown jewels for any PR, just getting on TV in any form was seen as kudos. That gave us the upper hand. I’m sure many publishers were pissed off with the scores we gave their games but if they complained, we just wouldn’t feature them again.

Cheats also feature heavily in your programmes. Did you pester game developers for secrets to share on-screen?

I think the researcher­s just scoured magazines for interestin­g cheats and then got random kids to ask for help. The kids on camera has no idea what they were asking for! I mean ‘The Peep Parlour’ in the first series of Games World which Barry’s Joypad replaced had whole walkthroug­hs, not just cheats. Kids would videotape the show and use it to get through games. No internet back then!

Reader Ulrich7ad wants to know if getting your own show caused any tension or jealousy with your fellow Videators?

Yes it did. They dumped most of the Videators from the first series and the new guys that joined for series two were keen to prove themselves. Some just said, ‘I want what you’ve got,’ and I respect them for that. Generally we got on but yeah, there was some tension.

Did you feel pressure to keep on top of your game as a Videator?

Absolutely. The first series was a dream for me because most of the Videators came from a theatrical background and were terrible at games… and those hired because they were good at games fell apart on camera through nerves. I was comfortabl­e on camera, was a solid gamer and the contestant­s weren’t that great because it was an unknown show. I sailed through… then everything changed for series two and three. The show was gaining popularity so the calibre of the contestant­s and the Videators went up. Plus I had my own show and I felt the pressure to do well on Beat The Elite to reinforce the Big Boy Barry character. I had to win! To their credit, Hewland didn’t fix the shows – if you lost, you lost.

So the producers never fixed it to let the contestant­s win?

Never… well, apart from the final. The prize was an arcade machine and everyone wanted to see the kid go home with that. So during the grand final in series three, my character in NBA Jam stands still for a minute. Intriguing, eh? [Laughs] I’ll leave at that.

Reader Fataddick wants to know which Videator was your biggest rival?

Backstage, everyone was keeping track of which Videator was winning, so yeah there were rivalries. Everyone wanted to be number one. The Violet Blade was always popular and in my opinion, Mr Mathers was the best gamer on the show. I felt the pressure because I’d often be filming my show and just didn’t have as much time to practice.

Appearing as a contestant on Gamesmaste­r was a sliding doors moment. My career could’ve been so different Big Boy Barry

Reader Shinobi asks why you weren’t a Videator on series four?

The show had been off air for a few years and was recommissi­oned as a morning show. I’d done a show with Gail Porter called TIGS [The Interactiv­e Game Show] and I wanted more to do than the Beat The Elite role so I became a commentato­r along with Dave Perry throughout that series. I was really happy with that – and they did bring me back as a surprise Videator in the Grand Final! They kept that a big secret. I wasn’t allowed to dress up as Big Boy Barry until they started filming so it was a real surprise for the contestant.

Why didn’t Games World never returned for a fifth series?

I wish I knew, my friend. The ratings were high and it was still really popular. All signs were pointing to another series but I think Hewland has different ideas about their direction.

The Barry Show did return in the late Nineties on Sky’s Computer Channel (later renamed .tv), though.

It was sweet they called it a channel because it only broadcast for two hours a day at the start [giggles]. It was fronted by Will Hanrahan, a regular face on daytime TV back then, and it was supposed to be a serious look at computers for the whole family with a kind of Tomorrow’s World feel. I wish they’d relaxed that so we could have more fun with it. I did persuade them to have a games-themed evening show but I had to wear a tie, goddammit!

Given the popularity of videogames, are you surprised they still don’t often get on television?

Since the Games World days, I’ve been involved with so many pilots and scripts for shows, pitching ideas to TV executives and very little ever came of it. It’s a shame because the audience could be massive. I still think execs don’t know how to handle games. They’re scared of them. They see the popularity of Youtubers streaming games and ask the very real question of what TV can do beyond that? News and trailers don’t have the importance they used to have because of the internet. They get that games are huge but don’t see how to tap into that.

Are there any videogame shows that have impressed you since then?

I thought Go 8 Bit was good and I’m a big fan of Gameswipe. I think I featured in it once? Charlie Brooker is a genius and if you’re reading this Charlie, give me a call!

You have appeared on Digitiser: The Show. Did it remind you of the anarchy of those BTV days?

It did and that’s on the right track. I’m a fan of

Paul Rose and it’s astonishin­g what he’s done with almost nothing. It’s like he willed that show into existence. I wonder what would happen if you applied a big budget to that kind of sensibilit­y…

Could Big Boy Barry be the one to front something like that?

I am speaking to some people right now about an idea for a games show. I think you have to tap into the culture and do something you can’t already get on the web.

I mean you have ‘presented more games television than anyone else in the country’. [Laughs] I came up with that line a while ago and I’m still waiting for anyone to dispute it! I mean, if you’re including the likes of Youtube or Twitch, I haven’t, but in terms of ‘proper TV’, I think I hold onto that crown.

 ??  ?? Alex very much embraces his Big Boy Barry past – his PR company is even called Little Big PR.
Alex very much embraces his Big Boy Barry past – his PR company is even called Little Big PR.
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? The Big Boy wasn’t quite big enough to take on The Ultimate Warrior.
The Big Boy wasn’t quite big enough to take on The Ultimate Warrior.
 ??  ?? The enduring love for Big Boy Barry meant he even appeared in the Daily Mail in 2011, alongside some chap called David Walliams who apparently did alright for himself.
The enduring love for Big Boy Barry meant he even appeared in the Daily Mail in 2011, alongside some chap called David Walliams who apparently did alright for himself.
 ??  ?? [ZX Spectrum] Alex received Samantha Fox Strip Poker for the Spectrum aged 6. It was soon confiscate­d by his parents.
[ZX Spectrum] Alex received Samantha Fox Strip Poker for the Spectrum aged 6. It was soon confiscate­d by his parents.
 ??  ?? Alex still occasional­ly adopts his Big Boy Barry persona. Here he is in character at EGX3.
Alex still occasional­ly adopts his Big Boy Barry persona. Here he is in character at EGX3.
 ??  ?? Big Boy Barry realises he shouldn’t have eaten that last mushroom…
Big Boy Barry realises he shouldn’t have eaten that last mushroom…
 ??  ?? Alex still has the Golden Joystick he won on Gamesmaste­r thanks to his Sonic skills.
Alex still has the Golden Joystick he won on Gamesmaste­r thanks to his Sonic skills.
 ??  ?? Big Boy Barry shows that he’s still got the gaming skills at EGX1.
Big Boy Barry shows that he’s still got the gaming skills at EGX1.

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