Making his first stage appearance in 1970 in the musical Hair, Paul Barber’s acting career of over 50 years has encompassed a host of roles on film and TV. Probably best known for the character Denzil in Only Fools and Horses and Horse in The Full Monty his credits include many of the nation’s favourite TV programmes. Coronation Street, I Didn’t Know You Cared, To the Manor Born, Minder, Boys from the Blackstuff, The Front Line, Cracker, Brookside, Death in Paradise, Casualty, Holby City, The Bill, Z Cars and many more. His film appearances have included 51st State, Priest, The Long Good Friday, and the movie version of Porridge.
Born 18th March 1951 in Liverpool, he spent his first 19 years in the city, most of this being in care following the death of his father (1953) and his mother (1959). He has written a compelling account of his early life in the moving book Foster Kid: A Liverpudlian Childhood (Sphere Books 2007), recounting the abuse and cruelty which it seems was part and parcel of the ‘care’ regime of those days.
His father, Samuel Kay Barber, was a former merchant seaman from Sierra Leone, and his mother, Margaret Bartley originally hailed from Middlesbrough. He was christened Patrick and in his early years was always known as Paddy, not adopting Paul until he began his acting career. At the time of his birth the family were living at 141 Crown Street L8 but after his father’s death they moved to a one-room flat at 82 Upper Canning Street L8 (Both these childhood homes have since been demolished). His mother’s illness (she was to die in 1959 aged 38) led to Paddy and his brothers and sisters being taken into care.
Initially they were taken to St Catharine’s Convent, in Druid’s Cross Road L18. (This was closed in 1971 and subsequently demolished.)He and his elder brother were then moved to a foster home in Westbank Road, Fairfield L6 (again demolished). Fighting back against the cruelty which was meted out to him he often found himself moved on and after a spell at the New Heys Reception Centre, Allerton Road L18 his next stop was the Westfield Children’s Home in Greenbank Lane L17. (Now the premises of Greenbank College). His next home was the local authority children’s home at 30 Parkfield Road L17, followed by another spell with a foster family, this time in Garston. By now he was seeking work but like those before him the tensions of being in the foster home led to his leaving. He moved to Sydney House Residential Club for Boys at 9 Linnet Lane L17. Sydney House was his last care ‘home’. On leaving he stayed firstly at a boarding house run by a Mrs Knight in Scotland Road but soon returned to the familiar streets of Liverpool 8 in a flat off Granby Street. It would be an injustice to try to summarise what Paul Barber went through in his time in care, it is necessary to hear it in his own words and I can but strongly recommend his book.
Before moving to London for his part in Hair Paul Barber had a succession of jobs, many with familiar Liverpool concerns such as Kings bottle cleaning factory in Garston, Graham’s Cartons, Bear Brand stocking factory in Woolton, the King Kong store in Bold Street and Lewis’s. He was on the verge of joining the merchant navy (two of his brothers were in the armed forces) when he left Sydney House but changed his mind. A wise choice and a good one for all who have enjoyed his performances over the years.
An early 'home' in Paul Barber's time in care. The building has been converted into up-market apartments.
This is the picture from Paul Barber's autobiography. The building is now part of Greenbak College.
Location of Liverpool Corporation children's home.
Paul Barber's last address whilst in care. Described at the time as a 'Residential Club for Boys'.
© Liverpool Footprints