Barney Colehan was born on 19th January 1914 in Calverley, Pudsey, near Leeds. His roots were commonplace - his father worked on the shopfloor of a local textiles mill and his mother brought in extra money by white-stoning neighbours' doorsteps. The Colehans encouraged Barney (christened Bernard) and his younger brother Joe to enter the pharmaceuticals industry, a route that Joe ultimately took, becoming a director of an international medical hardware firm. Joe's elder sibling, however, had his eyes on a very different career. Growing up in the Aireborough suburbs of Leeds, renowned for its amateur theatrical companies, Colehan became fascinated in the world of entertainment and became involved in the local companies. He acted in and directed several productions and in time became president of the local operatic society. Barney's parents were reportedly initially unhappy with their son's choice of career, but his burgeoning success caused their disappointment to dissipate.

During World War II, Barney Colehan served in the Army as a Major and was attached to The British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS), a radio service set up by the British War Office in 1943 to entertain and inform British troops stationed overseas. At the end of the war, Colehan entered civvy street and was snapped up quickly by the BBC. It didn't take long for him to make his mark. His first success was with Have A Go, a radio game show which he devised with entertainer and former newsreader, Wilfred Pickles, who served as the show's main presenter along with his wife, Mabel Pickles. Have A Go became a popular phenomenon, touring church halls the length and breadth of Great Britain over a period of twenty-three years. Colehan's direct association with Have A Go was in its formative years only but he remained close friends with its presenter until Wilfred Pickles' death in 1978. It was during this series though that his nickname 'Barney' came to be immortalised. Pickles, like Colehan a Yorkshireman, developed a catchphrase that he would use whenever contestants won: "Give 'em the money, Barney!" he would cry to the delight of the audiences at the recordings and those listening at home.

Over the years, Barney Colehan was responsible for creating many popular and long running radio and television shows. A man with his finger very much on the pulse, he devised Top Town in the early 1950s. This inter-town talent competition quickly made the transfer to television and is recognised as having been influential in the creation of Guy Lux's Intervilles in France, which of course led to Jeux Sans Frontières and It's A Knockout. Under Barney's producership, It's A Knockout quickly became one of the BBC's top-rated shows, often the top rated BBC programme in the TAM and later, JICTAR ratings. It was Barney who cast the likes of Eddie Waring, MacDonald Hobley, David Vine and Stuart Hall for the series. He also got the right people on board behind the scenes, the likes of Cecil Korer and Stuart Furber, both of whom would make significant and long term contributions to the series nationally and internationally. Cecil Korer remembers Barney with affection: "He was a lovely man, my mentor, and he and I were firm friends. I owe everything in my career to him."

As the BBC producer who oversaw the first ten series of It's A Knockout, Barney Colehan's contribution to its enduring success cannot be underestimated. He was one of the team that devised and shaped the British series in 1966 and who then took British teams into European competition the following year. His time as producer saw many changes and innovations. It all started quite humbly as a Lancashire-Yorkshire head-to-head, but under his guidance it travelled the towns and cities of Great Britain and Europe, spinning off into special Christmas, FA Cup Final and Celebrity Knockouts, all of which were successful. However, It's A Knockout was but a part of a remarkable career in Light Entertainment that took in radio and pioneering work in television production. Notably, when BBC Television started in the North of England in 1951, it was Barney Colehan who was chosen to produce the first programme to be transmitted. Always wearing his trademark bristly moustache (only outdone by comedian Jimmy Edwards!), Barney had worked his way up to be recognised by the mid-Fifties as the BBC's 'number one' producer outside London. His genial, warm manner, his sharp mind and professional approach marked him out as someone very special in entertainment circles. Professionals in front of and behind the microphone, or the camera, quickly realised that he was a man to be trusted. His air of calm in an often panicky profession and his genuine interest in people allowed him to inspire loyalty and goodwill in others, from whom he would always get the best.

As if the creation of a series that led to an international success such as Jeux Sans Frontières were not enough for one lifetime, Barney Colehan was also the man behind the BBC's Music Hall revival The Good Old Days, which ran for a staggering thirty years. If anything, it is this series that Barney Colehan is most commonly associated with - and there is no doubting that it was the series that was closest to his heart. There was a theatrical venue in the heart of Leeds dating back to 1865 that was stuck in something of a Victorian-Edwardian time bubble - The Leeds City Varieties - and while many saw its failure to adapt to changing trends as a distinct weakness, Colehan perceptively saw this as a strength. He chose The Varieties as the regular venue of The Good Old Days, which was launched in 1953 on BBC Television and it would remain its home until the BBC ended the series in 1983. The programmes sought to recreate an atmosphere authentic to the era of Music Hall and were hosted in verbose, alliterative fashion by the chairman, actor Leonard Sachs. During its long run, it gave initial television breaks to many stars-to-be such as Ken Dodd, Les Dawson, Rod Hull, Frankie Vaughan and Ray Alan, while Roy Hudd was a regular favourite. The series was so popular that filling the bill was not difficult - and established acts like Morecambe and Wise were happy to rough it in the small dressing rooms backstage because of the exposure the series afforded them. Colehan also managed to entice international stars to grace the Varieties stage. In 1972 for instance, he played a clever hand to lure Eartha Kitt on to The Good Old Days, promising her the very dressing room that Charlie Chaplin had used in the 1890s when he was a regular at the Varieties. When asked by a crew member how he knew which dressing room Chaplin was allocated, Colehan winked and confessed, "I don't, but neither will she!" and the ploy worked. At the recording, she was somewhat emotional and a little difficult. "I'd assumed that it was the old theatre's grotty facilities," recalled Colehan at the Leeds Summer Festival in July 1991. "I'd started apologising when she broke in and explained that she'd simply been overwhelmed by using the same room, same mirror and chair as Charlie Chaplin, Lillie Langtry and other great music hall names."

The curtain came down on The Good Old Days on Christmas Eve 1983, a victim of a BBC management team that wanted to freshen up the schedules. As with It's A Knockout, which had ended the year before, The Good Old Days was still popular, as evidenced by the eight-year waiting list to be in the audience for the show, but that ultimately counted for nothing. Barney Colehan remained convinced of the series viability and revived it five years later as a stage-only production at the Varieties. Deprived of the BBC's money, these productions were necessarily less ambitious, but Colehan oversaw six successful seasons of The Good Old Days on stage at The Varieties from 1988. At the time of his death in 1991, Barney was working on a seventh run.

The magic touch that Barney clearly had also saw him cast his eye upon the popular music scene - somewhat removed from the fare of The Good Old Days - and in 1963, he produced a pilot music programme based upon Jimmy Savile's popular Radio Luxembourg show, Teen and Twenty Disc Club. This would eventually be reworked as Top of the Pops, another legendary BBC programme and brand. However, this magic touch did sometimes desert him. Colehan was reputed to have rejected a project submitted to BBC North Region by a writer called Tony Warren. Warren took his idea instead to Granada and Coronation Street was born. This series chalked up its fiftieth year in production in December 2010. A rare blip in Barney's talent-seeking - at least, unlike Decca Records, he didn't turn down The Beatles... and on Saturday 7th December 1963, Barney was entrusted with directing a BBC Television double-header from The Empire Theatre, Liverpool which comprised a 'fan club convention' edition of Juke Box Jury featuring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, and a Beatles special entitled It's The Beatles!

In fact, Barney's talent-seeking abilities were legendary. As producer of Top Town and The Good Old Days, he travelled thousands and thousands of miles over the years as a talent scout, looking for acts to appear on the programmes. He also went overseas, scouting foreign clubs and theatres, regularly bringing new speciality acts to British radio, television and the stage. His services to entertainment were marked officially when he was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) by HM Queen Elizabeth II in the 1981 Honours List. A year later, he received The British Academy of Composers and Songwriters Gold Badge for a lasting and significant contribution to Britain's entertainment industry.

Barney Colehan lived in Guiseley, West Yorkshire for many years, until his death on Saturday 21st September 1991 at Fulford Grange Hospital in Rawdon, as a result of a stroke he suffered while playing golf. He was 77 years old. A Requiem Mass was held for Barney on Thursday 26th September 1991 at St. Peter and St. Paul's Church, Yeadon, where a packed congregation comprising family, friends and former colleagues shared their remembrances of a remarkable man. Family friend, Maurice Bickley commented in a speech that, "the memory of Colehan will live on forever. As a true professional, he is simply 'resting'. A great family man and a wonderful character who brought stability to the unsettled world of show business. He produced shows in what I now call The Glory Days of Television."

After the service, Peter Sandeman, the then-manager of The Leeds City Varieties, told the press of his eternal gratitude to Barney Colehan. "We at the City Varieties will miss Barney very much. We have not just lost a colleague, but a friend we respected and loved. By staging The Good Old Days at the theatre, he will be remembered as the man who saved The Varieties from extinction and put it on the map internationally. Also, he was personally involved in the campaign for funds to restore the theatre." The Varieties has not forgotten Barney, and he would be delighted to learn that after extensive restoration, the venue will re-open in 2011.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Barney Colehan, so I'll leave the last word in this tribute to someone who knew him well - Cecil Korer, who recalls how he came to take over the producer's role on It's A Knockout: "When Barney reached BBC retirement age, he was asked to recommend someone to replace him. He suggested me. After eight years in London, having become an Executive Television Producer, I took up the offer and back North we all went - this time to Leeds and in the same building as Barney, so we were able to see a lot of each other. He retained The Good Old Days programme for a few more years, this time as a contract independent producer. My respect and gratitude, even when we disagreed - which we did now and again - never diminished. I like to think that he never regretted his recommendation all those years before. As for replacing him... impossible. No one ever could, or has."

by Alan Hayes
with grateful and sincere thanks to Cecil Korer