Hubbs: Since not many people in the US know who you are, can you introduce yourself and give us a tiny bit about yourself and career highlights?
Alex Verrey: Sure thing. Well my name is Alex Verrey, I’m 6”3 tall, and a Gemini. I’m ‘Big Boned’ though devilishly attractive. My turn on’s are warm fires, long walks on the beach and chocolate. My turn offs are arrogance, pollution and cruelty to animals.
On a slightly more serious note, my real name is indeed Alex Verrey, I’m better known here in the UK as the ‘Tubby Titan of Tea Time Telly’ “Big Boy Barry”. Playing the character of Barry has allowed me to present more hours of video game TV than anyone else in the UK, which included a pretty cool video game sitcom by the name of ‘Barry’s Joypad’ and then ‘Barry TV’. The show debuted as the second highest rated program on Sky TV (Just behind The Simpsons!) and co-starred the talented Mr David Walliams of UK smash hit ‘Little Britain’ fame.
Hubbs: While growing up, were you a gamer at a young age or did you start getting into gaming at a later time? What was the first console you owned and some of your favorite games?
Alex: Oh hell yes. It’s the games that got me into the TV and not the other way round. I think I was born with a NES pad in my hands for crying out loud. Kinda’ hazy to put an exact date on things but I remember the family had an Atari VCS growing up. Saying that, my first distinctive memory of gaming was when my brother and I got a Sinclair Spectrum 48k for Christmas. My Dad bought it under the illusion that the thing would prove educational (How many parents got suckered into that?!). Day one we used it play games and for little else… Stuck with the humble Spectrum for many years, going from the 48k to a massive 128k and then the +2. My mates started getting into the NES though which I craved for, though was cruelly denied thanks to the expense of the games. Though the age old practice of pester power however, I managed to sneak a Sega Master System in, and then shortly after upgraded to a Mega Drive. Favorite games? Every console has a fair share of course, but for the spectrum I guess Manic Miner, Target Renegade, Cookie and New Zealand Story (A great conversion by all accounts) and the Mega Drive? Well let’s see, Sonic (Of course), Gunstar Hero’s, Thunder Force and the best of the lot, Streets of Rage (3 remains the best side scrolling beat ‘em up of all time).
Hubbs: In the early 1990’s the U.K. TV station Sky One ran a syndicated videogame competition show, called Games World, which lasted a few years. How did you get involved with this show and became the bigger than life star Big Boy Barry? How hard was it to play the role and host the stand alone Big Boy Barry show?
Alex: Man, that’s a hell of a question. A little history then. Channel Four (A UK terrestrial TV channel), scored a major hit with the launch of the first in a new wave if TV video game shows called ‘Gamesmaster’. It was the first TV show about games that wasn’t aimed squarely at 6 year olds. It was cool, fresh, armed with a fair budget and pretty damn funny. When they were putting the first series together, the production company Hewland International faced a pretty big problem. In order to make a fall debut, they needed to start filming no later than September, the same time as all the kids were retuning to school after the summer break. They needed a big audience of kids for each episode, plus an army of contestants to take place in the challenges. See, no one had heard of this show, or seen it before, and it was proving tougher than a 2 dollar steak to get anyone to come along and participate. Of course once the show aired this was no longer a problem, but I remember seeing an advert on the UK’s ‘Teletext’ service for audience tickets, so I rang ‘em up. They mentioned they were looking for contestants to participate in challenges and asked if I’d be interested. Never what you would call a ‘shy boy’ I accepted.
The larger than life Big Boy Barry!
In the end I appeared on the second episode of the show, competing in a challenge on Sonic the Hedgehog for the Mega Drive (Bless). I was an overweight, cocky, pretentious, pre-pubescent bundle of joy. So much so, that I stupidly complained a week before filming that the challenge was too easy. They promptly upped the difficulty level, and made a big deal of it on air.
Thankfully I scraped by, won the challenge and left thinking no more of it.
Meanwhile (Jesus, is anyone still reading?) a new satellite network called Sky TV had just set up in the UK. They were being rightly criticized for their lack of quality programs, especially home grown shows. Noting the success of ‘Gamesmaster’, they did a deal with the same production company to produce a daily show along the same lines. One show would feature contestants playing off against each other, and then go on to face the show’s resident champions. These so called champions would all be character based, a cross between WWE and the Gladiators. They needed to be good at games (In order to beat the kids), and able to hold their own in front of the camera. Remembering this fat, cocky little sh*t, they called me in to audition for the role of one of the ‘Videators’. They liked me, and originally saw the character as a cockney slob called ‘Fat Boy’. I liked the cash, liked the idea, liked the games, hated the name so after a little negotiation, Big Boy Barry was born.
Year one was just a breeze. Picture it. 15 years old, and every other week you got to take a day off school, dress up in a bizarre costume, jump in a plush car and whip some kid’s ass at EA Hockey. AND get paid for it to! Golden days. It was only the next year when things got complicated. Fact is, (God I can’t say this without sounding like a tw*t), I was starting to pull away from a lot of the other ‘Videator’ characters. Being pretty good at games, coupled with good old fashioned theatrical intimidation meant that I hadn’t lost a single match all season. My popularity was growing, as was the show. Once they got a re-commission for a second season, they wanted to use the character in a greater way and thus offered me my own show. THIS is where the fun little diversion became a 5 day a week job, dividing my time between kicking the kid’s asses at games, and filming my own series (Barry’s Joypad), which was a video game review/news and tips show, wrapped up in a sitcom frame. Great fun, and it gave me the opportunity to work alongside the amazing Mr David Walliams, who’s now one of the hottest comedians in the country.
Hubbs: In America we had our own attempts at videogame competition shows. The first dismal attempt was Starcade in the late 1980’s. Next was Video Power where kids competed against each other by playing Nintendo games and answering trivia. The third and only up and running game show is Arena where they have competitors play the same 3 games (Unreal T 2k4, Socom, and JediKnight) over and over again. Each show ended up as complete duds. How did Games World managed to keep itself not only unique but a really place of competition?
Alex: Interesting question. The phenomenon of bad video game shows is not just limited to America, but everywhere in the world (Including the UK), so I don’t think it’s a territorial issue. Much has been and continues to be written on this subject, and I could literally talk all day on it. The main and massively overwhelming problem is simply that TV executives just don’t understand video games, the appeal of video games and the types of programming that will attract both a gaming and that elusive ‘main stream’ audience. They think that gaming is a pursuit solely enjoyed by the under 12’s, thus tailor the show for a young audience. In the majority of cases you end up with an insulting, misjudged, mess. In the UK I reckon I can name at least 10 video game shows that have come and gone in the last decade. However, despite being involved in a good few of them, I honestly believe that the only two successful ones have been ‘Gamesmaster’ and ‘Gamesworld’. Though they were both made by the same production company, the fundamental difference between these shows and the competition, is simply down to the people involved. The age of the production staff on both shows was generally very young. Many of the team knew more about games than TV, and though this would occasionally show(!), the pro’s far outweighed the con’s as everyone was in it for the genuine love of the games. Once the show became a hit, the budget was upped considerably which obviously helped a lot, but the love of the material remained. It also helps when your presenter knows what the hell he or she is talking about. I did, and I loved every minute of it, and genuinely believe that the enthusiasm was carried across on air.
Insult your audience with presenters who are witless, clueless and don’t know their Miyamoto’s from there Keturagi’s, and combine that with a production team who are simply collecting a pay check and you have a recipe for disaster. Gamesworld had a real edge to it and was simply doing a show by gamers, for gamers. It’s not brain surgery, but to this day I find it astonishing that new shows continue to go into production that make the same damn mistakes over and over again…
Hubbs: After Games World was cancelled after its 4th series (do correct me if I am wrong), what other lines of work did you add your talents to? Were they just as challenging as your previous role as BBB?
Alex: Ah, well a couple of corrections there. Gamesworld in its main form alas came to an end after 3 seasons not four. I actually would argue that it was not cancelled, but simply didn’t return! Yes, I know this sound like a cop out but actually I think it’s closer to the truth. Apparently (And I can’t confirm this), Sky were very happy with the show and were eager for another series. However, at this time Hewland International were desperately worried of being stereotyped with video games and nothing else. They had a slate of drama projects in development (Including a soccer soap for Sky called ‘Dream Team’) and apparently they chose not to go forward with another run. Bummer.
Interestingly though, things didn’t end there. I went over to terrestrial (Or ‘Network’) TV and presented a live video game show for ITV called ‘T.I.G.S’. It had a huge budget, was completely live and in a prime slot. I loved every minute of it, but you know what? The network made that same mistake of hiring an identikit production team. Don’t get me wrong, they were all great guys and girls, but no one, and I mean NO ONE gave a damn about games. I was the only thing approaching an expert or a gamer on the show, and though I desperately battled to fight the gamer’s corner, the lack of knowledge for the material ultimately shone through and alienated the key audience. The series was cancelled after a mere one season.
Shortly after though, my old friends at Hewland won another contract with Sky TV to launch a new channel. The ‘Computer Channel’ would run for 2 hours every day, and feature a regular half hour gaming slot. Back came Big Boy Barry then, and though the budget this time laughable, the love was there and the show ran EVERY NIGHT for 2 years, constantly the highest rated show on the channel. Taking things back a full circle, a year later Gamesworld did indeed return to Sky One, though in a different form. The show was stripped to a mere 15 minutes running Monday to Friday. This time, thanks to a diminished running time and budget, the show was limited to the challenges of kids facing off against each other, and then taking on all new ‘Videators’ at the end of the week. For this last run, I decided not to return to the standard Videator role as frankly my screen time and input would be pretty insignificant. Therefore I settled into a comfy new co-presenter and commentator role, a former champ offering expect opinion (Think Jerry the King Lawler of WWE fame) They did wheel me out for one last game however, taking on the winner in the grand finale as a mystery Videator. What a way to go out!
Hubbs: I’ve read that you have contributed some gaming articles to some U.K. gaming publications. What magazines have you written for and what kind of topics have you written about? Do you contribute regularly to these publications?
Alex: I like to think that I can string a sentence together when I try, and that I have some interesting contributions to make in an industry that I love. During the halcyon days of Gamesworld, the show had a monthly Official Magazine to compliment the show. I wrote a page for that every month expressing my views of the series and reporting on back stage gossip. Through my career however I’ve often contributed to various Magazines and Newspapers with my thoughts on the gaming industry, as well as the odd review and feature. Sometimes under Big Boy Barry, sometimes under Alex Verrey, and sometimes under various other names…
These days, I still write a lot in my role as PR & Communications Manager for JOYTECH Europe. We’re part of Take-Two Interactive, and one of the largest manufacturers of video game accessories in the world. I also keep my hand in with performing and writing though, and look forward to sharing news on a possible TV return soon.
Hubbs: Again I want to thank you for you time Mr. Verrey and I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you and I hope you enjoyed your holiday.
Alex: You’re most welcome. Anything else you need, just let me or my agent know.