Guide Cats for the Blind
The result of one man’s extraordinary idea and the incredible generosity of many others. Member of BCAB (now TAVIP) Clive Lever, with help from his close friend the late Don Thompson, is the man with the idea and the driving force behind this outstanding fund raising initiative.
The Making of Guide Cats for the Blind
Comic genius and folk poet Les Barker, has donated all of the materials for the Guide Cats CDs. It was the name of an early poem of Les’, Guide Cats for the Blind, that captured our imagination and set the scene for everything else that was to come.
The first volume of the series, also entitled Guide Cats for the Blind, was launched in July 2003 at that year’s Sight Village exhibition. We launched a new volume of the series at Sight Village once every two years until 2011.
Money raised through the sale of the Guide Cats CDs helped fund BCAB’s EyeT4All project, and continues to help us support blind and partially sighted people in their use of technology.
There are five CDs in the Guide Cats for the Blind series. Each one jam packed with performances from Terry Wogan, Nick Kershaw, Prunella Scales, Ken Bruce and a host of other celebrities!
Purchase a guide cats CD or audio download
You can purchase your very own copy of the guide cats poems on CD or as an audio download.
Les Barker after Guide Cats
During the pandemic, Les Barker has been writing more poems in English, and posting recitals of them on his Youtube channel. You can enjoy many more post-guide-cats poems and one or two virtual concerts featuring the bard of badinage, at:
TAVIP would like to pay tribute to those contributors to the Guide Cats for the Blind Series we have lost through the years.
They are, in order of first appearance :
- Ned Sherrin
- Sir Jimmy Young
- Professor Heinz Wolff
- Nonny James
- Cyril Tawney
- Nicholas Parsons
- Dave Cash
- Don Thompson
- Sir Terry Wogan
- Roy Hudd
- Brian Matthew
- Roger Lloyd Pack
- Trevor Peacock
- Emma Chambers
- Ed Stewart
- Rodney Bewes
- Desmond Carrington
- Tim Brooke-Taylor
- Andrew Sachs
- Peter Donaldson
- Richard Briers
- George Hamilton IV
- Reg Webb
- Roy Bailey
- Norma Waterson
- Linda Bellingham
this list is up-to-date at the time of writing. It was last updated 13 May 2022 by Clive Lever
R I P Bernard Cribbins
All at TAVIP would like to extend our condolences to the family of much-loved actor Bernard Cribbins, who has died at the age of ninety-three. He contributed two tracks to our Guide Cats for The Blind series. The first, Odd Socks can be found on the fourth volume, Catnav. The second, Eeyore’s Speech from Piglet, appears on the final volume, Herding Cats. We asked him to perform a poem and gave him a choice of two. As a measure of his generosity, he gave us both, and became the only contributor to invite us to contact him again if there was anything more he could do to help the Association.
TAVIP pays Tribute to Les Barker
Les Barker (30 January 1947 – 14 January 2023) was an English poet who was best known for his comedic poetry and parodies of popular songs, but also produced some very serious thought-provoking written works. Les was a big part of the production of guide cats for the blind. Tavip would like to pay tribute to such a wonderful person.
Clive Lever Writes
I used to see Les perform in folk clubs in the late eighties and through the nineties. At one of these, one of my colleagues brought his son, who was a huge fan of Les, having earned himself plaudits at school for introducing his teacher to Les’s Work. Les would stand on stage, reading from his books of poems and by the simplicity of this style of performing, would hold audiences captive. He wasn’t shy of ad-libbing either. On that occasion where I first saw him, he accidentally turned over two pages. My colleagues son continued with the poem. At the end, after the applause had died down, with perfect comic timing, he said: “I’ve never done that as a duet!”
At another concert, I heckled him and he said: “I must write that down. Life imitated les when I turned out to be the only person in the room with a pen! It was at that gig that I first heard him do his parody of the Shipping Forecast and thought how I’d love to hear Brian Perkins deliver it. From that Idea, the idea of Guide Cats was born. He gave generously, giving me a free reign to do what I liked with his poems to create the series. We both agreed that Guide Cats for the Blind would be the ideal title for the album, which later grew into a series of five sets of songs and poems. Les’s Goddaughter was a fan of Bernard Cribbins, also recently deceased. She wanted to hear Bernard perform one of Les’s poems, and I was pleased to have honoured that request. When we launched EyeT4All, Les Barker and Ann Widdecombe were guests at the launch event, which took place in the early evening. That day, we ran an EyeT4All day at County Hall, Maidstone, where I worked. We asked Les if he would come in at the start of each session and recite a couple of his poems. That meant he’d have to spend much of the day waiting in the metaphorical wings. This didn’t worry him at all. He just said in his characteristically self-effacing manner: “That’s OK, I’ll just find somewhere quiet to go, and carry on learning Welsh.” That’s exactly what he did, and towards the end of his life he’d reinvented himself as a Welsh Bard, taking an active part in many eisteddfods. At our 40th Anniversary event, we made him an honorary life member of TAVIP, or BCAB, as it was then. TAVIP and those who benefited from EyeT4All owe him a great debt of gratitude, and the folk world, where he was looked upon as an Icon, despite the fact that he neither sang nor played a folk instrument, will miss him greatly. I will also cherish some very surreal memories of him, not least his off-beat answer phone messages:
“I’m out in the garden, tending me lupins!”, and:
“I’ve just gone off to Oswistry…to have a good time.”
Mike Townsend writes:
BCAB/EyeT4All benefited greatly from the Guide Cats series. They provided the much needed match funding for our lottery bid.
The Shipping Forecast, as performed on Guide Cats for the Blind volume 1 sparked the idea for the Guide Cats for the Blind album series. On that Volume, Les Barker performs what became the title track of the series, which did much to bring people forward to buy the CD’s. Sir Terry Wogan’s rendition of ‘Have You Got Any News of the Iceberg’ encouraged many other performers to contribute to the series, as many were keen to share the billing with Sir Terry.
Les was always very supportive of the association, and as part of the Association’s Ruby anniversary celebrations in 2009 he became an honorary life member, in recognition of his generosity.
Les kindly came to my village, Fleckney in Leicestershire, to perform to raise funds for EyeT4All. Our village hall was packed! Folk enjoyed the poetry and his dry wit.
We enjoyed hosting him in our home and learned a bit of Welsh!
That first trial of EyeT4All was fantastic! It proved the concept, and led to hundreds of blind and partially sighted folk enjoying the benefits of tech. It was also a fun day! What else with Les, and Ann Widdecombe there.
Paul Roberts writes:
I first heard of les I think around 2003, prior to the first Guide Cats CD being issued and when it arrived at my home, I listened to it and really enjoyed it and bought all the other CD’s which came out, as well as a handful of Les’s CD’s.
It was in July 2004, when just after that year’s Sight Village exhibition, that there was a concert taking place in Birmingham to raise money for BCAB’s EYET4ALL project and I came along and had a fantastic time, mainly due to my meeting up with Les and also, BBC West Midlands presenter Nonny James, who was the host for that evening’s event.
Later on that year, Les was performing at a local folk club in Wallasey, which is on the Wirral and about 20 minutes from where I live. When I arrived there, Les saw me and said something like, Oh you’re Nonny’s mate.
Les had also been a guest on Nonny’s Thursday evening show, Fretwork and listening to the two of them together, was such fun.
In 2005, I went with a friend to see Les and the Mrs Ackroyd band playing at a venue in The Wirral and we had a great night there .I think that was one of the last times I saw Les but always enjoyed his gigs.
Les was featured every Sunday night on the Sunday Late Show on the BBC’s West Midlands stations, this time, being hosted by Keith Middleton.
Les was a quiet man off-stage but much more lively on-stage. Apart from Guide Cats For The Blind, one of my favourite of Les’s poems has to be Déjà vu.
R I P Les
Karl Farell ads: “as well as raising some money and awareness, those CDs can still amuse.”
Les Barker, 30 January 1947 – 15 January 2023
An interview with Les Barker:
Please click on play below to listen to a Magazine interview which was featured in the playback magazine in 2004 featuring Les Barker and Clive Lever.