Whatever Happened to Barry Chambers?

(6 customer reviews)


  • Author Name: Barry Kay
  • Publication Date: 28/08/2019
  • Format: Paperback

In stock

SKU: 9781912881550 Categories: , Tags: ,


Whatever Happened to Barry Chambers is a dramatized memoir.

In 1944, when only four, Barry is left at The King’s (The Cathedral) School Boarding House in Peterborough, his mother having discovered her husband is a bigamist. Beautiful but manipulative, his mother makes a new life for herself, eventually in London, becoming a successful fashion designer. She gets married again, this time to a Jewish business man – and pretends that she and her son are Jewish.

Barry is brought up as an Anglican meanwhile and has to cope with loneliness, bullying, a sexual predator at school, his ‘loveable rogue’ of a step-father and his mother’s erratic behaviour. Barry becomes confused about his identity and as he grows older is attracted to the wrong set.

Barry Kay is Professor Emeritus of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Imperial College, London. He was educated at Edinburgh, Cambridge and Harvard Universities and lives in London with his wife, Rosemary.

He says, “When, after she died, we found my mother’s writings about her early married life I felt compelled to release my pent-up emotions of childhood by telling my own story. ‘Getting it all out’ has been a welcome release although laying bare so many private (and shocking) memories has not been easy”.

6 reviews for Whatever Happened to Barry Chambers?

  1. Amazon Customer

    A very moving account of the true story of a 4 year old who against all the odds ended up going to university. I wanted to laugh and cry.

  2. Amazon Customer

    I was a boarder with Barry at King’s School and in the same class. This a human story of a young boy turning adversity into huge success in later life. Well-written in a dialogue style, the book chronicles Barry’s early life as a rather weedy boy who was also something of a loner. It is an absorbing account of the harsh early life he had to endure before emerging into the eminent man he now is. Highly recommended.

  3. Jane

    This is a marvellous book about a dislocated background. The author was dumped at an Anglican boarding school aged 4 following his mother’s discovery of her bigamous marriage. Barry is then kept in the background as his mother re-invents herself as a Jewess. Somehow Barry survives his hilarious but neglectful background with remarkably little rancour. This is a poignant read and well told.

  4. Colin Richardson

    I went to school with Barry and shared the harshness of The Pig boarding house.
    He paints a very accurate picture of the conditions that we experienced at a boarding school in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

    I knew that Barry had come from an unusual background and that he had been dumped at the Pig before he had reached school-age – but that’s all I knew.
    In this case the truth is almost stranger than fiction and I’m so pleased that he has shared his story.

    It’s both comical and sad, but most importantly, it’s inspirational to those who may also have a challenging start to life.

    The book has been written in a self-effacing way and gave me personally a wonderful trip down memory lane.

    I still laugh at his description of his first kiss and I’m convinced that the whole story would make a great film.

  5. Amazon Customer

    I have known Barry Kay for a number of years as a talented bassoonist in an amateur orchestra, a witty conversationalist in the pub after rehearsals and, by reputation, as an eminent physician. I had no idea before reading his memoir that this engaging and urbane man had emerged from such a tormented childhood and early adulthood. The strength of character and will that he has shown to make a success of his life comes through in his writing about it: while he doesn’t conceal the pain and anger that he felt and still feels about his treatment, he doesn’t seem to bear malice. The reader is drawn into his story without being subjected to ‘poor me’ emotional demands.

    In this book, Barry’s own story is skilfully interwoven with his mother’s, which he discovered only after her death. We are constantly, and usually unpleasantly, surprised at the next turn of events. It has all the suspense of a good novel, but it’s true.

  6. antonia young

    This extraordinary autobiography tells the difficult earlier years of one of Britain’s most highly respected immunologists. Kay describes the extreme difficulties that he was processing throughout his life. In overcoming these, first he totally changed his persona, on leaving his somewhat cushioned Christian boarding school home of l4 years. With a new Jewish stepfather’s name, one which he had been given on leaving school, and adapting to the many freedoms of student life at Edinburgh University, he faced new personal dilemmas.

    In this personal account, Barry presents his traumatic, often lonely, background, from the moment, as a 4-year-old, being left by his mother, with strangers at a school he had never known, with no explanation from anyone as to when he would see his mother again. By good fortune, Lilian Hay, the Scottish Matron was very supportive to Barry especially in his early years at the school, but left to get married long before Barry completed his schooling. Even when his mother returned after two contactless months, her interactions with him were always brief, unpredictable, infrequent, unplanned and mostly inadequate. It was many years later that he learned that his father was a bigamist (already married to another before he married his mother) and at this stage had been forced to abandon Barry’s mother and son (Barry only ever met him once after his father left the two of them)..

    Much of the book focuses on Barry’s life as a schoolboy at Peterborough Cathedral Grammar School, where he suffered bullying and unpleasantness, yet managed high academic achievement. In his school holidays he was isolated:, although in his mother’s home with her new partner; he was left alone, an embarrassment in her new-found niche – where although not Jewish, she claimed to be a successful Jewish business woman (and was out of the house, working and even eating out, well into every evening).

    Barry’s book concerns the tremendous difficulties that he faced, including his understanding, through his medical training, and developing science, that his mother was in fact suffering from a bi-polar illness. However, much of his understanding of his mother, only came to him on finding his mother’s personal writing after her death. By this time he had been married for 50 years to Rosy (the perfect woman as he clearly describes her – and Scottish). This discovery gave Barry new understanding of his mother and the impetus to write up her effect on his life.

    Despite Barry’s modest writing about his own achievements, not only in the field of medicine, but also as a musician and in theatre, these are all the more remarkable, bearing in mind his extraordinarily desolate childhood. In achieving his mother’s goal for him to train as a doctor, Barry later, surely surpassed even her hopes. All the greater may be his pride in those many achievements which he describes in concluding the book.

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