Eric Barker was born in Thornton Heath, London, on 20 February 1912, the youngest of three children. He was brought up in Croydon, Surrey and educated at Whitgift School. He joined his father's paper merchants' company in the city but left to concentrate full-time on writing. His first novel The Watch Hunt was published when he was eighteen. He wrote short stories and plays, appearing in the latter himself and gradually turned to writing and performing lyrics, revues and sketches for stage and on radio.
He later became one of the most familiar faces in British comedy in his day. Barker gained his renewed start in show business during the Second World War, when he was part of the armed forces radio show Merry Go Round, which he helped to write. After the war the show continued, though renamed The Waterlogged Spa, with Barker and his wife, actress Pearl Hackney. His "Steady Barker" catchphrase and verbal stumbling over words beginning with the letter "h" became well known to audiences. The show's success led to Barker's starring in other radio shows, where he achieved a sizeable following due to his versatility at doing voices.
In the 1950s he moved into television and films. On television he wrote and appeared in his own show, The Eric Barker Half-Hour, a black-and-white comedy sketch show on the BBC. As well as his wife, the cast included Nicholas Parsons and Deryck Guyler. The show ran for three series (21 episodes) between 1951 and 1953, and was broadcast fortnightly on Wednesdays around 9.00pm. Such was Barker's success that it led to him writing his autobiography Steady Barker in 1956.
He had appeared as an adult in nine films, including Carry on London, a 45-minute crime short in 1937. It is ironic therefore that in 1958 he received a BAFTA as "Most Promising Newcomer" for his role as a barrister's clerk in the film Brothers in Law (1957). The award led to more film work over the next 20 years, including three St Trinians films, and four in the classic Carry On British comedy film series. He found his niche in playing variations on the busybody sticking his nose in everyone's business, or as some authority figure, Carry On Constable (1960) being a good example. Along with Kenneth Williams and Kenneth Connor he is the only actor to appear in the first, Carry On Sergeant in 1958, and the last of the original series of Carry On films, Carry On Emmannuelle in 1978. Barker's other Carry On appearances were Carry On Constable (1960) and Carry On Spying (1964).
In that same year (1964) he appeared in the ITC filmed series Danger Man, playing the titular character in "The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove". Barker took his "authoritarian busybody" characterisation to the limit, with the twist that Mr. Lovegrove existed only in spy John Drake's semi-unconscious mind after crashing his car on his way to the airport, inspired by one of the responding ambulance operators attending the scene of Drake's accident. (Helping cementing the "spy" link was an appearance by Desmond Llewellyn who played "Q" in the "James Bond" franchise.)
Barker was also a writer and published a number of novels: Sea Breezes in the early '30s under the pen name of Christopher Bentley and Day Gone By under his own name in 1933, as well as Golden Gimmick in 1958 published by Hodder and Stoughton. P. G. Wodehouse wrote that he had "a real talent for humorous writing".
Barker married the actress Pearl Hackney (28 October 1916 – 18 September 2009) with whom he often worked, though she also had a comedy career of her own. They had a daughter, Petronella Barker, in 1942, who also appeared in films and television between 1964 and 1983. Petronella married Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins in September 1967. They divorced in 1972 and had a daughter in 1967, Abigail Hopkins, who is a singer and actress.
Barker died in Canterbury, Kent, and is buried in the churchyard of St. Mary's, Stalisfield Green, near Faversham, where he had lived for a number of years.
In 1971 Barker was the subject of the British ITV television show This Is Your Life.