Barney's personality was based on that of Ed Norton on the 1950s television series The Honeymooners, played by Art Carney. Mel Blanc, who voiced Barney, first used the Barney Rubble voice when imitating Ed in the 1956 Looney Tunes Cartoon Half-Fare Hare. As such, Barney tended to be much more jovial-minded and easygoing than his friend Fred, who was slightly smarter than Barney in some matters and slightly dimmer than he was in others. Like Ralph Kramden on The Honeymooners, Fred was constantly on the lookout for get-rich-quick schemes, while Barney, like Norton, found life satisfactory as it was but participated in said schemes because Fred was his friend. Usually after Fred had hatched one of his plans, Barney would usually show his agreement by laughing dumbly and saying "er huh huh... OK, Fred!" or "huh huh huh... whatever you say, Fred!"
Barney's interests included bowling, playing pool, poker, tinkering around in Fred's garage and playing golf (though there were episodes where Barney did not know how to play golf). He, like Fred, was also a member of the Loyal Order of Water Buffalos lodge and its predecessor in earlier episodes, the Loyal Order of Dinosaurs. He is also a talented pianist and drummer. In the first episode of the original series he was an inventor of a hand-powered helicopter. Though clearly depicted as being in better shape than Fred, he isn't shown to be quite as enthusiastic a sportsman as Fred is. This distinction can be attributed to Fred's fondness of food, though Barney is shown to be almost as capable of excessive appetite on a number of occasions.
In early episodes, Barney had a Joisey accent and sounded nasally. However, when Barney's accent was getting too annoying, his accent was changed into a more deep and chuckley voice. In On the Rocks and Stone Age Smackdown, his Joisey accent returns.
While the mid-1980s spinoff series The Flintstone Kids depicts Barney as a child, the series seems to be mostly apocryphal due to its presenting Barney as a childhood friend of Wilma and Betty (vs. the original series' assertion that they first met as young adults). Still, the series' assertions that Barney had at least one younger brother, Dusty, was a childhood friend of Fred, and was the son of artist Flo Slate Rubble and car dealer Robert "Honest Bob" Rubble might be taken as valid. The original series also suggested in one episode that Barney was the nephew of Fred's boss, Mr. Slate, though subsequent episodes and spinoffs don't seem to support this claim. As a kid Barney worked in "Rock City". As young adults, Barney and Fred worked as bellhops at a resort, where they first met Wilma and Betty, who were working as cigarette girls. Eventually, Barney married Betty (as Fred did Wilma).
Several episodes and spinoffs suggest that Barney, along with Fred, spent some time in the army early in their marriages.
While the subject of Barney's occupation (or even if he had one) was never given during the original series, subsequent spinoffs suggest Barney went to work at the Slate Rock and Gravel Company quarry alongside Fred at some point after the original series; possibly in some office role. An episode of the original series does have a brief scene of Barney working at the Granite Building. When speaking to an upper-crust snob in another episode, Betty declares Barney is in "top-secret" work; but that might have been a cover for a low-level job or unemployment, or perhaps an in-joke meaning that Barney's job was unknown even to the show's writers. It could also be possible that both Fred and Barney work at the quarry, but may work in different sections of it, under different bosses. In one episode, Barney's boss tells him to "put down his broom," which implies some sort of janitorial works is involved. In a majority of spin-offs and movies, Barney has been portrayed as working in the quarry as a dino-crane operator, alongside Fred.
Around the fourth season of the original series, Betty and Barney found an abandoned infant on their doorstep, by the name of "Bamm-Bamm." A court battle ensued between the couple and a wealthy man who also had wanted to adopt Bamm-Bamm. Barney and Betty were successful in their efforts to adopt Bamm-Bamm because the wealthy man gave up (after winning the case) upon learning his wife became pregnant, after which he became a staple character on the series. For a number of episodes after Bamm-Bamm's debut, there is no sign of him on the show. In the fifth season, the family buys a pet hopparoo (a combination of a kangaroo and dinosaur) named Hoppy.
After Bamm-Bamm became a teenager, Barney joined the police force with Fred. Both characters were paired with the Shmoo from Lil Abner. He later became grandfather to Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm's children, Chip and Roxy.
Although he was friends with Fred, even he (Barney) lost his patience with him sometimes. The best example comes in I Yabba-Dabba Do!: after losing his patience with Fred for ruining Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm's wedding, he decided to leave Bedrock. He changed his mind after Fred apologised.
In several of the original episodes of the series, Barney can be seen with his eyes depicted as two ovals or (occasionally) circles shown only as dark circular outlines. Other episodes show his eyes as being completely filled in with black, very similar to Wilma's eyes. However, there are three occasions where he was seen with whites in his eyes, in the episodes "The Engagement Ring," "Ventriloquist Barney" and "A Haunted House Is Not A Home". In "The Engagement Ring," the whites in Barney's eyes appear when Fred suggests that he spar with a fearsome boxer in order to earn enough money to buy Betty a belated engagement ring. In "Ventriloquist Barney," the whites in Barney's eyes appear when he describes the terrifying facial features of wrestler Bronto Crushrock. In "A Haunted House Is Not A Home," the whites in Barney's eyes appear when Fred hits him on the head after Barney frightens him by gargling in the bathroom too loudly.
MarriageUnlike Fred, Barney has never been shown with any woman aside from his wife. However, an exception for this is made in The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas when he is invited to go to a buffet with Roxy, though he is not married to Betty at this point, but they are dating. Betty sees Barney wiping cream off Roxy after he accidentally knocks a cake onto her. Betty is hurt, mistakenly believing this to be an intimate gesture. Another exception is made in A Flintstones Christmas Carol when an actress named Maggie appears and every man at the Quarry, including Barney, is surprised over her beauty.
Mel Blanc was the principal voice of Barney Rubble, although Daws Butler (who previously voiced Ned Morton, a mouse version of Ed Norton (the inspiration for Barney Rubble), in the Looney Tunes short The Honey-Mousers) briefly assumed the role while Blanc recovered from a car wreck. In the first few episodes, Blanc used a noticeably different voice for Barney, sounding more high-pitched and Brooklyn-esque, only to later change to his Ed Norton voice for the rest of the show. Since Blanc's death, Frank Welker, Jeff Bergman, Stephen Stanton, Kevin Michael Richardson and Scott Innes have all performed the role.
In the 1994 live action Flintstones movie, Barney was portrayed by Rick Moranis. In the 2000 prequel, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, he was portrayed by Stephen Baldwin. In a Toshiba commercial he was voiced by Scott Innes.