There's nothing more to add ...
I have never before felt compelled to write a tribute piece, but was curiously moved by yesterday’s announcement of the passing of Ronnie Barker. The only other time I can remember feeling so upset about the passing of a public figure, it was last year when Sir Brian moved upstairs to give God some tips on man-management (incidentally, it does make me feel proud when I drive past the “Brian Clough Way” signs on the A52 every day).
Anyway, I digress. My parents loved watching comedy. When I was little, the two programmes I remember us all watching were Kenny Everett and the Two Ronnies. And while Kenny Everett’s Spider-Man sketch remains one of the funniest jokes of all time, and more recently, Father Ted has had my Mum in stitches, there is a warmth and depth to the work of the Two Ronnies that has rarely been seen elsewhere.
Ronnie Barker was not a reclusive man, but he was private. He was eager not to upstage his colleagues, nor to put pressure on them, which was how the alter-ego of Gerald Wiley was born; if his colleagues saw that the sketches were written by him, they may have been scared of voicing any critical opinion of him. And so the comedy he produced was pure and genuine.
Ronnie Barker was also a brilliant actor. Aside from the Two Ronnies, he is most famous for Porridge and Open All Hours, in which he played vastly different characters (albeit both loveable rogues), but made them both utterly believable. Both Fletcher and Arkwright were superficially driven by power (in prison and over Granville), but both did have hidden depths (especially Fletch; Arkwright’s main objective in life was to breach Nurse Gladys’ defences).
So a writer, and an actor. Watching some of the Two Ronnies’ work, it is apparent how much both Corbett and Barker were enjoying their performances. It is always heart-warming to see Ronnie C struggling to maintain a straight face when presented with a brilliant character performance from Ronnie B. However, I suppose the reasons that the Two Ronnies’ were so memorable were just the sheer playfulness and comic genius behind their sketches; often saucy but never smutty, brilliantly written and equally well performed. Some of my personal favourites include (and apologies, as I don’t know the proper names of all the sketches):
∑ Nose at Ton - Ronnie B, as the newsreader, finds his autocue broken, so can only read “o”s instead of “e”s. My favourite is a reference to the “Primo Monostor, Sir Aloc Douglas-Homo”.
∑ Morris Dancing - especially the song about “Bold Sir John”, allowing Ronnies B and C to express a thinly-veiled rivalry (“sod off, sod off, sod off, sod off, so doff your hat…”)
∑ Automated Doctor – Ronnie C goes to the surgery to find that due to automation, Doctor Barker actually appears upon a television screen with multiple choice answers (“Is your problem: (a) Nose bleeds; (b) Getting up in the morning; (c) Terry Wogan; or (a), (b) and (c), Terry Wogan getting up your nose every bleeding morning?”)
∑ Then there were the news items (thanks to the BBC News website for these):
o “On a packed show tonight, we'll be talking to an out-of-work contortionist who can no longer make ends meet”
o “The toilets at a local police station have been stolen. Police say they have nothing to go on”
o “The man who invented the zip fastener was today honoured with a lifetime peerage. He will now be known as the Lord of the Flies”
I am sure there are many more that could be added – everyone is bound to have their own personal favourites. All I would like to add is that on the 4th October 2005, the world lost a great man and a true comic genius.
A final word of advice from the Hieroglyphics sketch for you all to remember: “A bird in the hand is worth two in Shepherd’s Bush”. And with that, it is goodnight from me, and it is goodnight from him. Goodnight Ronnie.