Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett met for the first time at the Buckstone Club in the Haymarket, London, where Ronnie Corbett was serving drinks between acting jobs. They were invited by David Frost to appear in his new show, The Frost Report, with John Cleese, but the pair's big break came when they filled in for a few minutes during a technical hitch at an awards ceremony in 1970. In the audience was Bill Cotton, the Head of Light Entertainment for the BBC, and Sir Paul Fox, the Controller of BBC1. Cotton was so impressed by the duo that he turned to Fox and asked "How would you like those two on your network?". As a result, Barker and Corbett were given their own show by the BBC. The programme quickly became one of the most successful and long running light entertainment shows on British television, broadcast at the prime-time slot of 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, and at its peak, 20 million viewers a show.
The show was based on the complementary personalities of Barker and Corbett, who never became an exclusive pairing, but continued to work independently in television outside of the editions of the Two Ronnies. The show was produced annually between 1971 and 1987. It had many notable writers including Ray Alan, John Cleese, Barry Cryer, Spike Milligan, David Nobbs, David Renwick, Eric Idle, John Sullivan, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Laurie Rowley. In addition, Barker used the pseudonym Gerald Wiley when writing sketches.
The show featured comic sketches in which Barker and Corbett appeared both together and separately, with various additions giving the programme the feeling of a variety show. The sketches often involved complex word-play, much of it written by Barker, who also liked to parody officialdom and establishment figures, as well as eccentrics.
Both Barker and Corbett had their own solo sections on each show. Barker would have his own heavily wordplay-based sketch, often as the head of a ridiculous-sounding organisation (for example, the "Anti-Shoddy Goods Committee").
Likewise, Corbett always had a discursive solo monologue in each show, when he sat in a chair, facing the camera, attempting to tell a simple joke, but constantly distracting himself into relating other humorous incidents. The joke itself was normally deliberately corny; the humour came from Corbett's wild tangents, as well as the anticlimax when he finally reached the punchline.
It became a tradition of the shows to have a continuing "serial" story which progressed through the eight episodes of a series. These were often fairly bawdy tales with special guest stars. The very first serial was Hampton Wick (1971) written by Barker, which began as a pastiche of costume dramas about a governess called Henrietta Beckett, played by Madeline Smith, with the Ronnies playing a wide variety of other characters.
There were four modern-day mystery serials featuring the comic detective characters "Piggy Malone" (Barker) and "Charley Farley" (Corbett). Done to Death (1972), a mystery about a murdered family, featuring Sue Lloyd; Death Can Be Fatal (1975), in which the duo are sent in search of the formula for the Clumsy Drug, alongside Cyd Hayman; Stop! You're Killing Me (1977–78), in which Devon's yokels are murdered and dumped in London, with support from Kate O'Mara as the gypsy temptress, Lucy Lee; and Band of Slaves (1981–82), where an all-girls orchestra is sold into white slavery by a demented Chinaman.
One of the most famous serials was The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town (1976), written by Spike Milligan and Ronnie Barker but credited as "Spike Milligan and a Gentleman". Set in Victorian times, it is a Jack the Ripper parody in which a mysterious figure goes around blowing raspberries at members of the upper classes. The raspberries were done by Barker's friend David Jason. This entire section of sketches was included in Milligan's book "I Told You I Was Ill".
Another memorable serial was The Worm That Turned (1980); Diana Dors guest-starred in this spoof piece of dystopian fiction set in 2012 in which women rule Britain. Male and female gender roles are completely reversed, even down to men having women's names and vice versa. Men are housekeepers and wear women's clothes, and law and order is managed by female guards in boots and hot pants.
Another regular feature of the shows was an elaborate musical finale in which Barker and Corbett – often in drag – and company would sing a medley of songs in character, in barbershop, music hall, Gilbert and Sullivan or other styles, with the original words altered to suit whatever comic situation they were portraying. There would also be a cabaret musician or group appearing as a special guest, including Dana, Elkie Brooks, Manhattan Transfer, Pan's People, Michel Legrand, Barbara Dickson, Tina Charles, the Nolan Sisters, Elton John, New World, Elaine Paige and Phil Collins, the last of whom also took part in a few sketches.
The show always opened and closed at the newsdesk, which featured the Ronnies as newsreaders, reading spoof news items. This gave rise to the famous catchphrase at the end of each show:
Corbett: So it's "Goodnight" from me.
Barker: And it's "Goodnight" from him.
Revivals and Comebacks Edit
The show resurfaced in 1999 for a Two Ronnies Night. Ronnie Corbett also presented a Two Ronnies at the Movies special that same year. In 2000 A Tribute to the Two Ronnies was hosted by Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett themselves.
In 2004 Barker announced that he and Corbett would return to make new episodes, entitled The Two Ronnies Sketchbook. This involved the two sitting at the newsdesk introducing their classic sketches. A Christmas special was recorded in July 2005 due to Barker's failing health.
Whilst the Sketchbook series was transmitted, The Two Ronnies was also the subject of an episode of the BBC documentary Comedy Connections. Ronnie Corbett, producers James Gilbert, Terry Hughes and Michael Hurll as well as writers Ian Davidson, Peter Vincent, David Renwick and Barry Cryer all spoke about the making of the series. Ronnie Barker did not appear, but excerpts from an interview he gave in 1997 were included.
On Ronnie Barker's death on 3 October 2005, Ronnie Corbett is reported to have said that throughout their many years of association there was never an angry word between them.
DVD Releases Edit
As of 24 September 2012 with the release of The Picnic, By the Sea and The One Ronnie as part of The Complete Collection, every single episode has now been released on DVD.
|DVD Title||Discs||Year||No. of Ep.||DVD release|
|Region 2||Region 4|
|Complete Series 1||2||1971||8||30 April 2007||4 July 2007|
|Complete Series 2||2||1972||8||2 July 2007||8 May 2008|
|Complete Series 3||2||1973–1974||8||17 March 2008||5 March 2009|
|Complete Series 4||2||1975||8||19 May 2008||6 August 2009|
|Complete Series 5||2||1976||8||15 June 2009||4 March 2010|
|Complete Series 6||2||1977–1978||8||22 February 2010||5 August 2010|
|Complete Series 7||2||1978–1979||8||17 May 2010||3 March 2011|
|Complete Series 8||2||1980||8||6 September 2010||2 June 2011|
|Complete Series 9||2||1981–1982||8||28 February 2011.||1 March 2012|
|Complete Series 10||2||1983–1984||6||9 May 2011.||5 September 2012|
|Complete Series 11||2||1985||5||25 July 2011.||3 April 2013|
|Complete Series 12||2||1985–1986||6||26 September 2011.||7 August 2013|
|The Christmas Specials||2||1973–1982-1984-1987||4||29 October 2007.||6 November 2008|
|The Complete Collection||27||1971–1987, 2010||96||24 September 2012.||2013|
|Two Ronnies in Australia||2||1986||6||—||28 June 2008|
|The Best of...Volume 1||1||1971–1984||1 Compilation||1 October 2001||4 March 2002|
|The Best of...Volume 2||1||1971–1985||1 Compilation||29 September 2003||17 March 2003|