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Classic TV Revisited: The Two Ronnies

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Classic light entertainment show The Two Ronnies ran on the BBC from 1971-1987 and starred Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett. At heart this was a memorable sketch show with two comics – one rotund, one short – with a penchant for puns, tongue twisters and dressing up as women.

Why was it so good?
The performances of Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett were marvellous. Gags were also provided by Barker and the likes of Spike Milligan,John Cleese and other members of the Monty Python team, and Only Fools And Horses creator John Sullivan.

How did it begin?
Ronnies Barker and Corbett appeared together in the Frost Report in the ’60s and BBC bosses decided it was a good idea to give them a show together. It always began with the line “In a packed programme tonight…” and ended with “And it’s goodnight from him…” In between there were always jokey news items; humour of the seaside postcard variety; and sketches in which they dressed up in female attire.

What were the highlights?
There were too many to choose from but often brilliant were the adventure serials. They included yarns such as The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town featuring the flatulence of David Jason. There was also The Worm That Turned, a futuristic tale in which Gestapo-type women were in charge with the late Diana Dors as commandant and all the men wearing womens’ clothes.

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So did Barker and Corbett enjoy cross- dressing all the time?
Corbett didn’t seem to mind but Barker hated it. He said that his wife Joy felt sick when she saw him in drag.

Was it popular?
Adults loved the clever writing and kids adored the risque material. It ran for 16 years from 1971 to 1987 on BBC1 with audiences topping more than 19m. Even when it was repeated it still drew well in excess of 14m for years after.

Memorable moments?
Older viewers can still remember the classic sketch in which a customer tried to buy fork handles. Or was it four candles? Ronnie Barker, to many, was the real star of the show but he probably wouldn’t have been half as funny without small Corbett. However, one of the most irritating parts of the whole show was undoubtedly the diminutive Corbett telling a story in a huge armchair.

Why did it end?
Barker decided to retire and open an antiques shop in Oxfordshire. His decision also came after his solo successes in Porridge and Open All Hours. BBC bosses were desperate to keep the ratings winner going but Barker would not budge. Corbett, who had lesser solo success with Sorry! went on to star in shows such as Small Talk and he was in the film Fierce Creatures.

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Distinguishing features?
Spectacles; limericks; double entendres; and mispronunciations.

Do say…
“Comic geniuses who are sorely missed today.”

Don’t say…
“A comedy double act with two straight men. Not a patch on Morecambe and Wise.

Not to be confused with
Morecambe and Wise; Little and Large; Hale and Pace; Mike and Bernie Winters; Ant and Dec; Ronnie Biggs; Da Doo Ron Ron.

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Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.

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