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Two Ronnies, The (1971-86)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Two Ronnies, The (1971-86)
BBC1, 10/4/1971-1/2/1986
92 x 45/50 min in 12 series, plus 5 specials, colour
Producers includeTerry Hughes
Writers includePeter Vincent
 Spike Mullins
 David Nobbs
 Gerald Wiley (Ronnie Barker)
 Barry Cryer
 David Renwick

Cast: Ronnie Corbett, Ronnie Barker

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Sketches, jokes, 'news', songs and serials from Ronnies Barker and Corbett.

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With its inventive word-play, nudge-wink musical numbers, seaside humour and rich variety of characters, The Two Ronnies established itself as one of British television's most successful comedies, with a popularity that endured well beyond its own lifetime.

Barker and Corbett, who had previously worked together on The Frost Report (BBC, 1966-67), were hosting the BAFTAs when a technical hitch left the comedians to ad-lib their way into a BBC contract. With a huge pool of writers, including one 'Gerald Wiley' (Barker), they would wade through dozens of jokes and sketches for each programme. Despite a partnership of 16 years, they never called themselves a double act, leaving them free to pursue individual projects.

"In a packed programme tonight", shows followed a fairly stable format. A typical episode began with some news gags, followed by one or two sketches, a Barker solo skit, a song from a musical guest (Elkie Brooks, Barbara Dickson), a weekly episodic serial, Corbett's 'in the chair' rambling monologue and a big musical number (popular were their country and western singers Big Jim Jehosphat and Fat-Belly Jones), before returning to the news desk for "a few late items of news".

One of the most popular elements was the serial: bumbling private detectives Charley Farley and Piggy Malone investigating mysteries; the Victorian melodrama 'The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town', written by Spike Milligan and 'A Gentleman' (Barker), and 'The Worm That Turned', set in 2012, with England a female-run dictatorship policed by PVC-clad stormtroopers in thigh-length boots and hot pants, and presided over by a power-dressing Diana Dors; the men, meanwhile, wore dresses and did housework. The latter, not surprisingly, ran into trouble with feminists, who saw it as a misogynistic male fantasy.

Despite this controversy, and the impact of the alternative comedy generation in the early 1980s, the show continued attracting huge audiences until 1986 (and, in repeat form, well beyond that), partly because its sexism seemed so gentle. After 12 series, numerous specials and two 'grunt and groan' TV films, The Two Ronnies finished with Barker retiring from show business. Corbett briefly fronted his own series, The Ronnie Corbett Show (BBC, 1987), and later found a surprising outlet for his monologues in 1998's The Ben Elton Show (BBC). Barker was coaxed out of retirement in the late 1990s, re-joining Corbett to present compilation programmes, culminating in The Two Ronnies Sketch Book (BBC, 2005).

Graham Rinaldi

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Video Clips
1. Mastermind (2:44)
2. The worm that turned (3:16)
3. Finishing the sentence (4:10)
4. A few late items of news (1:13)
Complete edition (44:08)
Barker, Ronnie (1929-2005)
Corbett, Ronnie (1930-)
Cryer, Barry (1935-)
Jackson, Paul (1947-)
Renwick, David (1951-)