Tuesday, October 4, 2005


British comedian Ronnie Barker has died at his London home after a long illness.

The TV legend, who, with the diminutive Ronnie Corbett, starred in the TV hit 'The Two Ronnies', was 76. His agent, Rosalind Chatto, said Barker died on Monday afternoon after a long period of heart trouble. His wife, Joy Tubb, was with him.

Barker was one of the most versatile and successful comic actors of his generation. 'The Two Ronnies' brought Barker and Corbett worldwide fame. Barker also made a name for himself as the smart-alec prisoner Fletcher in the prison comedy series 'Porridge', and as the lugubrious, stuttering shopkeeper Arkwright in 'Open All Hours'.

In 1987, at the peak of his career, he announced his retirement at the age of 57. In the announcement Barker implied he had achieved what he wanted to and that he did not have the stomach to continue. He then concentrated on his beloved antiques shop in the Cotswolds, vowing never to return to the spotlight. But he made one or two exceptions, including this year when he reunited with Corbett to present a special six-part series looking back at their favourite moments from 'The Two Ronnies'.

Ronald William George Barker was born on September 25, 1929, in Bedford. He was educated at Oxford High School and began his acting career with the Aylesbury Repertory Company in 1948. By 1955, he was appearing in roles in West End productions, including "Mourning Becomes Electra" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream". He also appeared in the highly successful radio comedy series "The Navy Lark".

Barker and Corbett first worked together as writers for 'The Frost Report' in 1966. They teamed up in 1971, and 'The Two Ronnies' began a 16-year BBC run that yielded 98 shows. In the process they came to represent a distinctly old-fashioned style of British humour, which at its peak was watched by 17million viewers an episode.

Barker once said, however, that 'Porridge' was the best thing he had done. "I knew with 'Porridge' from the first episode. It was in front of an audience, which is a wonderful sounding-board as to how well it's going. My wife was in the audience for that and she said afterwards 'This is going to be a big success', and she was right."

But although he agreed that Fletcher was his most successful character, his favourite one was the slightly lascivious Arkwright.

His successes earned him many accolades including three Bafta awards and an OBE in 1978. He wrote several books, including "Book Of Bathing Beauties" (1974) and his autobiography "Dancing In The Moonlight" (1993).

Barker married Ms Tubb in 1957. He is also survived by two sons and a daughter.

At the Guardian Unlimited site, they've reprinted one of Mr. Barker's monologues which is a perfect example of his skill in wordplay:

"Good evening. I am the president of the Loyal Society for the Relief of Suffers from Pismronunciation, for the relief of people who can't say their worms correctly, or who use the wrong worms entirely, so that other people cannot underhand a bird they are spraying. It's just that you open your mouse, and the worms come turbling out in wuck a say that you dick not what you're thugging to be, and it's very distressing.

"I'm always looing it, and it makes one feel umbumftorcacle, especially when one is going about one's diddly tasks. Slopping at the Sloopermarket, for instance. Only last wonk, I approached the chuckout point, and I shooed the ghoul behind the crash desk the contents of my trilly, and she said 'All right, granddad, shout 'em out.' Well, of course, that's fine for the ordinary man in the stoat who has no dribble with his wolds. For someone like myself, it's worse than a kick in the jackstrop.

"Sometimes, you get stuck on one letter, such as wubbleyou. And I said, 'Well, I've got a tin of woup, a woucumber, two packets of wheese and a walliflower'. She tried to make fun of me and said, 'That will be woo pounds, wifty-wee pence.' So I just said 'Wobblers!' and walked out.

"So you see how dickyfelt it is. But help is at hand. A new society has been formed by our mumblers to help each other in times of excream ices. It is balled Pismronouncers Unanimous, and anyone can ball them up on the smellyphone any time of the day or note, twenty-four flowers a spray, seven stays a creek, and they will come 'round and get drunk with you.

"For foreigners, there will be inperpetwitters, who will all speak many sandwiches, such as Swedish, Turkish, Burkish, Jewish, Gibberish and Rubbish. Membranes will be able to attend tight stool, for heaving classes, to learn how to grope with the many complinkities of the daily loaf.

"Which brings me to the drain reason for squeaking to you tonight. The society's first function as a body was a grand garden freight, and we hope for many more bodily functions in the future. The garden plate was held in the grounds of Blennham Paleyass, Woodstick, and the guest of horror was the great American pip singer, Manny Barrellow. The fete was opened by the bleeder of the opposition, Mister Dale Pinnock ... Pillock, who gave us a few well-frozen worms in praise of the society's jerk. He said that 'In the creeks and stunts that lie ahead, we must do out nut roast to ensure that it sucks weeds.'

"And everyone visited the various stores and abrusements, the rudeabouts, thing boats and the dodgers, and of course, all the old favorites such as Srty your Length, guessing the weight of the cook and tinning the pale on the wonky. The occasion was great fun, and I think it can safely be said that all the men present and thoroughly good women were had all the time.

"So, please join out society. Write to me, Doctor Small Pith, The Spanner, Poke Moses, and I will send you some brieflets to browse through and a brass badge to wear in your loophole."

The BBC Online presented a selection of the star's finest lines in today's edition, from classic shows like 'The Two Ronnies', 'Open All Hours' and 'Porridge'.

The Two Ronnies:
"On a packed show tonight, we'll be talking to an out-of-work contortionist who can no longer make ends meet "

"What have I learned, Mr Mackay? Three things. One - bide your time. Two - keep your nose clean. And three - don't let the bastards grind you down."

The Two Ronnies:
"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."

Doctor: I want you to fill one of those containers for me.
Fletcher (other side of the room): What, from 'ere?

Open All Hours:
"Don't just crit there siticising!"

The Two Ronnies:
"The toilets at a local police station have been stolen. Police say they have nothing to go on."

The Frost Report:
"I look up to him because he is upper class, but I look down on him because he is lower class."

The Two Ronnies:
"The search for the man who terrorizes nudist camps with a bacon slicer goes on. Inspector Lemuel Jones had a tip-off this morning, but hopes to be back on duty tomorrow."

"(Playing Monopoly) Would you Adam and Eve it? Go to jail! "

The following segment is from a sketch that is considered to be the best from 'The Two Ronnies':

Ronnie Corbett (shop assistant): There you are, four candles.
Ronnie Barker: No, fork 'andles! 'Andles for forks!

And this was their distinctive sign-off for each episode:

The Two Ronnies:
Ronnie Corbett: So it's good night from me...
Ronnie Barker: ...and it's good night from him. Good night!

The BBC Online asked readers to submit their favorite Ronnie Barker lines and comedy bits and there has been quite a nice compilation so far:

Best one liner has to be the sequence in Porridge with Lenny where Fletch starts: Would you like the usual, sir?
"I think I'll have a drink first."
"Large one?"
"Mind your own business."
Martin Taylor, London, UK

Open All Hours: What he comes in for is his business. What he goes out with is my business.
Brian cheverton, Frimley Green, England

How could you miss off "G-g-g-granville, f-f-f-fetch yer cloth".
Bob Sykes, Burnley, UK

"There's only one thing worse than a drunken Scotsman.. and thats a sober one"

"My aunt did some missionary work Mr Mackay."
"Oh yes Fletcher where was that?"
"Glasgow I think."
Tim Handley, London UK

Serving dinner as a butler to two obnoxious upper-class individuals, who are oblivious to his contempt: "Your nuts, M'Lord' 'Your crackers, M'Lady."
Chris Gledhill, Beverley, UK

My favourite work of his was Porridge, and I have been sat here trying to think which one of his one liners is my favourite from that show but I can't. Each episode is just half an hour of solid laughter as far as I'm concerned, and I can pay no higher tribute to a comic actor. He will certainly be missed, RIP Ronnie. God bless and thank you for the laughs.
Stephen Bridgeman, Bromley, England

Open All Hours:
Nurse Gladys: Business is looking up.
Arkwright: Yes, but p-pleasure is looking down (gazing at her cleavage)
Martin, London

"...and we will be speaking to the disillusioned vet who, in James Herriott style, is writing his memoirs, under the working title of 'All Creatures Grunt and Smell'"
Alan, London Uk

The Two Ronnies -
Jehosephat & Jones
"Little Mary-Ellen by the old barn door,
I know just what she's a-waitin' for.
Up in the loft where the lamp light flickers.
I lost my heart and she lost her parasol!"
KJ, Fife, Scotland

Four Candles sketch is my favourite.
William Kelly, Bathgate UK

My daughter and I sat at work remembering the brilliant sketches, especially in Open All Hours. He will be sadly missed. Our thoughts are with his family.
Lesley & Natalie, Oxford
Lesley Stowell, Oxford, England

Barker "That is a plant".
Mackay "No it's not, it's a tin of pineapples".
Allan, Edinburgh

My childhood revolves around memories of the Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise and my grandad making me laugh. It's a shame that so many of my comedy heroes are no longer here.
Mark Minghella, Prescot, UK

The Mastermind Sketch what else can you say but absolutely brilliant
Steve O'Mara, Yate South Glos

I had to add in my own two-bits to the site:
I don't see it mentioned here, but I remember a "Two Ronnies" "news" item about a woman who had been fitted with a faulty IUD and was now "expecting a baby in the spring."

I still find myself using "And it's goodnight from him" on customers, even if I know only a handful may understand the source.

What a team they were and they helped goose the image of TV comedy over here in America by the late 1970s.
Toby O'Brien, NYC, USA

Here's a look at Ronnie Barker's contributions to the roster of Toobworld:

Beyond the Box: Norman Stanley Fletcher (2003) (TV) .... Norman Stanley Fletcher
My House in Umbria (2003) (TV) .... The General
The Gathering Storm (2002) (TV) .... David Inches
Porridge (1979) .... Norman Stanley Fletcher
When We Are Married (1975) (TV)
The Picnic (1975) (TV) .... The General
Franklyn and Johnnie (1974) (TV) .... Johnnie Wetherby
Idle at Work (1972) (TV) .... George Idle
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1971) (TV) .... Bottom
The Keys of the Cafe (1965) (TV)

"Clarence" (1988) TV Series .... Clarence Sale
"The Magnificent Evans" (1984) TV Series .... Plantagenet Evans
"Going Straight" (1978) TV Series .... Norman Stanley Fletcher
"Open All Hours" (1973) TV Series .... Arkwright (1973-1985)
"Porridge" (1973) TV Series .... Norman Stanley Fletcher
"Seven of One" (1973) TV Series .... Various
"His Lordship Entertains" (1972) TV Series .... Lord Rustless
"The Two Ronnies" (1971) TV Series .... Himself/Various Characters
"6 Dates with Barker" (1971) TV Series .... Fred
"Hark at Barker" (1969) TV Series .... Lord Rustless
"The Ronnie Barker Playhouse" (1968) TV Series .... Various Characters
"Frost on Sunday" (1968) TV Series .... Various roles
"Before the Fringe" (1967) TV Series
"Foreign Affairs" (1966) TV Series .... Grischa Petrovich
"The Frost Report" (1966) TV Series .... Various roles
"A Tale of Two Cities" (1965) TV Series .... Jerry Cruncher
"Bold as Brass" (1964) TV Series .... Mr. Oakroyd
"How to Be an Alien" (1964) TV Series (voice)
"More Faces of Jim" (1963) TV Series .... Various Characters
"Six More Faces of Jim" (1962) TV Series .... Various Characters
"The Seven Faces of Jim" (1961) TV Series .... Various Characters
"It's a Square World" (1960) TV Series

The Two Ronnies at the Movies (1999) (TV)
The Comedy Trail: A Shaggy Dog Story (1999) (TV) .... Himself
Two Ronnies Night (1999) (TV) .... Himself
The Nearly Complete and Utter History of Everything (1999) (TV) .... Renaissance Man
Christmas Night with the Two Ronnies (1987) (TV) .... Various roles
"The Two Ronnies in Australia" (1987) TV Series .... Various roles Ronnie Corbett in Bed (1971) (TV) .... Various Characters
The Ronnie Barker Yearbook (1971) (TV) .... Various Characters
The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971) .... Guest Appearance (segment "Sloth")
"A Christmas Night with the Stars" (1958) TV Series .... Himself - Host (1971)
'Wiltons' - The Handsomest Hall in Town (1970) (TV) .... Music Hall Performer

"Comedy Connections" playing "Himself" (archive footage) in episode: "The Two Ronnies" (episode # 3.8) 11 April 2005
"Britain's Best Sitcom" playing "Himself" in episode: "Porridge" 21 February 2004
"The Avengers" playing "Cheshire" in episode: "The Hidden Tiger" (episode # 5.8) 4 March 1967
"The Saint" playing "Alphonse" in episode: "The Better Mousetrap" (episode # 5.9) 25 November 1966
"Sykes and A..." in episode: "Sykes and a Log Cabin" (episode # 7.6) 31 March 1964
"Benny Hill" playing "Chef" in episode: "A Pair of Socks" (episode # 1.2) 2 March 1962

And it's good night from him.


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