Ronnie Corbett

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Ronnie Corbett
Corbett in 2010
Born Ronald Balfour Corbett
(1930-12-04)4 December 1930
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died 31 March 2016(2016-03-31) (aged 85)
Shirley, London, England
Cause of death Motor neurone disease
Occupation Comedian, actor, writer, broadcaster
Years active 1952–2013
Spouse(s) Anne Hart
(1966–2016; his death)
Children 3
Military career
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Air Force
Years of service 1950–1951
Rank Aircraftman
Unit Film Unit

Ronald Balfour "Ronnie" Corbett, CBE (4 December 1930 – 31 March 2016) was a Scottish stand-up comedian, actor, writer, and broadcaster, best known for his long association with Ronnie Barker in the BBC television comedy sketch show The Two Ronnies. He achieved prominence in David Frost's 1960s satirical comedy programme The Frost Report (with Barker) and subsequently starred in sitcoms such as No – That's Me Over Here!, Now Look Here, and Sorry!

Early life[edit]

Corbett was born in Edinburgh, the son of William Balfour Corbett (1898–1974), a master baker, and his London-born wife Annie Elizabeth Corbett (née Main; 1900–1991).[1] He had a brother about six years younger, and a sister about ten years younger than him.[2]

Corbett was educated at James Gillespie's High School and the Royal High School in the city, but did not attend university.[3] After leaving school, he decided he wanted to be an actor while performing in amateur theatricals at a church youth club.[4] His first job, however, was with the Ministry of Agriculture.[3]

Corbett served his compulsory national service with the Royal Air Force, during which he was the shortest in height commissioned officer in the British Forces.[5] A former aircraftman 2nd class, he was commissioned into the secretarial branch of the RAF as a pilot officer (national service) on 25 May 1950. He received the service number 2446942.[6] He transferred to the reserve (national service list) on 28 October 1951, thereby ending his period of active service.[7] He was promoted to flying officer on 6 September 1952.[8]


Following National Service, Corbett moved to London to start his acting career.[9] At 5 ft 1 in (1.55 m) tall, Corbett was suited to playing roles younger than his years.[10] References to his height frequently cropped up in his self-deprecating humour. In one of his earliest stage appearances, he was billed as "Ronald Corbett" at Cromer in Take it Easy in 1956, with Graham Stark.[3] He appeared in Crackerjack as a regular in its early days, one episode with Winifred Atwell. He had a walk-on in an early episode of the 1960s series The Saint (as "Ronald Corbett") and appeared in films including Rockets Galore! (1957), Casino Royale (1967), Some Will, Some Won't (1970) and the film version of the farce No Sex Please, We're British (1973).

Corbett starred in the first London production of the musical The Boys from Syracuse (as Dromio of Syracuse) in 1963 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, alongside Bob Monkhouse.[11] In 1965 he was in cabaret at Winston's, Danny La Rue's Mayfair nightclub. David Frost saw him and asked him to appear in The Frost Report. Corbett was in the West End, playing Will Scarlett in Lionel Bart's Robin Hood musical Twang!!. It failed, leaving Corbett free to accept.[12] It was while working at Danny La Rue's nightclub that Corbett met Anne Hart, who he was to marry that year. The marriage lasted 49 years, until he died.[3]

With David Frost[edit]

Corbett first worked with Ronnie Barker in The Frost Report (1966–67). The writers and cast were mostly Oxbridge graduates from the Footlights tradition. Corbett said he and Barker were drawn together as two grammar school boys who had not gone to university. The show was a mixture of satirical monologues, sketches and music. Corbett and Barker were beginning to be thought of as a pair.

They appeared with John Cleese in one of the most repeated comedy sketches in British television: the Class sketch. Corbett's height provided a key cue for both the visual humour and satirical value of the sketch, as he "looked up" to both Cleese and Barker's characters, and he got the pay-off line: "I get a pain in the back of my neck."[13]

Continuing under Frost, Corbett starred in No – That's Me Over Here!, a sitcom written by Frost Report writers Barry Cryer, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle (ITV 1967–70). Cryer and Chapman wrote two follow-ups: Now Look Here (BBC 1971–73) and The Prince of Denmark (BBC 1974). Corbett also appeared in Frost on Sunday (ITV 1968) and hosted The Corbett Follies (ITV 1969).[9]

He was a subject of the television programme This Is Your Life in April 1970 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews while appearing on the Frost on Sunday programme.[14]

The Two Ronnies[edit]

Corbett's BBC television comedy show with Ronnie Barker, The Two Ronnies, ran from 1971 to 1987. Barker and Corbett performed sketches and musical numbers. Corbett presented a monologue. Sitting in a large easy chair (emphasising his small size), and usually wearing a Lyle & Scott golfing V-neck sweater, he would stretch telling a simple joke over several minutes, often allowing himself to appear to lose his train of thought.[9]

Later work[edit]

Corbett's best-known role away from The Two Ronnies was as the 40-something Timothy Lumsden, dominated by his mother, in the sitcom Sorry! (1981–88).[15] In 1996, he appeared on the première of the short-lived BBC game show Full Swing, hosted by Jimmy Tarbuck.[9] Corbett played Reggie Sea Lions in the film Fierce Creatures (1997), written by his former Frost Report colleague John Cleese.[9]

Corbett hosted the game show Small Talk and played minor parts occasionally since its end – such as Griselda in a television production of Cinderella in 2000, and reviving his armchair monologue routines for a weekly appearance in a stand-up show hosted by Ben Elton. In 2003, he appeared in advertisements for the Sky+ digital television service alongside Alice Cooper. The premise was a running gag about their being happy housemates. In December 2004, Corbett appeared on the BBC news quiz Have I Got News for You.

In 2005, Corbett teamed up again with Ronnie Barker for The Two Ronnies Sketchbook, comedy sketches from their original series with newly recorded linking material. Also in March 2005, Corbett appeared with comedian Peter Kay in the spoof music video for the number one single "Is This the Way to Amarillo?", in which the song—originally by Tony Christie—was mimed, to raise money for Comic Relief. Corbett is remembered for accidentally falling on the treadmill that was out of shot in the green screen video; however, he found the fall funny when played back, and it was kept in the final version. He performed in Children's Party at the Palace as Mr Tibbs, the Queen's butler.

Corbett and Susie Silvey, 1980s.

In 2006, Corbett played a hyper-realised version of himself in Extras, caught taking drugs at the BAFTA Awards.[16] He also starred as himself in Little Britain Abroad, in which Bubbles DeVere tried successfully to seduce him. He opened the centre in Cromer, Norfolk, named after Henry Blogg.[17] Corbett was the "castaway" in the BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs on 21 October 2007. He featured as a Slitheen in a Sarah Jane Adventures episode for Red Nose Day 2009. He had a television interview about his life on 7 November 2009 for Piers Morgan's Life Stories.

In February 2010, Corbett was in the John Landis thriller comedy Burke & Hare.[18] In August 2010 he was a panellist in the BBC 1 comedy show Would I Lie to You?.[19] In the same month, he was the star of the Good Food HD programme Ronnie Corbett's Supper Club with Rob Brydon and Steve Speirs. The show's premise was that the main guest of the programme must choose a meal as if it were their last, and Corbett would cook it for him/her and his other guest, while they chatted about the guest's past and their current/future projects. In December of the same year he starred in a one-off special, The One Ronnie.

From 2010, Corbett starred in the BBC Radio 4 sitcom When The Dog Dies.[20] The series reunited him with Ian Davidson and Peter Vincent, the writers of Sorry![20] The series returned to BBC Radio Four for another three series.[21]

Already an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), Corbett was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2012 New Year Honours for services to entertainment and charity.[22][23]

Personal life[edit]

On 30 May 1966, Corbett married actress and dancer Anne Hart; they had two daughters, actresses Emma and Sophie Corbett. Their first child, Andrew, had a heart defect and died at six weeks old at St Thomas' Hospital, London.[2]

Corbett lived in Shirley, London for many years.[24] He also had a home in Gullane, Scotland. He was a beekeeper and kept hives at his second home.[25]

Corbett was a golfer and appeared in celebrity and pro–am events; in 2009, he made a documentary with Colin Montgomerie in which they played at Gleneagles.[26] A keen cricket fan, Corbett was also a president of the cricketing charity the Lord's Taverners (1982 and 1987).[27] He supported his local football club, Crystal Palace FC, as well as his hometown club, Heart of Midlothian FC.[28]

In mid-2014, Corbett attended a party at 10 Downing Street hosted by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.[29] In August 2014, Corbett was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian expressing their hope that Scotland would vote to remain part of the United Kingdom in September's referendum on that issue.[30]


On 31 March 2016, Corbett died at the age of 85, at Shirley Oaks Hospital in Shirley, London, surrounded by his family.[31] He was survived by his wife and two daughters.[4] He had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease in March 2015.[32]

John Cleese said that Corbett had "the best timing" he had ever watched.[33] Bruce Forsyth said it marked "one of the saddest days of [his] life".[33] David Walliams, a close friend of Corbett, said that he was his "comedy idol".[34]

Corbett's funeral service, for family and friends, was held on 18 April 2016, at the St John the Evangelist Church near his home in Shirley.[35] In tribute to one of his classic Two Ronnies comedy sketches, four candles were displayed at the back of the altar. He was cremated following a private service at Croydon Crematorium. [36] Mourners included Sir Michael Parkinson, David Walliams, Rob Brydon, and Jimmy Tarbuck. Barry Cryer, who worked with and first met Corbett 50 years ago, said, "I can't think of him without smiling... I'm here and tipping my hat to him."[37]


Year Title Role Notes
1952 You're Only Young Twice Student
1953 Top of the Form Student Uncredited
1954 The Million Pound Note Photographer Uncredited
1956 Fun at St. Fanny's Chumleigh
1957 After the Ball Stage Entertainer Uncredited
1957 Rockets Galore! Drooby
1962 Operation Snatch Soldier Uncredited
1967 Casino Royale Polo
1967 Monsieur Lecoq
1970 Some Will, Some Won't Herbert Russell
1970 The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer Interviewer
1973 No Sex Please, We're British Brian Runnicles
1997 Fierce Creatures Reggie Sea Lions
2010 Burke and Hare Captain Tam McLintoch


Year Title Role
1953 Rheingold Theatre Young Hooligan
1955 The Vise
1957 Sheep's Clothing Valet
1957–1958 "Crackerjack" Various roles (regular)
1963 The Saint Call Boy
1966–1967 The Frost Report Various roles
1967–1970 No – That's Me Over Here! Ronnie
1969 Hark at Barker
1970 Jackanory Storyteller
1971–1973 Now Look Here Ronnie
1974 The Prince of Denmark Ronnie
1971–1987 The Two Ronnies Himself & various characters
1981–1988 Sorry! Timothy Lumsden
1994–1996 Small Talk Host
1998 Timbuctoo Narrator &
all characters except Giant Squeak
1998 The Ben Elton Show Himself
2000 Cinderella ITV Panto Griselda (one of the Ugly Sisters)
2004 The Keith Barret Show Himself with his wife
2004 Monkey Trousers Various roles
2005 The Scottish Golf Show Himself
2005 The Two Ronnies Sketchbook
2006 Extras Himself
2006 Little Britain Abroad Himself
2008 Love Soup Gordon Baxter
2009 Sarah Jane Adventures (Comic Relief) Ambassador "Rani" Ranius/Slitheen
2010 The One Ronnie Himself
2010 Would I Lie to You? Himself
2011 Ronnie Corbett's Comedy Britain Himself
2013 Ronnie's Animal Crackers Himself


  1. ^ Barratt, Nick (23 June 2007). "Family detective". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 12 January 2008. 
  2. ^ a b "Desert Island Discs with Ronnie Corbett". Desert Island Discs. 21 October 2007. BBC. Radio 4. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Ronnie Corbett, best known for The Two Ronnie, dies aged 85". BBC News. 31 March 2016. Retrieved 31 March 2016. 
  4. ^ a b "It's goodnight from him: A look back at Ronnie Corbett's life". ITV. 31 March 2016. Retrieved 31 March 2016. 
  5. ^ "The One Ronnie, BBC One: A timeline of Ronnie Corbett's career". The Daily Telegraph. 21 December 2010. 
  6. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 38960. p. 3454. 4 July 1950. Retrieved 27 December 2012.
  7. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39376. pp. 5782–5783. 2 November 1951. Retrieved 27 December 2012.
  8. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39990. p. 5574. 16 October 1953. Retrieved 27 December 2012.
  9. ^ a b c d e Jeffries, Stuart (31 March 2016). "Ronnie Corbett obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 March 2016. 
  10. ^ "Ronnie Corbett". IMDb. Retrieved 1 April 2016. 
  11. ^ London Cast Recording. The Boys from Syracuse. Decca Record Company Limited, 1963. LK 4564.
  12. ^ Corbett, pp. 5–7
  13. ^ "BBC – Comedy – The Frost Report". BBC. Retrieved 21 April 2010. 
  14. ^ "Ronnie CORBETT (1930-2015)". Retrieved 19 September 2016. 
  15. ^ Hogan, Michael (31 March 2016). "Ronnie Corbett: A fine comic and an entertainment treasure". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 31 March 2016. 
  16. ^ Lindsay, Duncan (31 March 2016). "His best moment ever? Do you remember Ronnie Corbett's epic cameo in Extras?". Metro. Retrieved 31 March 2016. 
  17. ^ "Ronnie Corbett dies aged 85". Eastern Daily Press. 31 March 2015. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  18. ^ "John Landis' 'Burke & Hare' Goes Behind Cameras!". 4 February 2010. Retrieved 26 October 2010. 
  19. ^ "Did Ronnie Corbett Really Want Four Candles?". BBC. 13 August 2010. Retrieved 31 March 2016. 
  20. ^ a b Maloney, Elisabeth (3 May 2010). "When The Dog Dies". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 March 2016. 
  21. ^ "When the Dog Dies". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 31 March 2016. 
  22. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60009. p. 7. 31 December 2011.
  23. ^ "Honour for Corbett". BBC News. 31 December 2011. Retrieved 4 December 2015. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ Jackson, Peter (5 August 2009). "Is urban beekeeping the new buzz?". BBC. Retrieved 22 January 2012. 
  26. ^ "Ronnie Corbett: golf". Archived from the original on 20 August 2009. Retrieved 21 April 2010. 
  27. ^ "The Lord's Taverners". Archived from the original on 30 March 2010. Retrieved 21 April 2010. 
  28. ^ "Comedian Ronnie Corbett launches Welsh Premier League". BBC Sport. 14 August 2012. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  29. ^ "Accept it, embrace it: Conservatives aren't cool". The Spectator. 5 July 2014. Retrieved 2 April 2016. 
  30. ^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories". The Guardian. London. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  31. ^ "Ronnie Corbett dies", The Independent, 31 March 2016.
  32. ^ "Ronnie Corbett, 'true great' of British TV comedy, dies aged 85". Guardian. 31 March 2016. Retrieved 1 April 2016. 
  33. ^ a b Turner, Lauren; Smith, Keily (31 March 2016). "Reaction to Ronnie Corbett death". BBC News. Retrieved 31 March 2016. 
  34. ^ Olivia Blair (31 March 2016). "Ronnie Corbett dead: Ricky Gervais leads comedians paying tribute to The Two Ronnies star". The Independent. London. Retrieved 31 March 2016. 
  35. ^ Stars say goodbye to Ronnie Corbett
  36. ^ "Ronnie Corbett's funeral attended by stars of British TV's golden age". The Guardian. 18 April 2016. 
  37. ^ "Stars attend Ronnie Corbett's funeral". BBC News. 18 April 2016. Retrieved 18 April 2016. 


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