The Two Ronnies

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The Two Ronnies
Tworonniesspecs.JPG
The spectacles logo from the show's opening. Both performers wore glasses; Barker's are on top, Corbett's underneath.
Created byBill Cotton
StarringRonnie Barker
Ronnie Corbett
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series12
No. of episodes93
Production
Running time40–58 minutes
Production company(s)BBC
DistributorBBC Worldwide
2entertain
ABC (Australia, home video)
Release
Original networkBBC1
Picture formatPAL (576i)
Audio formatMono
Original release10 April 1971 – 25 December 1987
Chronology
Followed byThe Two Ronnies Sketchbook
The One Ronnie

The Two Ronnies is a BBC television comedy sketch show created by Bill Cotton for the BBC, which aired on BBC One from April 1971 to December 1987. It featured Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, the two Ronnies of the title. The usual format included sketches, solo sections, serial stories and musical finales.

Origins[edit]

Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett met 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,[1] but the pair's big break came when they filled in, unprepared and unscripted, for eleven minutes during a technical hitch at a British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards ceremony at the London Palladium in 1970.[2] 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?" Unbeknown to them the pair had just had the renewal of their contract declined by London Weekend Television of rival network ITV, and so were free to change channels.[2] Barker and Corbett were given their own show by the BBC.[3]

Format[edit]

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. Corbett appeared quieter, more often acting as a foil for Barker, but remained an important part of the chemistry. Many of the jokes revolved around his lack of height, with him delivering many of them himself: when Barker said that the next part "does suit Ronnie C. right down to the ground", Corbett replied "Mind you, that's not far is it?". Other jokes could be of a sexual nature of the sort found on seaside postcards: for example:

"Tickle your botty with a feather tonight?" (sotto voce)
"I beg your pardon?" (outraged)
"Particularly grotty weather tonight"

Some of the show's material contained elements of surreal or left field humour, in the vein of Monty Python, and was considered edgier and more sophisticated than the more traditional routines of Morecambe and Wise. The duo had formed some time after their peers by which time the comedy world had moved on to satire, absurdist surrealism and the beginnings of alternative humour. Furthermore, there was more comedic parity between the show's two stars, with the diminutive Corbett less of a foil to Barker than Ernie Wise was to Eric Morecambe - they were clear comedic equals. Possibly their best known sketch was "Four Candles".

Solo sections[edit]

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.

An example of Ronnie Corbett's humour is this short excerpt from a monologue:

Serial stories[edit]

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 Two Ronnies also starred in two spin-off silent films labelled The Two Ronnies Present..., By the Sea and The Picnic, written by Barker, mainly silent comedies featuring a squabbling upper-class family with a 1920s feel about them.

Hampton Wick (1971)[edit]

The very first serial of The Two Ronnies was written by Barker, and began as a pastiche of costume dramas about a governess called Henrietta Beckett, played by Madeline Smith. Barker played a sex-starved aristocrat called Sir Geoffrey, and Corbett played his son Edward, but further into the serial, the Ronnies portrayed a wide variety of other characters, including pick-pockets and royals. At the end it is revealed to be just a dream when she wakes up in Hampton Wick Cottage Hospital after having an accident.

Done to Death (1972)[edit]

Piggy Malone and Charley Farley.

Piggy Malone (Barker) and Charley Farley (Corbett) are private detectives who investigate a mystery about a murdered family, featuring Sue Lloyd as Blanche Brimstone. As soon as Piggy finds out about the murder in the newspaper, a decision's made that means a trip to the country, and there's a second murder during an unusual gathering. Also featuring are secretary Miss Whizzer and the rest of the Brimstone family, through which the detectives narrow down the culprit.

Death Can Be Fatal (1975)[edit]

Piggy and Charley's second serial begins when a frogman delivers a note, and the duo are sent in search of the formula for the Clumsy Drug, alongside Cyd Hayman as Madame Eloise Coqoutte. Corbett and Barker also play the two villains, the notorious Mr Greensleeves and his Japanese henchman Bobjob. In the end the mystery is solved as the formula is revealed on a pair of women's knickers.

The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town (1976)[edit]

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".

Stop! You're Killing Me (1977–78)[edit]

Piggy and Charley return as Devon's yokels are murdered and dumped in London, with support from Kate O'Mara as the gypsy temptress, Lucy Lee.

Sid and Lily, George and Edie (1978)[edit]

This is not so much a serial, but a series of sketches with the same characters that spanned series 7. Sid and George enjoy pints whilst discussing their wives Lily and Edie.

The Worm That Turned (1980)[edit]

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. The watching of chauvinistic films is prohibited, so upset duo Janet and Betty prepare to escape to the country.

Band of Slaves (1981–82)[edit]

The last serial to include Piggy Malone and Charley Farley, in which an all-girls orchestra is sold into white slavery by a demented Chinaman. Elizabeth Larner plays Mrs Bumstead, who notices a mysterious blind man appearing on the cruise ship. This concluded The Two Ronnies' serials collection, as the last three series didn't have any.

Musical finales[edit]

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[4] 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 Samantha Jones, 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.

Newsdesk[edit]

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: That's all we've got time for, so it's "Goodnight" from me.

Barker: And it's "Goodnight" from him.

Both: Goodnight![5]

Other performers[edit]

Apart from Corbett and Barker, several actors from television appeared multiple times in the series, most notably John Owens and Claire Nielson, who appeared in twenty-one and seventeen episodes respectively throughout the series. Other frequent performers include April Walker, John Rutland, Michael Redfern, Jenny Logan, Alec Bregonzi, Carol Hawkins, Dilys Watling, Joyce Windsor, Julia McKenzie, Barbara New, Ian Gray, Johnnie Wade, Patricia Brake (who starred with Barker in the sitcom Porridge, which aired at the same time as the series), Josephine Tewson, Noel Dyson and Vicki Michelle. The Fred Tomlinson Singers appeared as background singers in twenty-five episodes.

As the series gathered more popularity, the sketches began to feature more famous and well-known British actors, including John Cleese, Patrick Troughton, Jacki Piper, Stratford Johns, Joan Sims, Patricia Routledge, Jenny Agutter and Lynda Baron.

Before achieving fame in the sitcom Hi-De-Hi, Barry Howard appeared in several early episodes as an uncredited extra. Other actors who appeared as extras before their rise to fame include Andrée Bernard and John Scott Martin.

Theme music[edit]

The main theme music for the show was composed by Ronnie Hazlehurst[6]. Although opening and closing credits appear to use different themes they are respectively the first & third sections of a longer piece.

Another track associated with the show is the stock track The Detectives by Alan Tew (also known as the theme to 1975 Yorkshire TV series The Hanged Man). This was used for the Charlie Farley & Piggy Malone story Stop You're Killing Me[7].

Popularity[edit]

The programme became one of the most successful and long running light entertainment shows on British television, broadcast in the prime-time slot of 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, and at its peak, was watched by 18.50 million viewers a show.[3] Following the departure of Morecambe and Wise from the BBC in 1978, The Two Ronnies became the BBC's flagship light entertainment programme, regularly gaining the top viewing figures in the critical Christmas Day audience battle. A memorable Radio Times cover for the extended Christmas issue in 1973 had both double acts appearing side by side.[8]

Spin-offs and compilation series[edit]

In 1986, 1987 and 1988 multi-part compilation series titled Twenty Years of the Two Ronnies were aired, which featured the pair picking some of their classic sketches.

The pair made no new shows after Christmas 1987, following Barker's decision to retire from show business. This was unknown to the audience and even the production team – the only person Barker told was Corbett, and they and their wives all went for a meal straight after the recording, keeping it a very low-key affair.

The Two Ronnies in Australia[edit]

The Two Ronnies was regularly screened in Australia on ABC Television, and was repeated several times. In 1986 the series was reported as being into its second or third airing, and being broadcast in a respectable time slot.[9]

In 1979 a series was made for the Nine Network in Australia under the title of The Two Ronnies in Australia. It was followed by another series in 1986 with six episodes. These episodes contain many of the original sketches done for the BBC, but reworked for an Australian audience.

Parodies[edit]

The show was parodied twice by the Not the Nine O'Clock News team in 1982. One was as "The Three Ronnies", including footage of Ronald Reagan, at the time the President of the United States.

The other controversially parodied them as "The Two Ninnies", a pastiche of their opening routine and a musical routine, using exaggerated innuendo, e.g. "Oh vagina, oh vagina, over Chinatown!" Barker in particular was quite offended by this sketch while Corbett was reportedly amused by it.[10][11][12][13] The latter sketch was written by John Lloyd and Nigel Planer, while the writer of the song was Peter Brewis, who also wrote songs for The Two Ronnies.

The show is also briefly parodied in The Fast Show during a segment of a 'chanel 9' sketch set during a BAFTA style award ceremony. One of the nominations are 'The Twelve Ronnies', and a camera pans across a group of men dressed up to look like Corbett and Barker as they utter their famous 'it's goodbye from me' line in Chanel 9's nonsense language.

Adverts[edit]

Barker and Corbett also made a number of advertisements that appeared on ITV, most notably for British Leyland (Austin/Morris) in 1979 where Corbett played a villain on the run and, "needing some wheels", gets salesman Barker to show him round the Austin Morris range. They did a second ad in 1981, for the "BL Double Bonus" campaign, which featured Corbett playing a tax inspector inquiring as to why Barker is running four cars. They also did a series of ads for Hertz car rentals in the 1980s.

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[citation needed] to have said that throughout their many years of association there was never an angry word between them.

In September 2006, they were voted by the general public as Number 6 in a poll of TV's greatest stars.

As of 2012, full shows of The Two Ronnies are repeated on ITV3 and Gold. On 24, 25 and 26 December 2006, the ITV3 channel devoted the whole three days to the show interspersed with Ronnie Corbett's reminiscences of the show and Ronnie Barker. On 28 May 2007 many more episodes new to ITV3 were broadcast as well a showing of The Picnic and By the Sea.

DVD releases[edit]

The BBC Archives remarkably retains all episodes of The Two Ronnies in their entirety that were originally transmitted. In April 2007 (18 months after Barker's death), 2 Entertain began releasing The Two Ronnies on DVD in Britain. Series One and Two, including a definitive collection of their Christmas specials with segments from Christmas Night with the Stars, the Old-Fashioned Christmas Mystery and three other Christmas shows, were released on 30 April, 2 July and 29 October 2007.

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.[14][15]

The Two Ronnies were released in Region 4 (Australia) on the following dates: The Best of The Two Ronnies Volume 1 on 4 March 2002, The Best of The Two Ronnies Volume 2 on 17 March 2003, Series 1 on 4 July 2007, Series 2 (two discs) on 8 May 2008, Series 3 on 5 March 2009, Series 4 (two discs) on 4 August 2009, Series 5 on 4 March 2010 and Series 7 on 3 March 2011.[needs update] The Two Ronnies in Australia was released on 28 June 2008 with all-region coding.

DVD Title Discs Year No. of Ep. DVD release
Region 2 Region 4
Complete Series 1 2 1971 8 30 April 2007[16] 4 July 2007[17]
Complete Series 2 2 1972 8 2 July 2007[18] 8 May 2008[19]
Complete Series 3 2 1973–1974 8 17 March 2008[20] 5 March 2009[21]
Complete Series 4 2 1975 8 19 May 2008[22] 6 August 2009[23]
Complete Series 5 2 1976 8 15 June 2009[24] 4 March 2010[25]
Complete Series 6 2 1977–1978 8 22 February 2010[26] 5 August 2010[27]
Complete Series 7 2 1978–1979 8 17 May 2010[28] 3 March 2011[29]
Complete Series 8 2 1980 8 6 September 2010[30] 2 June 2011[31]
Complete Series 9 2 1981–1982 8 28 February 2011.[32] 1 March 2012[33]
Complete Series 10 2 1983–1984 6 9 May 2011.[34] 5 September 2012[35]
Complete Series 11 2 1985 5 25 July 2011.[36] 3 April 2013[37]
Complete Series 12 2 1985–1986 6 26 September 2011.[38] 7 August 2013[39]
The Christmas Specials 2 1973, 1982, 1984, 1987 4 29 October 2007.[40] 6 November 2008[41]
The Complete Collection 27 1971–1987, 2010 96 24 September 2012.[42] 19 July 2017.[43]
The Picnic and By the Sea 1 1976, 1982 2 10 June 2015[44]
Two Ronnies in Australia 2 1986 6 28 June 2008[41]
The Best of...Volume 1 1 1971–1984 1 Compilation 1 October 2001[45] 4 March 2002[46]
The Best of...Volume 2 1 1971–1985 1 Compilation 29 September 2003[47] 17 March 2003[48]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The True Ronnies" – The Weekend Australian Magazine – 11–12 November 2006
  2. ^ a b "The Two Ronnies: In Their Own Words".  . 2018-01-01. Channel 5. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
  3. ^ a b "Entertainment | Obituary: Ronnie Barker". BBC News. 4 October 2005. Retrieved 18 September 2010.
  4. ^ Gilbert and Sullivan sketches were included in the 2nd episode of the first series, first shown on 17 April 1971 and as the finale to "The Two Ronnies Old Fashioned Christmas Mystery", their 1971 TV Christmas special.
  5. ^ These lines were recently[when?] used in the second series of the BBC production of Robin Hood.
  6. ^ Byrne, Ciar. "Ronnie Hazelhurst obituary". The Independent. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  7. ^ "Theme Time: Alan Tew - The Two Ronnies and The Hanged Man". Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  8. ^ "Galleries: Christmas and New Year Double Issue". Radio Times, 22 December 1973. Retrieved 8 May 2011.
  9. ^ Collier, Shayne. Again and again and again. The Sydney Morning Herald – The Guide: 2 June 1986, p.1, 6. [1]
  10. ^ Webber, Richard. Remembering Ronnie Barker. p. 196. ISBN 1407089358.
  11. ^ Bennett, Steve. "Remembering Ronnie Barker, by Richard Webber". Chortle. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  12. ^ Rhys-Jones, Griff. "It's like being in a marriage - except that you always end up in bed together". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  13. ^ "Ronnie Barker OBE – Comic Actor and Writer"
  14. ^ "The Two Ronnies in the Picnic". BBFC. 10 August 2012. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  15. ^ "The Two Ronnies: Complete Collection DVD". Amazon.co.uk. 2 August 2012. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
  16. ^ "The Two Ronnies – Series 1 [DVD] [1971]". Amazon UK. 30 April 2007. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  17. ^ "The Two Ronnies: Series 1 DVD [1971]". EzyDVD Australia. 4 July 2007. Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  18. ^ "The Two Ronnies – Series 2 [DVD] [1972]". Amazon UK. 2 July 2007. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  19. ^ "The Two Ronnies: Series 3 DVD [1972]". EzyDVD Australia. 8 May 2008. Archived from the original on 7 March 2016. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  20. ^ "The Two Ronnies – Series 3 [DVD] [1974]". Amazon UK. 17 March 2008. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  21. ^ "The Two Ronnies: Series 3 DVD [1974]". EzyDVD Australia. 5 March 2009. Archived from the original on 25 August 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  22. ^ "The Two Ronnies – Series 4 [DVD] [1975]". Amazon UK. 19 May 2008. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  23. ^ "The Two Ronnies: Series 4 DVD [1975]". EzyDVD Australia. 4 August 2009. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  24. ^ "The Two Ronnies – Series 5 [DVD] [1976]". Amazon UK. 15 June 2009. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  25. ^ "The Two Ronnies: Series 5 DVD [1976]". EzyDVD Australia. 4 March 2010. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  26. ^ "The Two Ronnies – Series 6 [DVD] [1978]". Amazon UK. 22 February 2010. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  27. ^ "The Two Ronnies: Series 6 DVD [1978]". EzyDVD Australia. 5 August 2010. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  28. ^ "The Two Ronnies – Series 7 [DVD] [1979]". Amazon UK. 17 May 2010. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  29. ^ "The Two Ronnies: Series 7 DVD [1979]". EzyDVD Australia. 2 June 2011. Archived from the original on 7 March 2016. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  30. ^ "The Two Ronnies – Series 8 [DVD] [1980]". Amazon UK. 6 September 2010. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  31. ^ "The Two Ronnies: Series 8 DVD [1980]". EzyDVD Australia. 2 June 2011. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  32. ^ "The Two Ronnies – Series 9 [DVD] [1982]". Amazon UK. 28 February 2011. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  33. ^ "The Two Ronnies: Series 9 DVD [1982]". EzyDVD Australia. 1 March 2012. Archived from the original on 7 March 2016. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  34. ^ "The Two Ronnies – Series 10 [DVD] [1983]". Amazon UK. 9 May 2011. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  35. ^ "The Two Ronnies: Series 10 DVD [1984]". EzyDVD Australia. 5 September 2012. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  36. ^ "The Two Ronnies – Series 11 [DVD] [1985]". Amazon UK. 25 July 2011. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  37. ^ "The Two Ronnies: Series 11 DVD [1985]". EzyDVD Australia. 3 April 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  38. ^ "The Two Ronnies: Series 12 DVD [1986]". Amazon UK. 25 August 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  39. ^ "The Two Ronnies: Series 12 DVD [1986]". EzyDVDAustralia. 7 August 2013. Archived from the original on 25 August 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  40. ^ "The Two Ronnies: The Complete BBC Christmas Specials DVD". Amazon UK. 29 October 2007. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  41. ^ a b "The Two Ronnies: The Christmas Specials DVD [1987]". EzyDVDAustralia. 6 November 2008. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  42. ^ "The Two Ronnies: The Complete Collection DVD". Amazon.com. 24 September 2012. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  43. ^ "The Two Ronnies: The Complete Collection DVD". ABC Shop. 19 July 2017. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  44. ^ "Two Ronnies, The: The Picnic / by the Sea (DVD)". Ezydvd. 10 June 2015. Archived from the original on 8 March 2016. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  45. ^ "The Best of The Two Ronnies (BBC) [1971] [DVD]". Amazon UK. 1 October 2001. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  46. ^ "The Best of...Volume 1 DVD [1986]". EzyDVD Australia. 4 March 2002. Archived from the original on 25 August 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  47. ^ "The Best of the Two Ronnies – Volume 2 [DVD]". Amazon UK. 29 September 2003. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  48. ^ "The Best of...Volume 2 DVD". EzyDVD Australia. 17 March 2003. Archived from the original on 25 August 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013.

External links[edit]