Thursday, January 10, 2008

Let's all laugh at Ronnie


For no particular reason, today I've been thinking a lot about one of my heroes, comedian and actor Ronnie Barker.

Anyone alive and watching TV in the 80s or before will remember Barker, the taller half of the
Two Ronnies duo, who of course starred in the long-running comedy show of the same name with namesake Corbett, and also in standout British sitcom classics like Open All Hours, where he played the stammering lecherous shopkeeper Arkwright, and as prisoner Fletch in the peerless Porridge. There was also the lesser known, later efforts such as Clarence and Going Straight.

It was a golden era of TV comedy, when you consider that Morecambe and Wise were tickling ribs on the other channel at the same time. It was the era before SKY and the multi-channel fragmentation of audiences that followed, so if there was something good on the box back then, you knew that the world and his mother was probably watching it. And I was mostly watching the Two Ronnies on a Saturday night after bath time, with the whole family and a few visiting neighbours sitting around the TV lapping it up. Good times, good laughs and one of the few reasons why glad I'm in my thirties; because if I wasn't I'd probably never have been around at the time and would be writing this about Alan Partridge instead.

There were the lavish musical numbers, the
Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town sketches, the Tramps, the Yokels, Corbett's lost-in-the-chair monologues (which I always found intensely boring until I was old enough to understand them), the cod news items and one-liners at the beginning and end, and literally, just one brilliant sketch after another. I loved them at the time and still love them now, all the more for having watched (again) the re-runs of the Two Ronnies Christmas Sketchbook, a compendium programme which originally aired just a few months after Barker's death in 2005 and showcased the very, very best of their material.

I used to just laugh at them earnestly enough but it was only with an adult mind and some appreciation of good writing that I began to fully comprehend the depth of Barker's genius, for it was he who wrote 90% of the material, often under pseudonyms so he could be certain it would make the show for reasons of quality and not sycophancy. He never relied on vulgarity or smut, instead building his humour on vast intelligence, wordplay, punnery, mild innuendo, pin-sharp timing and a chameleon's ability to switch characters and accents. His ability to reel off complex lists and mispronounced words was staggering as well. Just a good old fashioned comedian who was genuinely funny and with such a wide-ranging appeal that the youngest to the oldest could watch and enjoy equally. Pure undistilled comedy it was with no diversionary gimmicks, just talent beaming through.

I'll never forget the BAFTA tribute they did for him a few years ago, again not long before he passed away, and he was choking with emotion after the glowing tributes he had been paid. I doubt he'd be similarly moved if he's reading this on Moo-Dog up in heaven, and come to think of it, it's somewhat conceited of me to assume that they have Moo-Dog up in heaven in the first place, but sure I've taken a go anyway.

Here is a short sample of classic lines from his shows over the years, I found these compiled elsewhere on the web. And if you're wondering why this is the first blog I've ever written where I haven't cracked a joke myself, it's because if I was making a speech about handsome men, I'd be smart enough not to stand beside Brad Pitt when I was doing it. Today, I'm leaving it to an expert.

(Barker is giving a speech as leader of a support group for people who can't pronounce their words properly. Absolute comedy gold):
I was going to provide the full script but trust me, it works far better if you listen to it, which you can do right here.
There's also a piece on YouTube where he revisits this sketch with some new script, so if you liked the above, you'll like this too, it's from the Parkinson chatshow, a rare public interview.

And there's no end to the clips on YouTube, have a look around yourself!

From the Two Ronnies:
The computerised doctor: (Ronnie Barker is a doctor on a computer screen speaking to Ronnie Corbett, the patient): "Please choose one of the following options: Do you suffer from any of the following: A - A bleeding nose, B - Getting out of bed in the morning, C - Terry Wogan, or D - all three: Terry Wogan getting up your bleeding nose every morning."
+++++
Barker: There now follows a sketch featuring ghosties and ghoulies.
Corbett: In which I get caught by the ghosties...
Barker: And I get caught by surprise!
+++++
Tonight, we'll be asking: "Should all married couples be frank and earnest, or should one of them be a woman..."
+++++
Serving dinner as a butler to two obnoxious upper-class toffs, who are oblivious to his clear contempt for them: "Your nuts, M'Lord. And your crackers, M'Lady."
+++++
"...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."
+++++
"There was a strange happening during a performance of Elgar's Sea Pictures at a concert hall in Bermuda tonight, when the man playing the triangle disappeared."
+++++
"Next week we'll be investigating rumours that the president of the dairy council has become a Mason, and goes around giving his colleagues the secret milkshake."
+++++
"Following the dispute with the domestic servants' union at Buckingham Palace today, the Queen, a radiant figure in a white silk gown and crimson robe, swept down the main staircase and through the hall. She then dusted the cloakroom and vacuumed the lounge."
+++++
(Singing): "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!"
+++++
From Open All Hours
Nurse Gladys: Business is looking up.
Arkwright: Yes, but p-p-pleasure is looking down (gazing at her cleavage)

"Good morning Mrs fe fe fe fe ehh Jackson"

In Open All Hours to Granville who is yawning. "Close your mouth there's a b-b-b-b-bus c-c-c-c...oh don't worry, it's gone now."

"Don't just crit their siticising".

"Puberty? P-P-PUBERTY? We didn't have p-puberty when I were a lad, we went straight from s-school into hard labour!"

16 moos and woofs:

Baino said...

Awww . . you're so right Terrence! We used to have family night with a block of Cadbury Fruit and Nut in front of the Two Ronnies and Open All Hours . . in fact to this day "Fetch a cloth Granville" is part of our family vernacular whenever there's a spillage!

1st Lady said...

We used to have similar Saturday nights too. Aaah, those were the days. the Two Ronnies were just fabulous.

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