Friday, April 1, 2016

The Late Great Ronnie Corbett

Ronnie Corbett, best known for his work with  Ronnie Barker on the long running comedy sketch show The Two Ronnies, died on March 31 2016 at the age of 85. He had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease in March 2015.

Ronnie Corbett was born in Edinburgh on December 4 1930. He attended James Gillespie's High School and the Royal High School. He decided he wanted to be an actor after appearing in theatrical productions at his church youth club.  After leaving school he worked for a time for the Ministry of Agriculture. Mr. Corbett's national service was with the Royal Air Force. Initially an aircraftman 2nd class, he was commissioned as a pilot officer in the RAF's secretarial branch. His active service ended in October 1951 and he transferred to the reserve. He was promoted to flying officer in 1952. At only five feet, one inch tall, he was the shortest commissioned officer in the British armed forces at the time.

After national service Mr. Corbett moved to London to pursue his acting career. It was there that he made his professional debut on stage in Take It Easy. He made his film debut in 1952 in You're Only Young Twice. During the Fifties he appeared in such films as The Million Pound Note (1954), Fun at St Fanny's (1955) , After the Ball (1957), and Rockets Galore (1958). He made his television debut in an episode of Rheingold Theatre in 1953. He was a regular on the BBC comedy Sheep's Clothing and worked on the TV show Crackerjack. He guest starred on The Vise.

The Sixties saw Mr. Corbett appearing on The Frost Report from 1966 to 1967. It was on that show that he first worked with Ronnie Barker. Following The Frost Report he starred in the sitcom No, That's Me Over Here!. In the Sixties he was also a regular or semi-regular on the shows It's Tarbuck and Frost on Sunday. In 1969 he appeared in his own show, The Corbett Follies. He also guest starred on the shows Three Live Wires, The Dickie Henderson Show, The Saint, Hark at Barker, The Bruce Forsyth Show, Jackanory, and It's Tommy Cooper. He appeared in the films Monsieur Lecoq (1967), Casino Royale (1967), and The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (1970).  In 1963 he appeared in London in the musical The Boys from Syracuse at the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane.

The Seventies saw the debut of The Two Ronnies in 1971. The show featured Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in various comedy sketches, both together and individually. The show was known for its wordplay and often surreal humour. Ronnie Corbett was known for his monologues in which he would try to tell a joke only to lose his train of thought. The Two Ronnies proved very popular and ultimately ran until 1987. In the Seventies Ronnie Corbett also starred on the sitcoms Now Look Here and The Prince of Denmark, as well as his own show All This and Corbett Too. In 1971 he appeared in two TV specials, The Ronnie Barker Yearbook and Ronnie Corbett in Bed.  He appeared in the films No Sex Please: We're British (1973) and Rubbish Tips (1980).

In the Eighties Ronnie Corbett continued to appear on The Two Ronnies. He also starred on the sitcom Sorry! and his own show, The Ronnie Corbett Show. In the Nineties Mr. Corbett hosted the game show Small Talk and starred on the show Timbuctoo. He appeared in the TV productions Call up the Stars, The Nearly Complete and Utter History of Everything, and Cinderella. He also appeared in the film Fierce Creatures (1997).

In the Naughts Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker appeared in The Two Ronnies Sketchbook, a collection of old Two Ronnies sketches with newly filmed introductions. He also appeared in the TV special The One Ronnie in 2010. He guest starred on the shows Extras and Love Soup, and provided a guest voice for a character on The Sarah Jane Adventures. He appeared in the film Burke and Hare (2010). He also appeared on the BBC Radio 4 sitcom When the Dog Dies. 

The Two Ronnies remains one of the best remembered British sketch comedy shows on both sides of the Atlantic. Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett certainly made a great team, both in terms of personality and physical contrast. Ronnie Barker was rotund and droll, while Ronnie Corbett was diminutive and mischievous. Neither could really be described as a straight man to the other, as they both took the roles of straight man and gag man at different times. What is more, the Two Ronnies always got along. When Ronnie Barker died in 2005, Ronnie Corbett said, "We worked together since 1965 and we never had a cross word" and "It was 40 years of harmonious joy, nothing but an absolute pleasure. I will miss him terribly." If Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett saw a good deal of success as a comedy team, it was perhaps because they got along so well.

Of course, Ronnie Corbett had a highly successful career apart from Ronnie Barker. He excelled in playing shy, unassuming types, such as librarian Timothy Lumsden in Sorry!. He played similar roles in Now Look Here and its sequel Prince of Denmark. That is not to say Ronnie Corbett was not capable of playing other roles. In the comedy Burke & Hare he played Police Captain Tom McLintock, the officer who pursues the title characters. In Casino Royale he played a SMERSH agent. If Ronnie Corbett was successful as a comic actor it was perhaps because he was gifted with perfect timing and perfect delivery. Ronnie Corbett could elicit laughs with merely a look. What is more, it seemed as if he truly enjoyed what he was doing. It seemed apparent that Mr. Corbett wanted nothing more than to make people laugh. He may have only been 5 foot 1, but in the end Ronnie Corbett was a giant in the world of comedy.

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