The Two Ronnies

The Two Ronnies
The Two Ronnies
the spectacles logo
(both performers wore glasses)
Format Sketch show
Starring Ronnie Barker
Ronnie Corbett
Country of origin United Kingdom
Language(s) English
No. of series 12
No. of episodes 93
Running time 40-58 minutes
Original channel BBC1
Original run 10 April 1971 – 25 December 1987
Followed by The Two Ronnies Sketchbook

The Two Ronnies is a British sketch show that aired on BBC1 from 1971 to 1987. It featured the double act of Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, the "Two Ronnies" of the title.



Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett met for the first time 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 for a few minutes during a technical hitch at an awards ceremony in 1970. In the audience was Bill Cotton, the Head of Light Entertainment for the BBC, and Sir Paul Fox, the Controller of BBC One. Cotton was so impressed by the duo that he turned to Fox and asked "How would you like those two on your network?". As a result, Barker and Corbett were given their own show by the BBC. The programme quickly became one of the most successful and long running light entertainment shows on British television, broadcast at the prime-time slot of 8pm on a Saturday night, and 20 million viewers a show at its peak.[2]


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, John Sullivan, Michael Palin, Terry Jones. 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"

One of the most popular sketches was "Four Candles", written by Barker, where Barker walks into an old-fashioned general store and asks for "four candles." Corbett gives him the candles but it turns out that Barker wanted "fork handles - 'andles for forks", meaning garden forks. Barker continues to ask for items from a list, very tersely, and Corbett continues to misinterpret them, growing more and more frustrated. Another popular sketch was a parody of the quiz show Mastermind with Barker as host Magnus Magnusson and Corbett as a contestant named Charlie Smithers, whose specialist subject was "answering the question before last".

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. Likewise, Corbett always had a discoursive 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:

I was lying in bed with my wife last Sunday morning when she called me by a special pet name she has for me, a loving and endearing term that only she uses. 'Hey Shorty' she said, 'would you like to hear the patter of little feet?'

Somewhat taken aback, I replied 'Yes, I would.' She said 'Good. Run down to the kitchen and get me a glass of water.'

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 very first serial was Hampton Wick (1971) written by Barker, which began as a pastiche of costume dramas about a governess called Henrietta Beckett, played by Madeline Smith, with the Ronnies playing a wide variety of other characters, but had a neat twist ending that turned this notion on its head.

Piggy Malone and Charley Farley.

There were four modern-day mystery serials featuring the comic detective characters "Piggy Malone" (Barker) and "Charley Farley" (Corbett). Done to Death (1972), a mystery about a murdered family, featuring Sue Lloyd; Death Can Be Fatal (1975), in which the duo are sent in search of the formula for the Clumsy Drug, alongside Cyd Hayman; Stop! You're Killing Me (1977-8), in which Devon's yokels are murdered and dumped in London, with support from Kate O'Mara; and Band of Slaves (1981-2), where an all-girls orchestra is sold into white slavery by a demented Chinaman.

One of the most famous serials was The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town (1976), 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 Spike's book "I Told You I Was Ill".

Another memorable serial was The Worm That Turned (1980); Diana Dors guest-starred in this spoof piece of dystopian fiction in which women rule England. 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 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.

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 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 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.

The Two Ronnies News Items in 1978

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: So it's "Goodnight" from me.

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

Both: Goodnight![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 double Christmas issue in 1973 had both double acts appearing side by side.[4]

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. Corbett tried to continue on his own, but The Ronnie Corbett Show lasted only one series in 1987.

Other projects

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.

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.

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 4 cars. They also did a series of ads for Hertz car rentals in the 1980s.


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 was controversially as "The Two Ninnies", a "cruel 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.[5][6] According to John Lloyd, the writer of the sketch was Peter Brewis, who was a disillusioned writer for The Two Ronnies.[citation needed]


The show re-surfaced 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 were also the subject of an episode of the BBC documentary Comedy Connections. Ronnie Corbett, producers James Gilbert, Terry Hughes (film director) and Michael Hurl, and 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 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 2010, full shows of The Two Ronnies are repeated on ITV3 and G.O.L.D., and on 24, 25 and 26 December 2006 ITV3 channel devoted the whole three days to the show, interspersed with Ronnie Corbett's reminiscences of the show and Ronnie Barker. 28 May 2007 included many more episodes new to ITV3 as well a showing of The Picnic and By the Sea.

DVD releases

In 2007 2 Entertain began releasing The Two Ronnies on DVD. 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. Series Three and Four were released on 17 March and 19 May 2008. Series Five was released on 15 June 2009, Series Six, Seven and Eight were released on 22 February, 17 May and 6 September 2010. Series Nine, Ten, Eleven, and the final Twelfth series were released on 28 February, 9 May, 25 July and 26 September 2011.[7] The Complete Collection has been pulled from the shedule. [8]

The Two Ronnies (BBC) were released in Region 4 (Australia) on the following dates - The Best of The Two Ronnies Volume 1, 4 March 2002. The Best of The Two Ronnies Volume 2, 17 March 2003. The Two Ronnies Series 1, 4 July 2007. The Two Ronnies Series 2 (two discs), 8 May 2008. The Two Ronnies Series 3, 5 March 2009. The Two Ronnies Series 4 (two discs), 4 August 2009, The Two Ronnies Series 5, 4 March 2010, And Series 7, 3 March 2011,[dated info] with Series 8-12 to follow. The Two Ronnies in Australia was released on 28 June 2008 with an 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 4 July 2007
Complete Series 2 2 1972 8 2 July 2007 8 May 2008
Complete Series 3 2 1973–1974 8 17 March 2008 5 March 2009
Complete Series 4 2 1975 8 19 May 2008 6 August 2009
Complete Series 5 2 1976 8 15 June 2009 4 March 2010
Complete Series 6 2 1977–1978 8 22 February 2010 5 August 2010
Complete Series 7 2 1978–1979 8 17 May 2010 3 March 2011
Complete Series 8 2 1980 8 6 September 2010 26 June 2011
Complete Series 9 2 1981–1982 8 28 February 2011 2012
Complete Series 10 2 1983–1984 6 9 May 2011 2012
Complete Series 11 2 1985 5 25 July 2011 2012
Complete Series 12 2 1985–1986 6 26 September 2011 2012
The Christmas Specials 2 1973–1982-1984-1987 4 29 October 2007 7 November 2008
The Complete Collection 27 1971-1987 95 7 January 2012 2013
Two Ronnies In Australia 2 1986 6 28 June 2008
The Best of...Volume 1 1 1971–1984 1 Compilation 1 October 2001 4 March 2002
The Best of...Volume 2 1 1971–1985 1 Compilation 29 September 2003 17 March 2003

A complete box set has been guaranteed a release the same date as Series 12. It is suggested to cost around £75. The item was available as a pre-order from Amazon at this price, but the item has been taken down for an unknown reason. It NOTE: The Christmas Specials DVD does not contain all Christmas episodes, it missing the 1980, 1981, 1983 and 1985 episodes. All of these episodes were part of a series and will be released on the relevant titles accordingly - 1980 on Series 8, 1981 on Series 9, 1983 on Series 10 and 1985 on Series 12.


  1. ^ "The True Ronnies" - The Weekend Australian Magazine - 11–12 November 2006
  2. ^ "Entertainment | Obituary: Ronnie Barker". BBC News. 4 October 2005. Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  3. ^ These lines were recently[when?] used in the second series of the BBC production of Robin Hood.
  4. ^ "Galleries: Christmas and New Year Double Issue". Radio Times, December 22, 1973. Retrieved 2011-05-08.
  5. ^ "script of The Two Ninnies". Colinramone. [not in citation given]
  6. ^ "Ronnie Barker OBE - Comic Actor and Writer". BBC H2G2.
  7. ^ "The Two Ronnies: Series 12 DVD". 25 July 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  8. ^ "The Two Ronnies: The Complete Collection DVD". 25 July 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 

External links

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