British Comedian Ronnie Barker Dies, Aged 76

Ronnie Barker, a comedy legend in the UK, died Monday at the age of 76 from recurring heart trouble.

Death of a comedy icon: The one and only Ronnie (Independent UK)

The phrase “national treasure” is bandied about with diminishing discernment these days, but if Ronnie Barker wasn’t a national treasure, then nor are The Fighting Temeraire by J M W Turner, Stonehenge and the spire of Salisbury Cathedral. Barker, whose death on Monday at the age of 76 came as a shock even to those friends who knew he was suffering from a recurrence of heart trouble, was a colossus of television comedy, perhaps even its pre-eminent colossus, in that he mastered all its forms – the sitcom, the sketch show and the gag-laden monologue direct to camera – both as performer and writer.

Ronnie Corbett led the tributes to his erstwhile comedy partner, saying: ” Ronnie was pure gold in triplicate, as a performer, a writer and a friend. We worked together since 1965 and we never had a cross word. It was 40 years of harmonious joy, nothing but an absolute pleasure. I will miss him terribly.”

To some extent, we all will. After all, Barker was that extraordinarily rare animal: a funny man who made everyone laugh. There are those who remained resolutely untickled by Spike Milligan and even Tommy Cooper; others who are immune to the ramblings of Billy Connolly and Eddie Izzard. But only a statue could sit stony-faced through the comedic output of Ronnie Barker, from sketch-based shows such as The Frost Report and The Two Ronnies, to his classic turns as the resourceful jailbird Fletcher in Porridge and the devious, stammering grocer Arkwright in Open All Hours.

Maybe only Eric Morecambe shared Barker’s quality; the one which makes all of us feel, with his departure, as though the world is suddenly a smidgin less jolly. “I can only think that God must have needed cheering up,” said the comedy writer and actor Craig Cash yesterday. “He had flawless comic timing”, said Michael Palin, who worked with Barker on The Frost Report. “I never saw him blow a sketch. But he was quite self-contained. It was hard to write collaboratively with him. You’d write a piece and he would change it to what he knew he could do brilliantly. He was modest, never ambitious or pushy, but he knew what he did well.”

BBC has the following profile:

Photo British Comedian Ronnie Barker Dies, Aged 76 Ronnie Barker was born in Bedford, and after a brief sojourn as a Bank Clerk, he joined the Manchester Repertory Company as an Assistant Stage Manager. However, a career on stage beckoned. In 1956, he landed his first radio appearance and two years later, appeared in Frankie Vaughan’s first film, Wonderful Things! He then went on to appear in The Navy Lark and The Seven Faces of Jim, starring Jimmy Gilbert.

He further made his mark in 1966 on The Frost Report as a sketch-writer and performer. It was on this show that he met his future comedy partner Ronnie Corbett. According to legend, when Barker and co-host Corbett were presenting the BAFTAS, a technical hitch occurred. They covered so well that producers offered them their own show. In 1971, they signed contracts with the BBC to record a series of shows called The Two Ronnies.

As a performer Ronnie Barker made comedy look effortlessly funny, as meticulous as he was talented.

He was also a prolific writer. After several years, a team meeting with a mysterious contributor to their show called Gerald Wiley was arranged. Wiley allegedly wrote about 75 per cent of the material used. The team met Ronnie Barker. He had wanted to ensure material was chosen for its quality, not his star status.

IMDB has an extensive filmography and other details of Barker’s career.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. British Comedian Ronnie Barker Dies, Aged 76

    Ronnie Barker, a comedy legend in the UK, died Monday at the age of 76 from recurring heart trouble. Death of a comedy icon: The one and only Ronnie (Independent UK) The phrase “national treasure” is bandied about with diminishing…

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Barker and Corbett’s rendition of Bizet’s Carmen on “The Two Ronnies” remains for me one of television’s funniest moments. Tomfoolery that complex, brilliant, and downright hilarious is high art and extremely rare.

  3. Ronnie Barker, 1929-2005

    Outside the Beltway notes that British comedian Ronnie Barker died yesterday.
    Barker and Corbett?s rendition of Bizet?s Carmen on ?The Two Ronnies? remains for me one of television?s funniest moments. Tomfoolery that complex, brilliant, and…

  4. Don says:

    I remember watching Ronnie Barker on “The Two Ronnies,” “Porridge,” and its sequel “Going Straight” as a lad growing up across the pond. He was truly a national treasure in Great Britain…its sad to know he’s gone.