“Two Ronnies,” “Porridge” star Ronnie Barker dies
LONDON (Reuters) – British comedian Ronnie Barker, the big half of the famous duo The Two Ronnies and the indomitable Fletch in prison sitcom Porridge, has died aged 76.
A spokeswoman for The British Broadcasting Corporation said on Tuesday that the portly, bespectacled star died peacefully on Monday in the presence of his wife. He had been suffering heart trouble.
Tributes poured in for one of Britain’s best-loved comics.
“If anybody could have been called a comic genius it was Ronnie,” broadcaster Nicholas Parsons told the BBC. “Ronnie Barker was a true icon of situation comedy and character comedy and there was nobody to my mind to touch him.”
Michael Hurll, a producer on the Two Ronnies, said Barker’s partnership with the diminutive Ronnie Corbett ranked alongside that of Morecambe and Wise in importance.
“I don’t think we will see their like again,” he said. “Ronnie Barker meant to comedy in this country laughs, big laughs and laughs that you will always remember.”
Ronald William George Barker was born in Bedford in 1929. At one stage he considered becoming a bank manager, the kind of middle class, respectable profession he would later parody mercilessly in his sketches.
But he chose the theater instead, appearing in plays and on the radio before breaking into television.
In 1971, he teamed up with Corbett for the first Two Ronnies series, a show based on deft wordplay and comic timing that attracted up to 17 million viewers at its peak.
It ended with a gag that has become a national institution.
In a spoof of a news broadcast, Corbett would bid the audience “goodnight from me,” to which Barker, who towered above him, would add “and it’s goodnight from him.”
Broadcasters sifted through his gags to find Barker’s most memorable lines.
Among the contenders was the joke: “The toilets at a local police station have been stolen. Police say they have nothing to go on.”
Barker received an OBE, awarded by the state for distinguished work, and won many accolades including most recently a special tribute from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in 2004.
He once said in an interview: “I would like to be remembered as one of the funniest men that people have seen on television. ‘He made us laugh, he did make us laugh, God bless him’.”
Despite his success in Porridge and Open All Hours, in which he played the stuttering, lascivious shopkeeper Arkwright, Barker was never comfortable in the limelight and spent his retirement since 1988 running an antique shop in rural England.
“He was very shy, a man uneasy with the fame that came with the job,” said chat show host Michael Parkinson.
Barker was survived by his wife, Joy Tubb, a daughter and two sons.