This Is Not A
So, It's Goodnight From Him...
In some ways, it'd be nice to take the past twelve months back to
the shop and demand a replacement.
Just under a year ago, we lost the greatest, most influential DJ of
all time (John
Peel), then my favourite stand-up (all right, sit-down) comedian of
all time, Dave
Now, we have lost one of the most remarkable comedy performers and
writers we have ever seen, with the death of Ronnie Barker at the age
For remarkable he was. He was not so much a 'comedian' in the
modern understanding of that term: rather he was the embodiment of the
earlier meaning in that he created characters which were rounded and
thoroughly convincing within their context (be it a character sketch, a
burlesque musical piece or a sit-com). Remember him as the wily but
basically gentle-natured old lag Fletcher in Porridge? As the
doggedly, doomedly determined Arkwright in Open All Hours? As
that remarkable grotesque Lord Rustless (opposite an equally outlandish
performance by David Jason as the gardener)?
Or perhaps your memories of Ronnie B. are tied up with the
stratospheric success of The Two Ronnies, in which he played
a huge variety of characters: the middle-aged bar-room wolf engaging in
double-entendres with a barmaid; the amiable optician with the
appalling eyesight; or the series of ever-more bewildered spokesmen and
ministerial incompetents addressing the nation.
In all of these guises and more, Ronnie Barker showed his true
talents to the full. Not merely in his characterisations, but in the
technical skill of his performances. He matched the art of physical
comedy (his mere appearance as Patrick Moore's brother was a
laugh-out-loud moment) with a virtuoso's gift for language and dialogue
which came from a deep love of words (the ice-cream shop man going
through a long list of the flavours on sale for the benefit of the
customer - played, of course, by Ronnie Corbett - who, obtusely, wants
a flavour they don't have - cheese and onion). And, of course, Fork
And, speaking of words (as if you could do much else with them),
many of the very best of these were written by Barker himself, who must
therefore be accorded a place alongside the criminally under-rated
Eddie Braben as one of the truly great comedy writers of the
last fifty years.
All this, coupled with a thoroughness and work ethic which would
put younger performers to shame; and alongside a self-effacing view of
his importance (most of his work was submitted under pseudonyms - of
which Gerald Wiley was the most used - so that his material would be
judged solely on its own merits) was what made Ronnie Barker so
very special for so long.
So, it's goodnight from him - and a goodbye, and much gratitude,