The Two Ronnie's Spectacle

The Two Ronnies Spectacle for UKTV

Ronnie Corbett CBE, best known for his comedy partnership with Ronnie Barker, has died at the age of 85.

The comedian and entertainer’s publicist confirmed that he passed away this morning (31 March) surrounded by loved ones.

“Ronnie Corbett CBE, one of the nation’s best-loved entertainers, passed away this morning, surrounded by his loving family. They have asked that their privacy is respected at this very sad time,” a statement read

It was while performing in Cabaret at Danny La Rue’s Mayfair nightclub in the mid 1960s that Corbett was spotted by Sir David Frost and invited to work on his satirical show The Frost Report with Ronnie Barker who would go on to become his long-time comedy partner and John Cleese. The success of the show led to further television work for the diminutive star including Corbett’s Follies and No, That’s Me Over Here before he and Barker got their big break after filling in for a few minutes during a technical interruption at an awards ceremony in 1970. The BBC decided to give the pair their own show; The Two Ronnies ran from 1971 to 1987 mixing sketches, parodies and songs.

Ronnie Corbett - Frost On Sunday Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett on ITV’s Frost on Sunday in 1969The Two Ronnies Christmas 1982

The Two Ronnies Christmas Special 1982

“Ronnie was one of the all-time greats of British comedy, no question – I’m so sad for [his wife] Anne and the family – and the nation, really. We’ve lost a great friend and entertainer. He learned his craft the hard way. He was a master of comedy of all kinds – TV, cabaret, variety. The most wonderful man.” – Former BBC Chairman Michael Grade

Born in Edinburgh on 4 December 1930, Ronald Balfour Corbett was educated at James Gillespie School and the Royal High School, Edinburgh. He decided he wanted to become an actor while performing in amateur productions at a church youth club. His first job was overseeing animal-feed rationing for the Ministry of Agriculture and after serving two years of compulsory national service with the RAF – during which he was the shortest commissioned officer in the British forces – he moved to London to act with his height of 5ft 1in often seeing him play down in age. Corbett’s self-deprecating humour saw him poke fun at his height.

“Ronnie was a friend, someone I admired so much. It’s a very, very sad day. I’m going to miss him like crazy, I really will.” – Corbett’s good friend, Sir Bruce Forsyth

Corbett made his stage debut in Take it Easy at Cromer in Norfolk, in 1956, billed as Ronald he co-starred in the play with Graham Stark. Other early roles include an episode of The Saint in 1963 and a role in the James Bond send-up Casino Royale in 1967. Corbett was also a regular on the children’s series Crackerjack. He is best known for being one half of The Two Ronnies alongside fellow actor and comedian Barker who retired from showbusiness in 1988. Notable solo projects include the role of 40-something mummy’s boy Timothy Lumsden in the sitcom Sorry! and hosting BBC One game show Small Talk for two years in the mid 1990s.

Corbett reunited with Barker on a small number of occasions when the latter made ventures out of retirement with the pair appearing at the Royal Command Performance together in 1997, driving on stage in a motorcycle as the Two Fat Ladies, with subsequent reunions for The Two Ronnies Night on BBC One in 1999, and A Tribute to the Two Ronnies in 2000. The BBC later commissioned The Two Ronnies Sketchbook, a clip show of their best sketches along with newly recorded introductions which aired in 2005. Filming took place in a short space of time to accommodate Barker’s declining health. Barker passed away in October 2005 making a posthumous appearance in the final special, The Two Ronnies Christmas Sketch Book, in December 2005. UKTV’s Gold later delved into the duo with The Two Ronnies Spectacle.

“We were a real couple with matching tastes and styles. Of course we were quite different but somehow we fitted so well together. I think it’s a more pleasant and palatable thing to see people being funny together because you’re touching areas of truth. Dinner parties or falling out with people – it’s the naturalness of it.” – Corbett speaking to The Telegraph about his partnership with Barker in 2013

The Two Ronnie's Sketchbook

BBC - The Two Ronnie's Sketchbook

The Two Ronnies are reunited in 2005 for their sketchbook series

Corbett’s more recent work includes a role in BBC Radio 4 sitcom When The Dog Dies, guest hosting Have I got News For You and Strictly Come Dancing, playing a version of himself in Extras and starring in one-off special The One Ronnie. He was appointed a CBE in the 2012 New Year Honours for services to charity and entertainment.

Corbett is survived by his wife of 51 years, actress and singer Anne Hart, who he met while working at Danny La Rue’s Club, and their two daughters actresses Emma and Sophie Corbett. He had suffered from ill-health for a while and was in hospital in 2014 with gall bladder problems.

“RIP the lovely, funny legend Ronnie Corbett. It was an absolute honour and joy to have known him.” – Extras creator Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais)

Also paying tribute on Twitter Little Britain star David Walliams wrote: “Goodbye my friend and comedy idol Ronnie Corbett Thank you for all the laughs. It was the greatest honour to know and work with you. Goodnight.”

An Audience With Ronnie Corbett

Ronnie Corbett during An Audience with for ITV in 1997

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