back to article Ten years on: Ronnie Barker, Pismonouncers Unanimous founder, remembered

It’s ten years ago today that much-loved comedian, writer and actor Ronnie Barker passed away. By then, despite having retired way back in 1987, he had already won four BAFTAs, a Royal Television Society award for Outstanding Creative Achievement and been made an OBE. Ronnie Barker – Mispronunciation Sketch He’d also produced …

  1. Empty1


    Delightful article. Brought both a laugh and a tear.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Office Comedian

    I remember on the day he died our "office comedian" came bounding in asking "Is anyone free on Friday night - I've just bought some tickets on Ebay to see the Two Ronnies at the local theatre - they were half price"

    1. linicks

      Re: Office Comedian

      Which reminds me when Norris McWhirter died, the joke was he will be in the Guinness Book of records as being the longest surviving twin of the McWhirter brothers.

  3. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge

    Let me be the first to say...

    Four (Fork) candles ('andles).

    1. MrT

      Re: Let me be the first to say... with a duck - sorry, Argentinian racing pigeon.

    2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Let me be the first to say...

      When he died one of the papers had a cartoon sketch of his coffin with a couple fork handles on them and an irate vicar saying "No, I said four candles!"

      Some how I think the late, and missed, Ronnie Barker would have approved of that.

    3. LesC

      Re: Let me be the first to say...

      The Worm that Turned this would never get past the BBC PC Soviet now... But still very funny.

      1. Quortney Fortensplibe

        Turning Worms

        "...The Worm that Turned this would never get past the BBC PC Soviet now..."

        Not one of their funniest outings that one. There was a bit too much of the 'someone's sordid sexual fantasy made real' about it. I mean to say; a future world where the men are force-feminised, made to wear dresses and act submissively, by a ruling elite of hot women in mini-skirted pseudo-SS uniforms and big boots... er... OK.... can we move along here?...

        I think Barker's career was a mixed bag:

        * Some of the early Python-esque stuff was classic

        * The Two Ronnies had some great moments but also some awful ones [HINT: 'funny' songs never are]

        * I never saw what anyone liked about Porridge. I always thought it was really unfunny.

        * The less said about Open All Hours, the better

        1. pewpie

          Re: Turning Worms

          Quite a lot of 'The Worm That Turned' has actually come to pass. It's available in it's entirety on teh yootoobz.. and is as disturbingly reminiscent of modern 'culture' as it is amusing.

    4. I am not spartacus

      Re: Let me be the first to say...

      I think when it came to the big funeral bash, where the choristers would have normally been equipped with a single candle holder in each hand, on this occasion, they were given double candle holders, so each Chorister was....oh, you are ahead of me!

  4. Tezfair

    Good write up but...

    I disagree with the 'un-pc' remark in open all hours. The show worked at all levels and was never offensive, stutter or not.

    The modern comic writers just don't have that magic style of innocent and witty comedic timing. There was always something that people could enjoy at all levels, something that people will say when Brucie leaves us (I call him Mr Saturday Night). Most modern writers try and stay on the inside of politically correct and more often than not produce something that maybe is only so so. R&R proves that good writing is timeless.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Good write up but...

      Take a moment to remember that other, natural stutterer, Patrick Campbell,_3rd_Baron_Glenavy

      The collections of his articles include a couple of items about his encounters with another stutterer in Dublin. It's probably essential to have heard the man himself to appreciate them but they always have me laughing uncontrollably whenever I read them.

      Edit. The two encounters with Theo I'm thinking of are the dinner party & the one set up by his editor about archaeological remains. If anyone has a reference to any others I'd love to hear of it.

  5. linicks
    Thumb Up

    The mastermind sketch is unbelievably clever (try remembering your lines if you are an ACT-TOUR!). Perhaps the best written sketch ever. Great write-up on Ronnie too.

    1. graeme leggett

      A sketch and its sequel. The first one was answering the previous question, the second answering the question before it was asked?

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    The 2005 series was very sad. In the new intros it was clear that the impeccable timing had been lost. They should just have re-run the originals.

    And Peter Hall was wrong. Ronnie Barker's concentration on comedy was anything but a loss.

  7. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Good Article

    Will Hay, Hattie Jacques, Alistair Simms, Eric Sykes, Morecambe and Wise, Ronnie Barker... One thing they all had in common was their their humour was gentle. They didn't so much poke at people's idiosyncrasies as give them a bit of a nudge.

    1. OzBob

      Re: Good Article

      We-e-e-ll, no-one can touch Ronnie and Eric when it comes to quality word-play but I would hold up Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the logical successors. Given that their movies are usually described as "homages" rather than biting satire and are generally a class above the rest on offer ("Scary Movie [x]", anyone?)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A deeply funny man...

    ...with the rare gift of having a sense of humour and timing that was perfectly precise, beautifully targeted but never anything but warm and gentle in its delivery. In many ways he and Terry Pratchett practised a similar craft. Still very much missed.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Two Ronnies also had a running theme of role reversal. They created a fictional world where men wore dresses and were the underclass - while women were macho and dressed as men. Not sure what their target was. It did highlight the way gender conventions are deeply ingrained in our culture - before LGBT became a political issue.

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Monstrous Regiment

      There was also a Benny Hill sketch I remember about an army of women terrorising the menfolk.

  10. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    RIP ronnie

    I read this article sitting in a Starbucks (sheltering from the rain) in , Falls Church, Washington DC.

    I'd played a couple of the clips when I realised that I had a bit of an audience.

    A good half hour of chat followed and each of the clips was shown at least twice.

    A few of those who were old enough to remember Monty Python when it was orgiginally broadcast got the 'Four Candles' play on words. Others took their time but got it eventually.

    The general consensus was 'Why don't we get comedy like that on US TV'. I could mostly say the same about ours at the moment. The word 'Gentle' is a perfect description. A far cry from the normal 'Embarass or Humilitate Someone' we seem to get now in most Comedy.

    I think that BBC Worldwide will be getting a few $$$ in dowloads from those that saw these bits.

    Well done for a really great article. Spot on.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: RIP ronnie

      "sitting in a Starbucks (sheltering from the rain)"

      OK, you're excused.

  11. bazza Silver badge

    Ronnie Barker

    Top chap.

    Best seaman in the navy too :)

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: Ronnie Barker

      In the case of the Navy Lark, best 4 seamen : Fatso Johnson, Commander Stanton, Lt Queeg and Commander Bell

      If you haven't listened to it, the hapless assistant to CPO Pertwee's schemes, the ship's captain who only wants to go fishing, a Scottish(?) chief engineer who knows nothing about mechanical things, and a plain speaking Yorkshireman at the Admiralty respectively.

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Re: Ronnie Barker

        It's regularly on Radio 4 Extra, and I've a dab radio in the car, so I listen to it a lot!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ronnie Barker

        I only have to hear the opening theme to have instant memories of the taste of Sunday dinner (lunch) warm apple pie and custard.

        The diffident uttering of Leslie Phillips's "Left hand down a bit" - followed by the lookout's "Everybdy down!" Was the latter Ronnie Barker or Tenniel Evans ("Taffy" Goldstein)?

        The same gustatory memories are triggered by "Hello I'm Julian, and this is my friend Sandy" from"Beyond Our Ken/Round The Horne". That programme was surprisingly risque for a Sunday family listening slot.

      3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Ronnie Barker

        Barker inherited Lt. Queeg. The character was originally performed by Scottish comedian Chic Murray, and the character was so popular that when Chic said he wouldn't do it any more, Ronnie kept the character alive with a near perfect imitation.

        'Doing voices' was common on BBC radio shows, but The Navy Lark took it to the limit with audience favorite characters voiced by other stalwarts like Jon Pertwee (who can forget Commander Wetherby once you had heard him), Michael Bates (the Pardre, amongst others), and Heather Chasen, and even relatively ordinary actors (and the writer!) often voicing more than one regular character.

  12. Chris G Silver badge


    Thanks for that! I have just consumed an evening watching all the clips, my wife who is Russian watched Futtocks End with me, normally she is not a fan of British comedy ( If a Russian cracks an unfunny joke they will often describe it as 'British Humour'), she laughed all the way through it.

    Not only a great comedy writer but he had a unique ability for creating original characters and a special way with words.

    I always liked the Piggy Malone sketches.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Barkerfest

      The comedians of that era did many "silent" films like "Futtocks End". They were usually packed with familiar comedians in sometimes cameo roles. "A Home of Your Own", "By The Sea", "The Plank", and "Rhubarb, Rhubarb" were memorable. Ronnie Barker was not in the latter two - possibly there were two groups of comedians who worked together.

      Benny Hill was popular worldwide because his "silent" sketches were universal.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A big part of my childhood TV viewing, thanks for all the funny memories Ronnie. Two of the finest comic creations ever, Norman Stanley Fletcher & Albert Arkwright.

  14. macjules Silver badge

    He would love the media now. All his famous mispronunciation sketch ( he would laugh to hear ITN reporting the US White House last Thursday as saying that they were in the process of 'disinsurgenting' ISIL.

  15. Richard Scratcher

    Barker was a "comet guiness", which are worms I don't use orphan.

  16. Amorous Cowherder

    I was seeing Barker in Open All Hours with Jason and Baron just blew me away as a kid. It gave David Jason his first big role and turned him into a household name. There's nothing nasty in it, no one is ever ridiculed except Granville and that's only 'cos he's youngish and a bit dopey at times. Even when people from other races are brought into the story it's done with dune respect.

  17. BobSee


    On this side of the Pond, those who remember Ronnie Barker will likely do so for his Rindercella sketch, which I first heard (re)broadcast on the radio, perhaps on Firesign Theater, in the early '70's.

    I vividly remember rolling on the floor with tears in my eyes, arms around my mid-section, trying to stifle convulsive laughter, so as not to miss a wingle sord.

  18. Andy The Hat Silver badge


    Not washing anyone to misinterpretate my worms, great article, fabulous actor, massive loss to comedy. And good article!

  19. Simon B

    A beautiful article and well written. Enjoyed reading about how it all started, he is a legend and will never be forgotten.

    Cheers Ronnie.

  20. Pen-y-gors Silver badge


    No mention of "Lines from my Grandfather's Forehead" - a sequential entertainment for radio. Recently repeated on radio 4 Extra, and well worth a listen.

  21. Andrew Moore Silver badge

    The Phantom Raspberry Blower Of Old London Town... with Spike Milligan if I remember.

  22. JaitcH
    Thumb Up

    Stumbled across some The Two Ronnies Torrents ...

    recently and their material is a fresh today as it was when originally broadcast.

    Time flies, he retired so long ago.

    Yes, Minister is still doing the rounds, too, on some US Public TV stations. Just proves it's hard to beat the BBC oldies.

  23. Wiltshire


    Tears of joy and sadness.

    I liked the dances

    e.g. Bold Sir John

    So doff, so doff, so doff your cap to a master of comedy.

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