Picture of a judge's wigThis Is Not A BLOG!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 04/10/05

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 Allen.

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 of 76.

Photo of Ronnie Barker

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 'Andles...

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, from us.