Ronnie Corbett: Diminutive titan who brought laughter to millions

Friends of comedian say ‘goodnight’ to star for last time after he passes away aged 85

Friends and fans of Ronnie Corbett, the diminutive titan of British comedy, have said "goodnight" to the star for the last time after his death at the age of 85.

One of Britain’s best-loved entertainers, Corbett’s career spanned six decades.

He was most cherished for his partnership with Ronnie Barker in the BBC sketch show The Two Ronnies, the pair bringing laughter to millions in the 1970s and 1980s with their skits, comedy songs and "news" bulletins.

He died in hospital “surrounded by his loving family”, his publicist said, and is thought to have been ill for some time.

Fellow comedians and TV personalities spoke of their sorrow at his death, with close friend Michael Parkinson calling him "a very easy man to love". He said: "He was a perfect companion. He was bright. He could tell good stories. He was funny . . . We were just mates and I shall miss him terribly."

John Cleese, who appeared with Corbett and Barker in a famous Frost Report sketch about social class in 1966, said he was a "great, kind mentor and a wonderfully witty companion".

Born in Edinburgh in 1930, by the time he was 15 Corbett was playing in pantomime at his local church, moving to London after his national service to do summer seasons and intimate revues.

Initially sensitive about his height – he was 5ft 1in – he exploited it later in his career to great comic effect.

Influential

Spotted at Danny La Rue’s club at Hanover Square by

David Frost

, he was invited to join Barker and Cleese in

The Frost Report

, one of the most influential TV shows of the 1960s. After TV success with

Frost On Sunday

,

Corbett’s Follies

, and

No, That’s Me Over Here

, Corbett and Barker got their biggest break thanks to a technical mishap at the Bafta awards, which left them having to concoct a lengthy ad-lib. Watching executives immediately signed them up and

The Two Ronnies

was born.

It ran from 1971 to 1987 – most TV critics rated them even funnier than Morecambe and Wise – and produced some of the nation’s best-loved sketches, including the infamous “Four Candles” skit in a hardware store, as well as their regular sign-off: “It’s goodnight from me . . . and it’s goodnight from him.”

Partnership

The pair worked together for 40 years and, speaking in 2010, five years after Barker’s death, Corbett told the BBC he never considered a partnership with another comedian.

He said: “I suppose I avoided thoughts of it because it had been such a happy and supportive collaboration that we had, that I would miss his advice and his touch.”

As well as performing in the theatre and on TV, he appeared in a number of films, including the James Bond spoof Casino Royale in 1967, No Sex Please, We're British, and Cleese's 1996 comedy Fierce Creatures.

A keen golfer, he was a member of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and took a meticulous approach to his dress sense on the course, occasionally admonishing others on the course with more sloppy attire.

Corbett was awarded a CBE in the 2012 New Year honours list for his services to charity and the entertainment industry. But at a celebration to mark the award he collapsed in a restaurant, and two years ago was admitted to hospital with gall bladder problems.

Monty Python star Michael Palin called him "the complete professional", saying: "He was one of the fortunate few who could tell jokes that would reduce audiences to helpless laughter."

Tony Hall, director general of the BBC, described Corbett as "one of the true greats of British comedy".

He is survived by Anne, his wife of 50 years, and his two daughters. – (PA)

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