1971: legendary comedy sketch show The Two Ronnies, created by Bill Cotton for the BBC, first aired this day on BBC One from 1971 up to 1987. It featured the double act of Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, the two Ronnies of the title.
The show featured the classic Four Candles sketch, plus the Mastermind Sketch, a parody of the quiz show where Barker plays the host Magnus Magnusson, and Corbett a contestant named Charlie Smithers whose specialist subject is “answering the question before last”.
Both Barker and Corbett had their own solo sections on each show. Barker would have his own wordplay-based sketch, often as the head of a ridiculous-sounding organisation (for example, the “Anti-Shoddy Goods Committee”). Likewise, Corbett always had a discursive solo monologue in each show, when he sat in a chair, facing the camera, attempting to tell a simple joke, but constantly distracting himself into relating other humorous incidents.
It became a tradition of the shows to have a continuing serial story, often fairly bawdy tales with special guest stars. The very first serial was Hampton Wick (1971) written by Barker, which began as a pastiche of costume dramas about a governess called Henrietta Beckett, played by Madeline Smith, with the Ronnies playing a wide variety of other characters, but had a neat twist ending that turned this notion on its head.
There were four modern-day mystery serials featuring the comic detective characters “Piggy Malone” (Barker) and “Charley Farley” (Corbett). Done to Death (1972), featuring Sue Lloyd; Death Can Be Fatal (1975); and Stop! You’re Killing Me (1977–78), with support from Kate O’Mara.
One of the most famous serials was The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town (1976), written by Spike Milligan and Ronnie Barker but credited as “Spike Milligan and a Gentleman”. Set in Victorian times, it is a Jack the Ripper parody in which a mysterious figure goes around blowing raspberries at members of the upper classes. The raspberries were done by Barker’s friend David Jason. Another memorable serial was The Worm That Turned (1980); Diana Dors guest-starred in this spoof piece of dystopian fiction set in 2012 in which women rule Britain.
Another regular feature of the shows was an elaborate musical finale in which Barker and Corbett – often in drag – and company would sing a medley of songs in character, in barbershop, music hall, Gilbert and Sullivan or other styles, with the original words altered to suit whatever comic situation they were portraying. There would also be a cabaret musician or group appearing as a special guest, including Dana, Elkie Brooks, Manhattan Transfer, Barbara Dickson, Tina Charles, the Nolan Sisters, Elton John, Elaine Paige and Phil Collins, the last of whom also took part in a few sketches.
See memorable clips here.