TYPE Ronnie Barker's name into YouTube and get a collection of his greatest hits: Porridge, Open All Hours and, chiefly, The Two Ronnies, and its endless array of sketches studded with jokes and wordplay.
Four Candles is there, of course, and not even the passing of the years can dampen your sense of joy as you watch Barker's woolly-hatted labourer wrong-foot Ronnie Corbett's shopkeeper time and again. Then, of course, there's the mispronunciation sketch, in which Barker mangles his words at high speed yet makes himself understood, and the spoonerisms sketch, and the sketch in which he's a TV presenter trying desperately to fill in time when a live classical concert is late in starting. No wonder The Two Ronnies was watched by 17 million people each week.
So used were we, back in the 1970s, to seeing Barker in the show that it came as a surprise to see him inhabit different types of character altogether – first, Norman Stanley Fletcher in Porridge, and then Arkwright, the wily shopkeeper with an eye for Nurse Gladys Emmanuel, in Open All Hours.
"He was an encylopaedia of comedy, really," said Corbett on the news of Barker's death in October 2005. "He was undoubtedly a comic legend," said Christoper Biggins. "He wasn't a comedian – he was a comic actor, and that is the difference."
There was, of course, much more to Barker than simply these three shows. After his TV debut in 1956 he featured in everything from The Benny Hill Show to The Frost Report, Comedy Playhouse and several TV films.
There were feature films and there was radio work. He was a gifted comedy writer. Now comes news that an hour's worth of comedy sketches he recorded 40 years ago for a radio show, Lines From my Grandfather's Forehead, might finally be broadcast by Radio 4. No-one knows yet whether they're classics on a par with the best of his TV work, but they do remind you of his remarkable creativity. There really was no-one like Ronnie Barker.
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