RONNIE Corbett was half of an estimated Two Ronnies, who produced one of the most popular and admired comedy programmes  in television history.

He was an Edinburgh boy, educated at good local schools, and before flying high in comedy did his national service in the RAF where, at 5ft 1in, he was the shortest commissioned officer in the British forces. Close friend

Jimmy Tarbuck joked that “he got his uniform from Mothercare”. 

Self-deprecating Ronnie went even lower, averring that, in bed one night, his wife asked if he’d like to hear the patter of tiny feet. When he assented, she said: “Good. Run down to the kitchen and get me a glass of water.”

Ronnie Corbett was even smaller when he was born on December 4, 1930 at The Edinburgh Royal Maternity Hospital, one of three children to William Corbett, a master baker, and his London-born wife Annie Elizabeth. 

There was no scandal attached to the family, other than his grandfather being a principal organist in the Church of Scotland

Ronnie was educated at James Gillespie’s School for Boys (the Girls version was novelist Muriel Spark’s alma mater; a teacher there was the inspiration for Miss Jean Brodie) and the Royal High School in the city.

After leaving school, he performed in amateur theatricals at a church youth club, which laid the foundations for his first job at the Ministry of Agriculture. Following national service, Ronnie moved to that London to try to get his name in lights.

Being wee, he got a lot of bairns’ roles, and was a regular on the BBC’s Crackerjack in its early days. Other stars included some Krankies and Basil Brush. 

He had a walk-on part (as “Ronald Corbett”) in an early episode of 1960s series The Saint, and appeared in films including You’re Only Young Twice (1952), Rockets Galore! (1957), Casino Royale (1967 – not the proper one, a spoof), Some Will, Some Won’t (1970), and the film version of the farce No Sex Please, We’re British (1973).

Frosty welcome
In 1965, while in cabaret at Winston’s, Danny La Rue’s Mayfair nightclub, David Frost saw him and asked him to appear in his satirical TV programme, The Frost Report. 
Here, he first worked with Ronnie Barker, though they’d met previously when Corbett was running the bar at the Buckstone Club. 

On Frost, they were drawn together as two ordinary secondary school boys among the usual Oxbridge fops of English comedy. 

However, the programme, a mixture of satirical monologues, sketches and music, “turned my life around”, Corbett later recalled. 

In one famous sketch, height denotes social class, with wee Corbett representing the lower, Barker the middle, and big John Cleese the upper.

Corbett and Barker’s big break came after ad-libbing expertly through a show-stopping technical fault while hosting the Baftas. 

BBC execs were so impressed they gave the pair their own show, which ran for more than 93 episodes from 1971 to 1987, attracting audiences of up to 22 million.

The two were called “national treasures”, which Corbett said brought “a tear to my eye”. Among the sketches and musical numbers, Corbett presented deliberately rambling monologues, sitting like a little suburban elf in a large easy chair, dressed in a disturbing V-neck jersey.

Possibly, it was the hallucinogenic quality of this garment that caused him to lose his train of thought, before returning to it with the words: “But I digress.”

Another of the show’s tropes came at the end when the pair read out a series of one-liners as newsreaders, before concluding the bulletin with Corbett saying: “It’s goodnight from me!” Barker: “And it’s goodnight from him!” 

Outwith The Two Ronnies, Corbett starred in several sitcoms, the best known being Sorry, which ran from 1981 to 1988, and saw him play 40-something Timothy Lumsden, a love-lacking librarian whose life is dominated by his mother, from whom he hides Smarties in a hot water bottle

Witch gender
ANOTHER woman he appeared with was faux-satanic rock star Alice Cooper. In adverts for a digital TV series, they were supposed to be happy housemates. Aye, and even I ken Alice was a bloke.

In 2006, Corbett played himself in Ricky Gervais’s Extras, where he’s caught doing coke at the Baftas. The episode has no basis in truth. 

He also starred as himself in Little Britain Abroad, where big Bubbles DeVere seduces him in a mountain ski lodge. See previous reference to truth.

This series of articles doesn’t major on personal lives, unless they involve particularly peculiar sexual practices. Sadly, we’ve unearthed no scent of such a thing in this week’s Icon. 

Instead, it’s worth recording that Ronnie was married for 49 years, until his death, to Anne Hart, whom he met while working at Danny La Rue’s nightclub.

The Herald:

They lived in Addington, south London, from 1970 to 2003, and had a Scottish home in posh East Lothian village Gullane, where the local scuttlebutt alleged that Ronnie kept bees.

Already an OBE, Corbett was promoted to CBE in 2012. The aforementioned Tarbuck advised him when meeting the Queen: “Don’t bow too low or she won’t be able to see you.”

Corbett was a keen golfer and, bizarrely for a Scotsman, a fan of cricket, the sporting parody of a slow death. He supported his local London football club, Crystal Palace FC, as well as one of the Edinburgh teams which we don’t mention in a family newspaper.

Tragic demise
ALAS, there’s no escaping a mention of death, which came to much-loved Ronnie on March 31, 2016, a year after he’d been diagnosed with with motor neurone disease. He was 85. 

At his funeral service, four candles were prominently displayed, in homage to the famous Two Ronnies sketch, in which fork ’andles are misconstrued as four candles (you had to be there; it’s funny and available on 
yon YouTube).

John Cleese said Corbett had “the best timing” he’d ever seen, while David Walliams, a close friend, said that he was his “comedy idol”. 

Apart from all that, he was a decent bloke, whose only fault lay in an appalling choice of pullovers.