The entertainment world today paid tribute to comedy giant Ronnie Barker following his death at the age of 76.
Barker, most famous for the hugely successful show The Two Ronnies, died at 12.15 yesterday following a long illness.
He will be remembered as one of the most successful TV comedians of all time.
As well as the long-running partnership with the diminutive Ronnie Corbett, he struck gold with the sitcoms Porridge and Open All Hours.
To the delight of audiences, the star, who retired from the small screen in 1987, was back on TV only recently in The Two Ronnies Sketchbook.
The Two Ronnies ran for 98 episodes over 12 series between 1971 and 1987.
In its heyday, the show attracted up to 18 millio viewers and the pair remain an inspiration for many of today’s comedians, including Peter Kay.
The Mastermind sketch, the two constantly bickering tramps, and the Four Candles sketch – in which Barker attempts to buy “fork handles” at a hardware store – still gets laughs today.
John Cleese, who began his comedy career with Barker in the 1960s comedy series The Frost Report, today described him as “a warm, friendly and encouraging presence to have when I started in television” and “a great comic actor to learn from”.
Peter Kay said: “He made me laugh so much and I’m just so lucky to have been able to get to know my hero and the person that I aspire to be.”
Former Monty Python star Michael Palin said: “I can’t think of anyone who knew how to play comedy better than Ronnie Barker.
“Ronnie was a straightforward, down to earth man who had this extraordinary ability to make the nation laugh, probably more often than anyone else I know.”
David Jason, who rose to fame playing Granville alongside Barker in Open All Hours, was said to be “absolutely shocked and distressed” by the news, according to his agent.
Comedian Ben Elton said: “Britain has lost one of its greatest comic artists, but he lives on in an incomparable body of work which will continue to bring joy to millions.”
Barker was honoured by Bafta in Ronnie Barker: A Bafta Tribute in 2004.
He announced his retirement from TV comedy acting in 1987 at the height of his success after more than a decade of acclaimed shows.
He set up an antique business with a shop in the Oxfordshire village of Chipping Norton.
Today his role as a shopkeeper Arkwright in Open all Hours and as rebellious prisoner Fletcher in Porridge remain enduring comedy favourites.
Since retiring, Barker has only been on screen a few times, including a special tribute to The Two Ronnies in 1999, and in the BBC drama The Gathering Storm in 2002, in which he played Churchill’s butler.
But when The Two Ronnies looked back at some of the best sketches they recorded for their long running show in The Two Ronnies Sketchbook, it showed the duo’s long-lasting appeal.
Barker’s agent Rosalind Chatto said Barker’s wife Joy Tubb – they married in 1957 – was with him when he died.
He had been nursed at home but is thought to have gone into a hospice in the last 24 hours.
Ms Chatto said: “He died yesterday after a long period of heart trouble.
“He died peacefully and his wife was with him. He had been nursed at home for a long time.”
Barker, who wrote many of the scripts for The Two Ronnies, got his TV break came when he was chosen for the supporting cast of The Frost Report with John Cleese in 1966.
It was here that he first met Corbett, his future comedy partner and the other half of one of the most successful comedy double acts.
Barker and his wife had three children, actress Charlotte Barker, the actor Adam Barker and Larry Barker.
Michael Hurll, producer of The Two Ronnies, told the BBC: “There was a rhythm to a joke and he was able to show us how that worked. It worked every time.
“With Ronnie Barker you felt safe. The whole family could watch, granny and the kids.
“Ronnie Barker meant to comedy in this country, laughs, big laughs and laughs that you will always remember.”