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 the nation’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 80s 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.
Born in Edinburgh on December 4, 1930, Corbett had stage, film, and cabaret roles before coming to prominence on David Frost’s satirical 1960s TV show The Frost Report.
One classic sketch — still frequently used to illustrate Britain’s class system — teamed 5’ 1” Corbett, the taller comedian Ronnie Barker, and the towering 6’ 5”John Cleese to represent the working, middle, and upper classes.
In 1971, Corbett teamed up with Barker for a sketch show, The Two Ronnies. It ran for a dozen series over 16 years and at its peak had 17m viewers.
The duo’s verbal dexterity, comic timing and physical incongruence — the bulky Barker towered over the diminutive Corbett — made them favourites with millions of fans. Their signature signoff — “Now it’s goodnight from me.” “And it’s goodnight from him” — became a popular catchphrase.
The duo incorporated sketches, spoof newscasts, and musical parodies, all of which delighted in wordplay.
Corbett’s later roles included a put-upon librarian in the 1980s sitcom Sorry!
In 2005, he reunited with Barker, who died later that year, for TV show The Two Ronnies Sketchbook. Corbett also worked with — and influenced — younger comedians including Ricky Gervais, Rob Brydon, and Peter Kay.
Corbett is survived by his wife of 50 years, Anne Hart, and their two daughters.
Chat show host Michael Parkinson, a close friend, said: “He was a very easy man to love. He was a perfect companion. He was bright. He could tell good stories. He was funny. He was very rarely depressed.
“Anne, his wife, she’ll be distraught. I mean, it was a great marriage. They’ve been together for many, many years, and it was a very loving partnership.
“We were just mates and I shall miss him terribly.”
It was on David Frost’s show that Corbett rose to fame and where he met Barker, leading them to forge one of Britain’s best-loved TV partnerships.
The small screen aside, Corbett’s talents also extended to the theatre and big screen.
He starred in a host of theatre productions such as The Seven Year Itch and Out Of Order. A notable film appearance was his stint in John Cleese’s 1996 follow-up to A Fish Called Wanda, Fierce Creatures.
He also had roles in big-name titles such as Top Of The Form, You’re Only Young Once, Casino Royale, and No Sex Please, We’re British.
He recently appeared on the BBC Radio 4 show When The Dog Dies, which saw him reunited with the writers of his hit sitcom Sorry!
Barker died in 2005 and Corbett told LBC Radio about the last time they spoke, saying: “I took a call from Ron... he said: ‘You know I’m going.’ That was the last time I spoke to him.”
A keen golfer, Corbett 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 for his services to charity and the entertainment industry.
However, at a celebration to mark the award he collapsed in a restaurant, and two years ago was admitted to hospital with gallbladder problems.
Monty Python star Michael Palin called Corbett “the complete professional”, saying: “He was one of the fortunate few who could tell jokes that would reduce audiences to helpless laughter, and also create rounded and believable characters that you instantly warmed to.”
Tony Hall, director general of the BBC, described Corbett as “one of the true greats of British comedy”.
Some of the best from master of the quick-fire gags
Ronnie Corbett was a master of the quick-fire gag — here’s a select few of his best jokes.
* A cement mixer collided with a prison van on the Kingston bypass. Motorists are asked to be on the look-out for 16 hardened criminals.
* All those who believe in psychokinesis raise my right hand.
* West Mercia police announced tonight that they wish to interview a man wearing high heels and frilly knickers, but the chief constable said they must wear their normal uniforms.
* It was revealed in a government survey published today that the prime minister is doing the work of two men, Laurel and Hardy.
* A juggernaut of onions has shed its load all over the M1. Motorists are advised to find a hard shoulder to cry on.
* A man was marooned on a desert island. One day a beautiful woman arrives in a wet suit. ‘When did you last have a smoke?’ she asks. ‘Five years ago.’
So she gets out a cigar and he smokes it. She unzips her wet suit a bit and says, ‘When did you last have a drink?’ He said: ‘Five years ago.’
So she gets out a bottle of Scotch and he has a drink. Then she unzips her wet suit a bit more and says: ‘And when was the last time you played around?’ He looks at her in amazement and says: ‘You’re not telling me you’ve got a set of golf clubs in there?”
* There was a fire at the main Inland Revenue office in London today, but it was put out before any serious good was done.
* We’ve just heard that in the English Channel, a ship carrying red paint has collided with a ship carrying purple paint. It is believed that both crews have been marooned.
* We will be talking to an out of work contortionist who says he can no longer make ends meet.
* We’ll be talking to a car designer who’s crossed a Toyota with Quasimodo and come up with the Hatchback of Notre Dame.
“After a series of crimes in the Glasgow area, Chief Inspector McTavish has announced that he is looking for a man with one eye. If he doesn’t find him, he’s going to use both eyes.”
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