Ronnie Barker profile

When Ronnie Barker died in 2005 aged 76, we lost one of our most celebrated comedy legends. So, how did a humble lad from Bedford become one of the most-loved and respected performers of his generation?

Christmas cheer

Ronald to Ronnie

Ronald William George Barker gained the nickname Ronnie in 1956 when, during a stint in radio show The Floggits, his director decided that Ronnie sounded friendlier. But he didn't tell the man himself - Ronald only found out when he later saw his name billed as Ronnie Barker in the Radio Times!

Timely hitch

The celebrated partnership of The Two Ronnies, Barker and Corbett, ran from 1971 to 1986 - but the duo came together largely by accident. Though they had both worked on The Frost Report, their first outing as a duo was when they were paired up one year to present an award at the BAFTAs only for a technical problem to force them to ad-lib. The show's producers were so impressed that they offered Barker and Corbett their own show.

Ronnie's alias

For years, modest Ronnie hid the fact he wrote around 75 per cent of the material for The Two Ronnies. The show had an open invitation for anyone to contribute sketches and one of the most prolific contributors was a Gerald Wiley. Eventually, Wiley was invited to a team meeting and only then did Ronnie reveal his true identity. He wrote under an alias as he wanted the material to be considered on merit, and not because it was penned by one of the show's stars.


Not many people remember the 1970s series Seven of One, despite it being one of Ronnie's most influential. Each of the episodes was a tool to test new ideas and it proved fruitful, spawning the hugely successful sitcoms Porridge and Open All Hours.

It's goodnight from him

The public were dismayed when Ronnie retired in 1988. He made the decision to go at his peak for fear his material would later dry up. In true Arkwright style he became a shopkeeper - though he opened an antiques business in Oxfordshire rather than a Yorkshire grocer's.

An encore

There can often be cynicism attached to celebrities making comebacks but, such is the esteem in which Ronnie is held by the public, even a cameo in 2002 in the BBC drama The Gathering Storm, playing Winston Churchill's butler, caused a stir. Ronnie played down the praise he received, claiming he had struggled as he hadn't had to learn lines for fourteen years.