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Series / The Two Ronnies

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Left - Ronnie Barker. Right - Ronnie Corbett.
Ronnie Corbett: Well it's hello from me...
Ronnie Barker: ...and it's hello from him!

A pair of British comedians (by their own insistence not a double act), whose work involved both solo and pair sketches, often feeling like a comedy troupe that just so happened to only have two people in it. Their show on the BBC (The Two Ronnies), while most famous for their sketches, was a variety show that also featured music, dancing and the occasional other comedian, running from 1971 to 1987.

Consisted of:

Most of the humour was based on wordplay, with sketches built around Spoonerisms, puns, homophones, mondegreens and similar. The show had many writers: in a fairly famous background story, one of the more celebrated writers was the mysterious Gerald Wiley, whom no one had ever met. In fact, it was Barker himself submitting material under an assumed name as he wanted it to be judged on merit and not get preferential treatment. He once even rejected one of his own scripts and declared, after a poorly-receieved Wiley sketch, that "Wiley has let us down here!" Eventually, he confessed to the production team (who didn't believe him).

Once per Episode, each of the Ronnies would get a solo showcase. Ronnie B., who was never comfortable performing as himself, would portray an unusual character, often as a "mad spokesman", or played people making an appeal for the most ridiculous causes. Ronnie C., who was more naturally garrulous, would always give one of his famous "chair monologues", which consisted of him telling a long rambling story to the audience from an armchair, always taking jabs at the producer and/or his wife. Often these were based around a joke which, if told straight, would not be very funny — the hilarity came from the roundabout and tangential way he got to the punchline.

The most famous Two Ronnies sketches have to be:

  • "Four Candles". A shopkeeper serially misunderstands his customer reading out a shopping list. "No, I said fork 'andles! 'Andles for forks!"
  • "Mastermind". A close impersonation of the Quiz Show Mastermind, with Corbett as a contestant who specialises in "Answering the question before last." His misaligned answers get funnier and funnier as the sketch proceeds.

Most series included a serial, in full costume and with drama-series quality props (not that that was very high quality on the BBC in those days). The most (in)famous was The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town, written by Spike Milligan ("and a Gentleman"). A close second would be The Worm That Turned, featuring a women-ruled England. Also popular were the stories of the down-and-out sleuths Piggy Malone and Charley Farley, a mix between Sherlock Holmes and the typical cop shows of the 70s.

Barker retired in 1987, but made on-and-off appearances with his short buddy. They also reunited in 2005 to do The Two Ronnies Sketchbook, a compilation of their best-known skits. Unfortunately, Barker died in October of that year at 76 (the Christmas edition was taped a few months before, being a literal example of Christmas in July), while Corbett continued to work in television and radio before passing away in 2016 at the age of 85. Naturally, four candles instead of two were displayed at their respective memorial services.

And in a packed trope list tonight:

  • Accent Interest: In the Piggy / Charley serial "Band of Slaves", the intrepid duo visit a Chinese restaurant in Madeira, and find their waitress speaks English with a Liverpool accent. Curious, Piggy says "You're not from round these parts, are you?"; she retorts "No, China."
    • Bonus points here - the term "china" can also mean "friend" (one of the more commonly known Cockney Rhyming Slang terms - China = china plate = mate)
  • Always Someone Better: Miss Marple is this for Hercule Poirot, in "The Teddy Bear Who Knew Too Much".
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: The "Round of Drinks" sketch. A guest at a party (Ronnie B.) tries to order a complicated round of drinks for seven other people, most of whom he doesn't know very well, but keeps scrambling it in new ways with every gin and tonic he guzzles down. To cap it off, the bartender is so Crazy-Prepared that he has every single item on hand to fill the guest's final, hopelessly mangled order.
    Ronnie B.: (The first order, after having one drink) The lady in the sack dress wants an enormous brandy. The young man with the flat head wants a rum and coke. Andy, he's the tall chap, he's Scottish, he wants a pink gin with lemon. The girl with the boobs wants a white lady. My wife will have a scotch on the rocks, the woman with the bare arms behind her, she will have half a bottle of the house wine, and the old man with the rather shifty eyes, he'll have a rough cider. But before that, I'll have another gin and tonic.
    (the final order, after four drinks) Forget all previous orders, just give me a sack of coke, two large rocks, two pink boobs, an enormous lemon and a large bare lady of the house.
    Bartender: Well, sir, I'm glad we finally got that sorted out.
  • Anachronism Stew: "Elizabeth A-ha" is set in the court of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603); the opening song has her singing about Charles II (1630-1685) as if he was her predecessor.
  • Answer Cut: Subverted in their parody of The Onedin Line. Onedin realises he doesn't know the name of the fleet's newest ship. Cut to Onedin and Baines on the quayside. Baines answers "Saucy Sue," and the two have a conversation about her characteristics and handling. At the end of the conversation, it's finally revealed that they've been talking about a scantily-clad young woman by the name of Sue, and the ship's name is actually Dependable.
  • Astonishingly Appropriate Interruption:
    • Although not using interruptions per se, the "Mastermind" sketch is perhaps the ultimate in cleverly using this trope.
    • "Crossed Lines" is a more literal version of the gag, with two people at payphones, whose halves of their conversations are "unintentionally" funny together.
  • Author Appeal: It's clear from the scripts Ronnie Barker wrote that he was fond of the female behind, hence the profusion of panty shots and ladies in tight shorts.
  • Barbershop Quartets Are Funny: One of their musical finales (written by Barker) is a barbershop quartet set in a barber's shop, with the four barbers / musicians inflicting slapstick gags on their customers.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: One turns up in the Piggy/Charley serial "Stop! You're Killing Me!", haunting the graveyard at dead of night. Charley's response is to build a device to blow the bedsheet off it from below. The first person to trigger it is a young woman in a short skirt, the second is the local vicar, and the third is their landlord in a nightshirt.
  • Bested by the Inexperienced: In one sketch Ronnie Corbett's character, a squash champion, is incensed that Ronnie Barker's character, a newbie so clueless he can't even get the name of the game right, has effortlessly beaten him.
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: Ronnie B. was much taller than Ronnie C. Notably, Ronnie B. was of average height while Ronnie C. was incredibly short. (Officially, 4 feet 11 and 3/4 inches.)
  • Bizarre Taste in Food: The "Ice Cream Parlour" sketch. A customer (Ronnie C.) drives the shopkeeper (Ronnie B.) to distraction by asking for ice cream flavors that are more typical of crisps ("potato chips" in the US) — cheese and onion, smoky bacon, salt and vinegar, and so on. He turns it around at the end by asking for a packet of raspberry ripple crisps, earning himself a Frying Pan of Doom upside the head.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: The basis of Ronnie Corbett's "chair" act was that of a man attempting to tell a straightforward joke but getting caught up in digressions; the twist being that these were funnier than the actual joke.
  • Can't You Read the Sign?: One sketch includes a sign saying "Do Not Throw Stones at This Notice".
  • Catchphrase:
    Corbett: So it's "Goodnight" from me.
    Barker: And it's "Goodnight" from him.
    Both: Goodnight.
  • Crosscast Role: The duo would frequently play female characters. Subverted in their parody of Jason King, where Ronnie Barker appears to be playing a Butch Lesbian, but the character is later revealed as a man Disguised in Drag.
  • Dinner Order Flub:
    • Levelled up as the basis for the "Mongolian Restaurant" sketch. Typical comment / response: Ronnie C.: "That's disgusting", Ronnie B. holding up two hands: "That's a lot of gusting".
    • In "Band of Slaves" Piggy and Charley are given a card, with instructions to show it at a Chinese restaurant. The staff interpret it as a food order, and return with a trolley laden with dishes.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Subverted in their Hercule Poirot parody "Murder is Served". The Bultitudes' guests die in what looks like an unlikely chain of freak accidents, but Poirot announces that it's actually a Rube Goldberg-esque death trap arranged by Mrs Bultitude, and has her arrested. He's right about it being arranged deliberately, but Mrs Bultitude wasn't the guilty party and he knows it.
  • Disorganized Outline Speech: Ronnie Corbett's chair monologues often take this form, basically turning every sentence of a short joke into a Disorganized Outline Speech that wanders off onto tangents before eventually coming back to the plot of the joke.
  • Doom Magnet: Doctor Death, in the sketch of the same name, who is cheerfully oblivious as the deaths pile up around him.
  • Double Entendre: The musical numbers and other sketches regularly featured these,.
  • Dress-Up Episode: The Two Ronnies' Old-Fashioned Christmas Mystery is set in 1874. Consequently the hosts and the numerous guest acts perform in Victorian costume; there are also 1870s versions of Piggy Malone and Charlie Farley, to investigate the mystery.
  • The Exit Is That Way: Near the end of the "Doctor Death" sketch:
    Corbett: (attempting to leave by the wrong door) See you soon, Doctor.
    Barker: Yes, you will see me soon, that's the broom cupboard.
  • Feghoot: A common gag in the "news stories" intro and outro.
  • Finishing Each Other's Sentences: One recurring sketch was Barker's character trying to do this to Corbett's character (as he paused a lot trying to think of the right word) but getting it inappropriately wrong.
  • Food and Body Comparison: In one The Two Ronnies sketch, the Ronnies are at a restaurant, and playing a game to associate things their fellow diners are saying with food items. At one point, they see a man played by Ian Richardson talking about a girl with... he makes hand gestures to indicate. They both immediately associate his gestures with "Dumplings!"
  • Foreign Queasine: In the Chinese restaurant in "Band of Slaves", the special is boiled squid and baby snails, cooked with nettles and goat's milk.
    Waitress: Not many people order that one.
    Piggy: Why not?
    Waitress: Tastes 'orrible.
  • For Inconvenience, Press "1": A variant: Ronnie Corbett finds his doctor has been replaced by a computer.
  • Gallows Humor: In the Christmas episode of 'Sketchbook', Ronnie Barker joked that his dressing room was still full of young women — only they were now cardiac nurses rather than groupies. He died of heart failure before the episode aired.
  • Gargle Blaster: From "I'd Like to Have Another" by Jehoshaphat and Jones:
    A man went to a barmaid, said mix me up a drink,
    A cocktail made up of whatever you think.
    She mixed it, he drank it, he went quite cross-eyed,
    And three hours later he came to and cried...
  • Gay Euphemism: In the serial "Death can be Fatal" (which is a James Bond spoof) Piggy and Charley are at MI6 headquarters. Piggy asks a gentleman "Are you 'Q'?"; the man takes this to be a euphemism for 'queer' and replies "Yes - are you?"
  • Goofy Buckteeth: In one party sketch, Ronnie Corbett plays a man with massive buck teeth and a posh accent called Gavin, while Ronnie Barker plays a Jerkass who decides to come over and make fun of him for his teeth, and his voice, and his behaviour, just because he's bored. He comes to regret it, though, after he finds out that Gavin has a much more attractive wife, and his own wife then comes to read him the riot act for leaving her alone all evening.
  • Horror Host: Ronnie Barker as the Laird of Cockahoopie Castle, introducing "The Bogle of Bog Fell".
  • Hot Gypsy Woman: Lucy Lee in the serial "Stop! You're Killing Me!" is a sultry temptress, played by Kate O'Mara.
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms. One sketch featured Ronnie Corbett attempting to find out where the toilet is without saying the word toilet and using every conceivable euphemism.
  • Inconsistent Spelling: Is Piggy Malone's colleague called Charlie or Charley? "Stop! You're Killing Me" uses 'Charlie'; the other serials use "Charley".
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures: "One Long Pong" tends to change between referencing China and Japan at will.
  • Ironic Nickname: Some of the Country and Western singers they portrayed — "Big Jim" Jehosophat was played by Corbett, and "Lightweight" Louie Danvers by Barker.
  • Lady Land: One of their drama segments is set in a dystopic fascist England ruled by female supremacists. They have to escape over the border to Wales ("Where men are men, and women are glad of it"), aided by — of course — Eek, a Mouse!!.
  • Limerick: The dialogue in the "Limerick Clinic" sketch combines to form a series of limericks.
  • Masochist's Meal: Ronnie Barker's "Indian Cookery" monologue contains several asides about the dire effects his recipes may have on the unprepared.
    If you are following correctly the recipe for my hot and spicy curry, you will not be needing a starter. You will be needing a stopper.
  • Motor Mouth:
    • When introducing film clips, Norman Barrel (Barker) keeps up a continuous flow of verbiage, repeatedly backstepping to qualify his previous remarks.
    The man in the burnt cork and the fuzzy wig was, or is, unless he's died, which he probably has by now, although I wouldn't bank on it, some of these performers seem to go on forever, he certainly does, is the great Al Vermont...
    • In the "Ice Cream Parlour" sketch, the shopkeeper (Barker) is twice asked what kinds of ice cream are available. Each time, he reels off a completely different list of two dozen or so flavors at a steadily increasing tempo.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: From the "Taxidermist" sketch: "You have stuffed and mounted thirty-four perfectly healthy people with a perfect right to live, and a double-glazing salesman."
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Ronnie Barker's "Nell of the Yukon" contains this verse:
    Then up jumped Black Lou, and his face went bright blue,
    (Which astonished a passing physician)
    And he used a foul word that no one had heard
    Since the time of the Great Exhibition
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: "Norman Barrel" for Barry Norman.
  • Non-Human Head: One sketch showed a man seeing a doctor, who has been replaced by a video system, and has trouble with the silly instructions and system failures until he starts banging on the door demanding to see a real doctor... who may be this trope, as he enters the room speaking in the same manner as the video doctor, with the hollowed-out shell of a TV over his head.
  • Obvious Stunt Double: Played for laughs in one retraux film where Ronnie Barker plays "Arthur Halliday, the Vagabond Lover" — a 1930s music-hall performer. Halliday is shown in closeup while all he's doing is singing, but each time he performs a physical stunt the camera cuts to a much wider shot.
  • Offer Void in Nebraska: One episode of the serial "Death Can Be Fatal" opened with a recap of the previous episode, then added "Except for viewers in Scotland, where the story goes like this:" and repeated the recap with everybody wearing traditional Highland dress. This was a reference to BBC Scotland's annoying habit of pre-empting network programmes with (usually inferior) local content.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: Played for laughs in their parody of Colditz: while in Hauptmann Ulrich's office, Carter is able to hide in the wardrobe, and then the filing cabinet, as long as the camera isn't on him.
  • One Scene, Two Monologues:
    • One of their best known sketches, Crossed Lines, is a variation on this trope — Corbett and Barker play two very different characters both talking on pay phones in a supermarket. They are having totally unconnected conversations with different (unseen) people on the other end, but they take turns to speak and they seem to be having a surreal conversation with each other.
    • Another, similar sketch has the two sitting side by side on a train, each talking to the person on their other side (one about his marriage, the other about his garden). Again, the two monologues combine to form a single incongruous conversation.
  • "Psycho" Shower Murder Parody: In the serial "Done to Death", the protagonists are in the shower when a scary, looming silhouette is seen... and then revealed to be a stuffed gorilla on which they have hung the bath towels.
  • Raiders of the Lost Parody: A sketch entitled "Raiders of the Lost Auk".
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Barker's "Anti-Shoddy Goods Committee" speech.
  • Self-Deprecation:
    • Incessant gags about Corbett's height or lack thereof.
    • Similarly, there are plenty of gags about Barker's weight.
    • A huge part of Corbett's 'chair' monologues — "I get so little fan-mail that my letter box has healed up"
  • Sherlock Scan: Double-subverted in "The Teddy Bear Who Knew Too Much" — Poirot deduces from a handbag that its owner is an overweight bald woman called Hide who wipes her nose on her sleeve. The handbag's owner promptly arrives, and turns out to be a slender brunette by the name of Agnes Pomfrit. At the end of the scene, Agnes mentions that she inherited the bag from her great-aunt, an overweight bald woman called Hide who wiped her nose on her sleeve.
  • Signing-Off Catchphrase: See Catchphrase.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Inverted in one sketch, a faux-Shakespearean scene in which captions interpret the lines as references to contemporary TV shows.
  • Stealth Insult: The "Nuts M'lord" sketch is about a butler who, while seeming to just pass food items to the lord and lady of the manor, manages to do so in a way that turns them into Stealth Insults for the lord and Stealth Compliments for the lady.
    Butler: (hands him a bowl of walnuts) Your nuts, m'lord.
    Lord: You fool, how am I supposed to open these?
    Butler: (hands him a set of nutcrackers) Your crackers, m'lord.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: The show had far too many to list them all. Particularly memorable is "up Cat, Polecat"; one of their Jehosophat and Jones songs:
    Up in the loft where the lamp-light flickers
    I lost my heart and she lost her...parasol
  • Swear Jar: The Swearbox Sketch.
  • Take That!:
    Inspector: Do you know what you can get for stuffing Mr. Norman Tebbit?
    Taxidermist: The Queen's Award for Industry, I should thinknote .
    What's the name of the directory that lists members of the Peerage?
    A study of old fossils.
    Who are Len Murray and Sir Geoffrey Howe?
    Burke's [berks].
    What is Bernard Manning famous for?
    That is the question.
    Who is the present Archbishop of Canterbury?
    He's a fat man who tells blue jokes.
    What did Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec do?
    Paint strippers.
    Who is Dean Martin?
    He's a kind of artist.
    Yes, what sort of artist?
    Um...Pass. [Piss (piss artist)]
    That's near enough. What make of vehicle is the standard London bus?
    In 1892, Brandon Thomas wrote a famous long-running English farce, what was it?
    Correct. Complete the following quotation (siren goes) I've started, so I'll finish. Complete the following quotation about Mrs. Thatcher: "Her heart may be in the right place but her - "
    Charley's Aunt. [charlies aren't]
  • Tempting Fate: At the end of "The Bogle of Bog Fell", the narrator addresses the camera:
    Narrator: One last thing I'll say to ye: The tale I've told ye may seem strange, and almost impossible to believe — but if it's not true, may I be blown to smithereens and the various parts of my body be distributed and scattered throughout the length and breadth of Scotland, including the Trossachs.
  • The Show Must Go Wrong: One sketch is an amateur dramatic society's performance of a play called "Weekend in Mayfair". It includes a wobbly set, the cast continually tripping over bits of the scenery or getting stuck in doorways, one of the main cast members being absent and replaced by the local butcher (Barker) who agreed to read the part at an hour's notice, and a little dog getting onto the stage and running wildly about.
  • Tongue Twister: Barker's "Anti-Shoddy Goods Committee" monologue.
  • Unbuilt Trope: They did a parody of Star Trek in 1973, only a few years after the original series ended, and a parody of Star Wars soon after the first film came out. Because of this, these parodies lack most of the "cliché" jokes that have built up in stock parodies of these franchises over the years.
  • Underwear Flag: In the serial "Death Can Be Fatal", the protagonists' bungling results in the hotel's flag getting swapped for a pair of knickers, which, to the pompous under-manager's horror, get run up the flagpole before anyone realizes.
  • Unsatisfiable Customer: Ronnie C. plays this role in the "Sweet Shop" routine, slowly driving the proprietor (Ronnie B.) crazy with one ridiculous request after another.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Too many to list, calling body parts by physical characteristics were commonplace, ie wobblers, bouncers and danglers among others.
  • Wardrobe Malfunction: In the second episode of "Hampton Wick", Madeline Smith's low-cut dress slips a bit too low and exposes more than it ought. It seems no-one noticed it before the show was broadcast.
  • Who's on First?: the Yokels are called Arthur Watt and Leonard Right. Hilarity Ensues.
  • With Lyrics: They did this to the jazz number "In the Mood".
  • Word, Schmord!: In a few sketches, such as "Magnus, Schmagnus" (said Magnus being portrayed by John Cleese).

The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town


The Worm That Turned


  • Covered in Gunge: One security guard has to search barrels of pig swill for the protagonists, much to the amusement of her subordinates.
  • Fanservice: The security guards wear hot pants.
  • Lady Land: The setting, a dictatorship of female supremacists.
  • Run for the Border: Two downtrodden men, Janet and Betty, aim to flee the domination of this fierce feminist state for the macho mining sanctuary of a country called Wales.

Ronnie Corbett: That's all we've got time for, so it's "Goodnight" from me...
Ronnie Barker: And it's "Goodnight" from him...
Both: Goodnight!


Video Example(s):


Four Candles

In this sketch, a shopkeeper serially misunderstands his customer reading out a shopping list.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / MondegreenGag

Media sources: