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The Two Ronnies
Possibly the most robust long-running sketch show ever made and certainly one of the most successful, The Two Ronnies, in its 17 years of regular programming, regularly dominated the schedules.
Ronnies Barker and Corbett did their first work on The Frost Report, but it was obvious even then that they weren't made for someone else's format and were quickly shuffled into their own.
The comparison between the Ronnies and Morecambe and Wise is inevitable and always made. Really though there wasn't much similarity except that they were duos, male, and bipeds.
Eric and Ernie had strict roles of funny man and straight man, while the Ronnies could each handle the laughs, and both could slip into genuine character roles quite happily. Both were successful away from each other – Corbett with formats like Sorry!, and Barker of course with Porridge and Open All Hours.
The Two Ronnies featured sketches written by a wide range of writers with David Nobbs, John Cleese, David Renwick, Spike Milligan being just a tiny sample.
Whilst Not the Nine O'Clock news was the crucible of alternative writing talent in the 80s, the Ronnies broader feel allowed a huge range of writing and writers to get their material on air.
Many of the sketches were written by the elusive Gerald Wiley, who would post his sketches but never appear at writing meetings. This turned out to be the typically self-effacing Ronnie Barker, trying not to bully his stuff onto the screen – despite this, Barker remains one of the most prolific sketch writers in British comedy, with hundreds to his name, as well as the duo's spin-off films.
If you were anything from five upwards during the 80s, you had a favourite Ronnies moment. Whilst they had their hit and miss moments, the in-programme comedy dramas were well-written, particularly The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town, penned by Milligan, and The Worm That Turned, where all the men wore pinnies and Diana Dors lorded it over the men of the world.
The best sketches must include David Renwick's Mastermind sketch, still a classic, in which Corbett specializes in answering the question before last. The musical numbers were cleverly written, but sometimes unclearly sung, which was a shame since the lyrics were often very sharp.
The Two Ronnies sometimes unfairly gets lumped in as an old warhorse of a show. In fact, it was mostly sharp, well-written and funny, with a wealth of writing talent making it the BBC's biggest comedy for most of the 1980s.
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