THE death today of comedian Ronnie Corbett brings down the curtain on a golden age of British light entertainment. Corbett’s long-time partner Ronnie Barker died in 2005.
Here is our pick of Ronnie C’s best jokes:
• “French wine growers fear that this year’s vintage may be entirely spoiled due to the grape treaders’ sit-in.”
• “A cement mixer collided with a prison van on the Kingston by-pass. Motorists are asked to be on the look-out for 16 hardened criminals.”
• “We will be talking to an out of work contortionist who says he can no longer make ends meet.”
• “All those who believe in psychokinesis raise my right hand.”
• “This is a message for seven honeymoon couples in a hotel in Peebles: Breakfast was served three days ago.”
• “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?’”
• “It was revealed in a government survey published today that the Prime Minister is doing the work of two men, Laurel and Hardy.”
• “There was a fire at the main Inland Revenue office in London today, but it was put out before any serious good was done.”
• “West Mersea 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.”
• “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.”
• “A juggernaut of onions has shed its load all over the M1. Motorists are advised to find a hard shoulder to cry on.”
• “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.”
• “If I wear too much tartan I tend to look like a Thermos flask.”
And here are some examples of Ronnie Corbett’s wit and wisdom:
“I have been trapped in some posh toilets including those at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace” - Corbett has found himself locked in lavatories in only the best places.
“What does it profit us to tear this great nation asunder?” - Corbett, who was brought up in Edinburgh, speaking in 2014.
“I have not survived in show business for 50 years by being Mister Nice. If you are weak, this business will eat you up” - Corbett on the entertainment industry.
“I am at a crossroads in my profession. I am not tall enough to be James Bond, but then again I am not small enough to be adopted by Madonna” - Corbett on his height and career.
“I was caught in the lavatory when they called me up to receive a CBE from the Queen” - More toilet humour from Corbett.
“We call our dog Jack Straw, because he lives in the lap of luxury, never does anything and is completely useless” - Corbett on his pet’s name.
“I hope you like my trousers. If I wear too much tartan I tend to look like a Thermos flask” - Corbett on fashion.
“In a comedy partnership, as in sex, the one who says ‘no’ has to win” - Corbett recalling the occasion when Ronnie Barker told him he was going to retire.
“The two WI ladies who vomit are fantastic” - Corbett paying tribute to the TV comedy series Little Britain.
“Ronnie was pure gold in triplicate: as a performer, a writer and a friend” - Corbett paying tribute to his comedy partner Ronnie Barker.
“Pretending to be on my mobile is my device for getting past people without interruption” - Corbett on how he avoided talking to fans.
“It’s a very special play for me. Maybe because it has a central character called Ronnie who isn’t very tall: not many parts like that have been written” - Corbett on The Winslow Boy.
“It’s very, very touching. Actually as I think about the feeling now, tears are coming to my eyes. About two weeks ago I was walking down the street and as a taxi driver passed, lowered his window, kissed the palm of his hand and blew the kiss towards me. Now that is really touching. Really moving, you know. That sort of affection is very, very lovely - and to be treasured really. So I love it.” - Corbett was on Desert Island Discs in 2007 and was asked what he thought of being called a “national treasure”.
And finally... the Four Candles sketch in full
The Two Ronnies’ most well known sketch, Four Candles, featured Ronnie Corbett as the owner of a hardware shop, attempting to make sense of Ronnie Barker’s long and ambiguous shopping list of items.
The original script for the sketch sold for £48,500 in December 2007, after a private buyer outbid eight other comedy fans to take home a slice of television history.
Famed for its hilarious word play and use of homophones, the sketch’s transcript is as entertaining now as it was when first scripted in 1976.
In a hardware store, Ronnie Corbett stands behind the counter after serving a customer.
Ronnie Barker enters the shop, wearing dirty overalls and a beanie hat.
BARKER: Four Candles!
CORBETT: Four Candles?
BARKER: Four Candles.
Corbett goes to fetch a box and brings back four white candles. He puts them in front of Barker on the counter.
BARKER: No, four candles!
Corbett looks puzzled.
CORBETT: Well there you are, four candles!
BARKER: No, fork ‘andles! ‘Andles for forks!
Corbett glares at Barker before reaching down to put the candles away. He then walks across the shop and returns with a fork handle.
CORBETT: Fork handles. Thought you said ‘four candles!’ Next?
BARKER: Got any plugs?
CORBETT: Plugs. What kind of plugs?
BARKER: A rubber one, bathroom.
Corbett raises his eyebrows, turns and fetches a box full of rubber bath plugs. He places it on the counter and pulls out two different sizes.
CORBETT: What size?
BARKER: Thirteen amp!
Corbett stares at Barker, clearly frustrated. He turns to put the box away, and then looks back again.
CORBETT: It’s electric plug, electric bathroom plugs, we call them, in the trade. Electric bathroom plugs!
He gets out another box and places an electronic plug on the counter.
BARKER: Saw tips!
CORBETT: Saw tips?
Confused, Corbett looks around the shop, before looking back at Barker.
CORBETT: What d’you want? Ointment, or something like that?
BARKER: No, saw tips, for covering the saws.
CORBETT: Oh, no haven’t got any, haven’t got any. Comin’ in, but we haven’t got any.
BARKER: Got any ‘Os!
Corbett goes back to the place where he picked up the fork handle, and returns with a garden hoe.
BARKER: No, ‘Os!
CORBETT: ‘Os! I thought you meant ‘Os!
Corbett, getting flustered, mutters as he put the hoe back and returns with a hose.
CORBETT: When you said ‘Os, I thought you said ‘O! ‘Os!
Corbett places the hose on the counter.
BARKER: No, ‘Os!
Corbett looks confused again.
CORBETT: Os? Oh, you mean panty ‘Os’, panty ‘Os’!
He picks up a pair of tights on the counter.
BARKER: No, no, ‘Os!’ ‘Os’ for the gate. Mon repose! ‘Os’! Letter Os’!
Look of realisation etched on Corbett’s face.
CORBETT: Letter Os! You had me going there!
He turns and climbs up a stepladder, brings down a box, takes it to the counter, and searches for a letter O.
CORBETT: How many d’you want?
Corbett places two letter Os on the counter, proceeds to put the box away using the ladder. He then returns to the counter.
CORBETT: Yeah, next?
BARKER: Got any Ps?
Corbett looks visibly flustered.
CORBETT: For Gawd’ sake, why didn’t you bleedin’ tell me that while I was up there? I’m up and down the shop already, it’s up and down the bleedin’ shop all the time. Honestly, I’ve got all this shop, I ain’t got any help today, it’s worth it we plan things.
Muttering as he goes, Corbett takes the ladder again across the store, retrieves the box of letters for a second time and then puts the ladder back in its resting place. He puts the box on the counter, and gets out some letter Ps.
CORBETT: How many d’you want?
BARKER: No! Tins of peas.
Corbett looks at Barker in disbelief.
BARKER: Three tins of peas!
CORBETT: You’re havin’ me on, aren’t ya, you’re ‘avin’ me on?
BARKER: I’m not!
Looking back at Barker, Corbett puts the box under the counter, and reaches up to the shelf to fetch three tins of peas. Places the tins on the counter.
CORBETT: Right, hear you go.
BARKER: Got any pumps?
CORBETT: Hand pumps, foot pumps? Come on!
BARKER: Foot pumps!
Muttering, Corbett searches the shop looking for foot pumps.
CORBETT: Foot pumps. See a foot pump? Tidy up in here.
He finds a pump and puts it down on the counter.
CORBETT: Here we go.
BARKER: No, pumps for ya feet! Brown pumps, size nine!
Corbett gets very animated.
CORBETT: You are ‘avin’ me on, you are definitely ‘avin’ me on!
BARKER: I’m not!
CORBETT: You are ‘avin’ me on!
Corbett takes back the pump, retrieves a pair of brown foot pumps from a drawer. He slams them down on the counter.
CORBETT: What, windscreen washers, car washers, dishwashers, floor washers, back scrubbers, lavatory cleaners, floor washers?
BARKER: Half inch washers!
CORBETT (shouting) : Oh, tap washers, tap washers? Look, I’ve had just about enough of this, give us that list.
Corbett snatches the list from Barker.
CORBETT: I’ll get it all myself down here!
He reads through the list.
CORBETT: What’s this? What’s that? Oh that does it! that does have - I have just about had enough of it.
He turns his back on Barker and calls for his assistant.
CORBETT: Mr Jones! You come out and serve this customer please. I’ve had just about had enough of this.
Mr Jones comes to the front of the shop and Corbett thrusts the list into his hands.
CORBETT: Look what he’s got on there! Look what he’s got on there!
Corbett gives Barker one last glare and then exits the scene. Mr Jones walks across to a drawer on the other side of the shop, and opens it.
JONES: Right! How many would you like? One or two?
He removes a towel on the drawer to remove a sign which reads ‘Bill hooks!’