Originally, the idea of Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in a series together came about when they were co-presenting an award at a BAFTA ceremony and due to a technical hitch were forced to fill in and ad lib until it was fixed. The two heads of BBC Light Entertainment were in the audience and decided to give them a series and see how they last. It lasted decades.
The writers for The Two Ronnies included such comedic luminaries as Barry Cryer, Spike Milligan, John Sullivan, Tim Brooke-Taylor of The Goodies, and Pythons Eric Idle, Terry Jones, John Cleese and Michael Palin. However, the majority of each episode was written by Gerald Wiley, who was an unknown at the time and a prolific contributor.
It transpired years later that Wiley was a pseudonym for Ronnie Barker who wanted his material to be judged on its merits in editorial meetings. His materiel was light, end-of the-pier stuff for the most part with wordplay and occasionally gentle innuendo, as the pair started each episode as if reading the news:
‘In a packed programme tonight, we will be talking to an out-of-work contortionist who says he can no longer make ends meet.’
‘And I shall be having a word with a man who goes in for meditation, because he thinks it’s better than sitting around doing nothing.’
Their appearance on British television was so frequent it was as if they were an extension of the wallpaper in UK homes and aside from Barker’s performance as Norman Fletcher in the peerless sitcom Porridge, this was the duo at the peaks of their powers.
It’s gentle, warm comedy that would struggle to offend even the most puritanical of moral guardians but only the coldest of hearts would be able to sit through an episode and not raise a smile.
My So Called Life
Remember when teen angst was a social issue in America? Douglas Coupland wrote about Generation X and coined the phrase McJob; Elizabeth Wurtzel had a bestseller with Prozac Nation; half the nation was on Prozac; Kurt Cobain was a pin-up for post-pubescent pain and it was socially acceptable to wear a Butthole Surfers T-shirt with an open lumberjack ensemble over the top. Ahh, it makes you want to carve ‘4-REAL’ into your arm just thinking about it. Well, My So Called Life was the TV series that rode the aftershock of that. The title says it all, although it could have equally been called ‘Oh mum, that is sooo unfair!’
Claire Danes (in her breakthrough role) is a 15-year-old going through the teen angst in a small Pennsylvania town and dealing with themes like drugs, sex, child abuse, homophobia, and all the other horses of the teenage apocalypse. Saved By The Bell it wasn’t, but it was bang on the zeitgeist for the mid ’90s.
There was only one series (19 episodes) as Danes reportedly refused to do another and left to go on and do bigger, although rarely better, things. A young Jared Leto is also in this series, but here’s a quote from one of the many voiceover moments: ‘The worst feeling is suddenly realising that you don’t measure up. And that, in the past, when you thought you did, you were a fool.’
Cheer up love, and enjoy your teens – in eight years time you’ll be reduced to running about screaming in Terminator 3: The Rise Of The Machines.
For Time Out magazine – for original PDF click here –tv on dvd June 2007