November 2005

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In a busy month Robert contemplates the passing of a legend and the reuniting of a comedy trio - among other things.

November 2005

Although he had been retired since 1988 and only made much welcome appearances at award ceremonies and to front clip celebrations, the death of Ronnie Barker was keenly felt.† Wall-to-wall coverage on every news channel saw him get the respect of a Royal or a top politician.† Respect he more than deserved.† His death certainly affected me.† I only met him a couple of times but he was a gracious, charming, quietly amusing gentleman.† But more than that, he was a comic constant throughout my life.† You could always rely on Ronnie Barker to make you laugh.† The moment as Ronnie Corbett shook hands with his long-time partner at the close of the first Two Ronnies Sketchbook earlier this year is even more poignant now.

† So, itís goodnight from Fletch, Arkwright, Clarence, the Magnificent Evans and the mercurial Ronnie B.† He really was one of the pillars of post-war British comedy.† As my dear pal Alan Coles texted me: “itís a joke he didnít get a knighthood”.† Indeed, as Sir David Jason commented, “Ronnie was the governor”.Timed, almost to perfection, is the BBC dvd release of The Ronnie Barker Collection; a tantalising treasure trove of his finest work including the complete Porridge, the complete Open All Hours and the ultra-rare Seven of One series of pilot shows.

Benny Hill was an equally beloved comedy hero who sadly saw his star fade in his homeland during the last years of his life.† Not so in America and, having been involved with A+Eís on-going complete dvd release of Bennyís shows for Thames, I was lucky enough to land the job of Ďchatting upí some of his Hillís Angels for up-coming featurettes.† The five girls were as stunning as ever and I was Ďforcedí to pose for a picture on a bed with three of Bennyís lovelies.† Tough work but somebody has to do it!

A trip to Yorkís Theatre Royal came near the end of October when I witnessed the world premiere of the new play Steptoe and Son in Murder at Oil Drum Lane.† As the title suggests the characters are the stars of the piece with the daunting task of re-creating Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H. Corbettís brilliant performances falling to relative unknowns Harry Dickman and Jake Nightingale.† As with Brambell and Corbett, both have enjoyed distinguished stage careers.† They give an impression of the beloved rag Ďní bone men as opposed to detailed impersonations.† Nightingale has Corbettís vocal mannerisms to perfection while Dickmanís stooping gait provides his co-star with the ideal brick wall to bounce his ill-fated dreams against.† The play runs in York until 12 November and is well worth catching.

Earlier in the week there was another reunion from the best of 1970s television comedy, The Goodies.† Thatís Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie in case you didnít know!† They are returning to BBC2 for the first time in twenty-five years to host a special Goodies Night over Christmas.† Running at two hours, Bill lamented “you poor sods!” while Tim shouted “itís not long enough!”† I think he was talking about the Goodies Night!† The trio, self-effacing as ever, was greeted by a standing ovation by the studio audience and it was a thrill to see them reunited for this landmark celebration.† The set, a faithful recreation of the Goodies office, was peppered with momentos from the showís pastÖlike a Free As A Bird video for the trandem trio.† Bill was happily sticking a black pudding up Uncle Bulgariaís back passage when the cameras werenít rolling, Tim had gamely squeezed into one of his old Union Jack waistcoats and Graeme playfully stroked a mini Kitten Kong.† Itís no secret that the Goodies are comedy Gods as far as Iím concerned and this reunion will not disappoint.† Iíve said it before and Iíll say it againÖroll on Christmas!

Finally, for those film and telly nuts travelling to the N.E.C. for the Memorabilia weekend at the end of November, Iíll be up there with the legend that is Henry Holland, flogging my books and stuff but mainly looking after Carry On Abroad and Bless This House movie babes Sally Geeson and Carol Hawkins.† Hope to see you there.

Robert Ross

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