The Two Ronnies: who were Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker - and when is the ‘lost tapes’ documentary on TV?

Ronnie Corbett’s lost tapes will be shared during the ITV documentary, with input from his wife Anne and daughters Sophie and Emma

Television comedy duo The Two Ronnies, Ronnie Barker (left) and Ronnie Corbett.   (Picture: Getty Images)
Television comedy duo The Two Ronnies, Ronnie Barker (left) and Ronnie Corbett. (Picture: Getty Images)

‘The Two Ronnies’, Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker, were the face of Saturday night entertainment for millions of Brits in the 1970s and 80s.

The pair, with their comedy sketches and musical performances, lit up the stage and saw them recognised for their contribution to entertainment by the queen.

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ITV will air a documentary tonight (14 June), in which the nation will be taken back in time to the early days of their comedic partnership and friendship.

Ronnie Corbett's lost tapes will give viewers a look into the life and man behind the hilarious comedy sketches, with input from his wife and daughters (Picture: Getty Images)

So, who were ‘The Two Ronnies’? Here, we take a look at their life, careers and successes.

Who was Ronnie Corbett?

Corbett was born in Edinburgh in 1930 and was raised with his younger brother and sister by their baker father and London-born mother.

He was a member of the Royal Air Force until 1952, when he gave up his position as an active serviceman and moved to London to pursue a career in acting.

He stood only 5ft 1 and so was often cast as much younger than he actually was, with his leading roles including No – That's Me Over Here!, Now Look Here, and Sorry!.

However, it was his perfectly cast partnership with fellow comedic actor Ronnie Barker, for which he was best known. Prior to their hit comedy show, the two appeared in The Frost Report.

Corbett also met his wife, Anne, while performing cabaret at Danny La Rue's Mayfair nightclub, Winston’s. They married in 1963, having been friends for six years, and went on to have two daughters together, Sarah and Emma.

Ronnie Corbett met Ronnie Barker in 1963 at the Buckstone Club in the Haymarket, London, where Corbett was serving drinks between acting jobs.

Corbett died in 2016, aged 85, at Shirley Oaks Hospital in Shirley, London, surrounded by his family.

He had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease in March 2015. Following his death, Sir Bruce Forsyth said his death marked "one of the saddest days of my life", comedian David Walliams, a close friend of Corbett, said that he was his "comedy idol".

In tribute to one of his classic Two Ronnies comedy sketches, four candles, there were four candles displayed at the back of the altar.

Who was Ronnie Barker?

Ronnie Barker was born in 1929, in Bedford. He grew up in the Florence Park area of Oxford from the age of four, with his parents and two sisters, Vera and Eileen.

He became acquainted with West End performances from a young age, often going to watch plays with his family. As he grew into a teenager, he would wait outside stage doors for autographs and pursued a career, starting with amatuer acting roles.

At first, he worked as a bank clerk while also taking up an evening job as an assistant stage manager and acting in weekly performances, often in comedic roles.

In 1948, he got his first role in J.M. Barrie’s Quality Street. He joined the Oxford Playhouse in 1951 and worked there for three years before getting his West End break.

In 1958, Barker met his wife, Joy, while she was a stage manager in Cambridge. The couple went on to have three children, Larry; Adam and Charlotte.

They lived outside London for many years before relocating to a converted mill in Oxford.

In 1966, Barker first appeared in satirical sketch series The Frost Report, which starred David Frost, John Cleese and Ronnie Corbett. The pair had already met by this point.

The pair hit it off as they had similar backgrounds, working in theatre and not attending university, unlike the other sketch writers and performers.

In 2005, He died of heart failure after refusing heart valve replacement surgery, at the Katherine House hospice in Adderbury, Oxfordshire. His wife was by his side.

At his funeral service, he had four candles burning during the cross procession instead of the typical two. This was in reference to the Two Ronnies sketch, four candles.

The BBC described him as "one of the leading figures of British television comedy", and "much loved and admired"

What was ‘The Two Ronnies’?

The Two Ronnies was a TV sketch show which aired from 1971 to 1987 on BBC One, it ran for 93 episodes.

The comedians had various segments to their show, including a monologue from Corbett. He would tell a joke and address the audience, often getting lost in his train of thought.

Millions tuned in to watch the Saturday night primetime show, it was one of the longest running shows of its kind and was watched by 18.5 million viewers in its heyday.

Both comedians were acknowledged for their contributions to entertainment with an Order of the British Empire, (OBE). Following Barker’s death, Corbett was then promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2012 New Year Honours.

What is ‘The Two Ronnies: Ronnie Corbett's Lost Tapes’ about?

The ITV documentary delves into the life and career of Ronnie Corbett, with input from his wife and two daughters.

Five years after his death, Sophie said “Now seems like the right time, because I want everyone out there to know the man, not just the comedian.”

The tapes will show the early years of their family, and a more personal side to the national treasure.

Corbett also had a love for cricket, football and golf, as well as being a devoted family man. He was an avid Crystal Palace FC and Heart of Midlothian supporter.

“We had a very special relationship. I’d known him for six years as a friend, and I think that’s the best way to start a relationship,” Anne said of their 53 year long marriage.

She added: “I feel extremely blessed. He was very kind, although he wasn’t soppy. He couldn’t bear the thought of candles over dinner for an anniversary. But he was the most generous man in the world and we really used to laugh.”

When is it on TV?

The Two Ronnies: Ronnie Corbett's Lost Tapes will air on ITV at 9pm on 14 July.

You can also watch it on demand, on the ITV Hub.