Ronald William George "Ronnie" Barker, OBE was an English actor, comedian and writer. He was known for roles in British comedy television series such as Porridge, The Two Ronnies and Open All Hours.
Barker began acting in repertory theatre and decided he was best suited to comic roles. He had his first success at the Oxford Playhouse and in roles in the West End including Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound. During this period, he was in the cast of BBC radio and television comedies such as The Navy Lark. He got his television break with the satirical sketch series The Frost Report in 1966, where he met future collaborator,Ronnie Corbett. He joined David Frost's production company and starred in ITV shows including a short film.
After rejoining the BBC, Barker found fame with the sketch show The Two Ronnies (1971–1987), with Ronnie Corbett. He starred in the sitcoms Porridge, its sequel Going Straight and Open All Hours. He wrote comedy under his own name and the pseudonym Gerald Wiley, which Barker adopted to avoid pre-judgements of his talent. He won a BAFTA for best light entertainment performance four times, among other awards, and received an OBE in 1978.
Later television sitcoms such as The Magnificent Evans and Clarence were less successful and he retired in 1987. He opened an antiques shop with his wife, Joy. After 1999, he appeared in smaller, non-comic roles in films. He died of heart failure on 3 October 2005, aged 76.
Early Life Edit
Barker was born Ronald William George Barker on 25 September 1929 in Bedford, Bedfordshire, to Leonard (known as "Tim") and Edith (known as "Cis") Barker. Barker's elder sister Vera was born in 1926 and his younger sister Eileen was born in 1933. His father was a clerk for Shell-Mex, and this job saw the family move to Church Cowley Road in Temple Cowley, Oxford when Barker was four. Barker's biographer Bob McCabe described his childhood as "a happy time, marred by no ructions or family tensions, apart from the occasional wet sock." As a child, Barker enjoyed dressing up, particularly in his father's pierrot outfit, as well as films, comics and animals. He developed a love of the theatre, often attending plays with his family. The first play he saw was Cottage to Let and he once skipped school to see Laurence Olivier in Henry V. He frequently stood outside stage-doors to collect autographs, his first being the actress Celia Johnson.
Barker grew up in the Florence Park area of Temple Cowley, Oxford, and went to Donnington Junior School, Florence Park, Oxford and then the City of Oxford High School for Boys. Barker's chemistry textbook at Oxford was previously owned by T.E. Lawrence. He found his talent for humour at school and developed his musical ability by singing in the choir at St James's, his local church. He got in to the sixth form a year early after gaining the School Certificate but he felt what he was learning would be of no use to him in later life and so left as soon as he could. After leaving school he trained as an architect but gave it up after six months, feeling he was not skilled enough. Barker took his sister Vera's job as a bank clerk at the Westminster Bank (after she had left to become a nurse). Barker harboured dreams of becoming an actor, and took up amateur dramatics, although initially he just saw the pastime as a chance to meet girls. For 18 months while at the bank he worked as an actor and stage manager, making his first appearance in A Murder Has Been Arranged as the musical director of the play-within-a-play. Eventually he gave up his job to become a professional actor. His father did not support his acting ambition.
The Two Ronnies Edit
Barker appeared in The Two Ronnies, a sketch show which aired for twelve series and eight specials between 1971 and
1987, and rose to immediate success. Barker wrote much of the show's material, roughly three-quarters, again under the name Gerald Wiley. He was heavily involved with the show's production, especially the serial. Corbett (who starred in the show with him) explained that Barker was a "perfectionist" and "as he wrote it Ronnie knew how he wanted every shot to look."
The show was considered a "national institution" with audiences of between 15 and 20 million regularly tuning in to its 93 episodes. Barker won the BAFTA for Best Light Entertainment Performance in 1971 and 1977 for the show. The Two Ronnies ended with the 1987 Christmas special.
Other work Edit
Following the success of The Two Ronnies, the BBC let Barker decide what he wanted to do. The Two Ronnies took up one third of a year to produce, allowing time for Barker and Corbett to each do a solo project. Barker's opted to produce some sitcom pilots shown as part of 1973's Seven of One. Two of these pilots, Open All Hours (written by Roy Clarke) and Prisoner and Escort (written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais) became series.
Barker opted to end Porridge after two series and instead focused on Open All Hours, alongside David Jason, before working on spin-off sitcom Going Straight.
Personal Life Edit
Barker met Joy Tubb in Cambridge while she was a stage manager for two plays he was in. They married nine months later in July 1957 and they had three children: two sons, Larry (born 1959) and Adam (born 1968), who became an actor, and one daughter,Charlotte (born 1962), who became an actress. Larry was named after Barker's idol Laurence Olivier. The family lived in Pinner for many years; and subsequently in a converted mill in Dean, Oxfordshire. According to Corbett, Barker was "first and foremost a family man." Joy died in January 2011, aged 78.
Barker received an OBE in 1978. He was an avid collector of antiques, books and posters and amassed a collection of over 53,000 postcards; he produced several compilation books of them including Ronnie Barker's Book of Bathing Beauties, A Pennyworth of Art and Sauce. Barker rarely appeared in public, and when he did it was almost always in character. He once said "I've always known I haven't a personality of my own, I have to be someone else to be happy. That's why I became an actor, I suppose."
Barker's health rapidly declined after the filming of The Two Ronnies Sketchbook (2005). He died of heart failure at the Katherine House hospice in Adderbury, Oxfordshire, on 3 October 2005, aged 76, with Joy by his side.
Barker was cremated at a private humanist funeral at Banbury Crematorium, which was attended only by family and close friends. A public memorial service for Barker was held on 3 March 2006 at Westminster Abbey, with some 2,000 people in attendance. Corbett, Richard Briers, Josephine Tewson, Michael Grade and Peter Kay all read at the service, while others in attendance included David Jason, Stephen Fry, Michael Palin, Leslie Phillips, Lenny Henry, Dawn French and June Whitfield.
|1958||Wonderful Things!||Head waiter||Uncredited|
|1962||Kill or Cure||Burton|
|Doctor in Distress||Man at railway station ticket counter||Uncredited|
|Father Came Too!||Josh|
|1964||A Home of Your Own||Cement mixer|
|1965||Runaway Railway||Mr. Galore|
|1967||The Man Outside||George Venaxas|
|1968||A Ghost of a Chance||Mr. Prendergast|
|1969||Two Off the Cuff|
|1971||The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins||Unnamed character||In "Sloth" segment|
|1976||Robin and Marian||Friar Tuck|
|1979||Porridge||Norman Stanley Fletcher|
|1956||I'm Not Bothered||"Bit Part"||Two episodes|
|1960||The Terrible Choice||2nd Murderer||Episode 1.7: "Macbeth: Part 2"|
|1960–1964||It's a Square World||Various characters||Two Episodes|
|1961||Citizen James||Unknown||Episode 2.7|
|1961–1963||Faces of Jim||Various characters||Series 1 named The Seven Faces of Jim|
Series 2 named Six More Faces of Jim
|1962||Benny Hill||Chef||Episode 1.2: "A Pair of Socks"|
|The Rag Trade||Mr Goodwin||Episode 2.13: The Bank Manager|
|ITV Play of the Week||Bundles||Episode 8.5: "The Second Chef"|
|Drama 61–67||Harrison||Episode 2.17: "The Frightened Sky"|
|1962||ITV Television Playhouse||Pickle's O'Toole||The Pinkness of It All|
|1962, 1972||Christmas Night with the Stars||Various Characters||Two Episodes|
|1963||BBC Sunday-Night Play||Henry Wallace||The Holly Road Rig|
|1964||How to be an Alien||Various voice roles||Six episodes|
|Sykes and A...||Tramp||Episode 7.6: "Sykes and a Log Cabin"|
|Bold as Brass||Mr. Oakroyd||Four episodes|
|1965||Armchair Theatre||Unknown||Episode 5.15: "The Keys of the Cafe"|
|The Walrus and the Carpenter||Unknown||Episode 1.4: "Luther and the Golden Fleece"|
|A Tale of Two Cities||Jerry Cruncher||Seven episodes|
|Gaslight Theatre||Various characters||Six episodes|
|Theatre 625||Crowther Rimington||Episode 3.13: "Portraits from the North: Bruno"|
|Barney Is My Darling||The 2000 Year Old Man|
|1966||Foreign Affairs||Grischa Petrovich|
|The Saint||Alphonse||Episode 5.9: "The Better Mousetrap"|
|1966–1967||The Frost Report||Various characters||28 episodes|
|1967||The Gamblers||Unknown||Episode 1.10: "The Glory of Llewellyn Smiley"|
|The Avengers||Edwin Cheshire||Episode 5.8: "The Hidden Tiger"|
|Before the Fringe||Various characters||Six episodes|
|1968||The Ronnie Barker Playhouse||Various characters||Six episodes|
|1969||The Coward Revue||TV Movie|
|1969–1970||Frost on Sunday||Various characters|
|Hark at Barker||Lord Rustless||15 episodes|
|1969, 1971, 1975||Play of the Month||Stephen Spettigue|
|Episode 5.2: "Charley's Aunt"|
Episode 7.1: "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
|1970||Futtocks End||General Futtock||TV film|
|Not Only... But Also||Poets Cornered segment||Episode 3.5|
|'Wiltons' – The Handsomest Hall in Town||Music Hall Performer|
|1971||Six Dates with Barker||Various characters||Six episodes|
|The Ronnie Barker Yearbook||Various characters|
|Ronnie Corbett in Bed||Various characters|
|1971–1987||The Two Ronnies||Various characters||93 episodes|
|1972||His Lordship Entertains||Lord Rustless||Seven episodes|
|Comedy Playhouse||George Idle|
|Episode 12.1: "Idle at Work"|
Episode 14.2: "Franklyn and Johnnie"
|1973||Seven of One||Various characters||Seven separate pilots|
|1974–1977||Porridge||Norman Stanley Fletcher||20 episodes|
|1976||The Picnic||The General||TV film|
|1976–1985||Open All Hours||Albert Arkwright||25 episodes|
|1978||Going Straight||Norman Stanley Fletcher||Six Episodes|
|1979, 1988||The Two Ronnies in Australia||Various characters|
|1980||Rubbish Tips||Director of Rubbish||Short|
|1982||By the Sea||The General||TV film|
|1984||The Magnificent Evans||Plantagenet Evans||Six episodes|
|1988||Clarence||Clarence Sale||Six episodes|
|1999||The Nearly Complete and Utter History of Everything||Renaissance Man|
|2002||The Gathering Storm||David Inches||TV film|
|2003||My House in Umbria||The General||TV film|
|Life Beyond the Box: Norman Stanley Fletcher||Norman Stanley Fletcher||Mockumentary|
|2005||The Two Ronnies Sketchbook||Various characters||Seven episodes|