The Two Ronnies: Ronnie Corbett’s Lost Tapes, review: an affectionate tribute that brimmed with love

·2-min read
Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker
Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker

Oh, how the theme music to The Two Ronnies takes me back. Ronnie Hazlehurst’s orchestra, the warm applause, and then the sight of those two bespectacled figures sitting behind their desk and greeting us with the warmest of smiles. It transports me to Saturday nights at my grandma’s house all those years ago. Turns out that the same happens for Robbie Williams, who was one of the talking heads in The Two Ronnies: Ronnie Corbett’s Lost Tapes (ITV).

Celebrity contributors in programmes such as these can give the impression that the TV company has corralled whichever mildly famous person happened to be passing the studio at the time. Not here. Everyone featured had a sincere and abiding love of Ronnie Corbett. They included a host of younger comedians whose careers he supported, including Rob Brydon and Harry Hill. Brydon, very sweetly, still kept a voicemail from Corbett on his phone. Hill had a recording of a joke that Corbett had left on his answering machine, which was brilliantly funny and wouldn’t get past today’s BBC comedy commissioners in a month of Sundays.

It was a wonderfully affectionate tribute. The lost tapes of the title were home videos of Corbett with his wife and children, many of them capturing fun family holidays. As Brydon noted: “There is something about it being on cine film that makes it so much more atmospheric – so much like a memory.” His wife, Anne, daughters Emma and Sophie, and grandchildren all appeared here to share their memories of the man, who died in 2016. They clearly adored him.

As with all fine comedians, of course, Corbett put the work in and paid fierce attention to detail. And he paid his dues in showbusiness, performing at West End clubs with Danny La Rue before being spotted by David Frost, who teamed him with Ronnie Barker. Famously, they appeared with John Cleese in The Class Sketch. Michael Grade explained its significance: “It was the first time that the sheer hilarity of the class system had ever been portrayed on television.”

Many comedians that we have loved over the years turned out to be troubled geniuses wrestling private torment. Thankfully, this was not the case with Corbett. Nor were there any terrible revelations that Corbett and Barker didn’t get on. They were soulmates, one of his daughters said. There was a great moment when Barker appeared as a guest on An Audience with Ronnie Corbett in 1997, a decade after Barker retired. “Who was the nicest person you ever worked with?” asked Barker. “I should think Basil Brush,” Corbett replied. The set-up, the timing, the chuckle at the end: perfect.

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