Ronnie Corbett's friends and fans say 'goodnight' to British comedy great


Friends and fans of Ronnie Corbett, the diminutive titan of British comedy, have said "goodnight" to the star for the last time after his death at the age of 85.

One of the nation's best-loved entertainers, Corbett's career spanned six decades.

He was most cherished for his partnership with Ronnie Barker in the BBC sketch show The Two Ronnies, the pair bringing laughter to millions in the 1970s and 80s with their skits, comedy songs and "news" bulletins.

He died in hospital "surrounded by his loving family", his publicist said, and is thought to have been ill for some time.

Fellow comedians and TV personalities spoke of their sorrow at his death, with close friend Sir Michael Parkinson calling him "a very easy man to love".

He said: "He was a perfect companion. He was bright. He could tell good stories. He was funny ... We were just mates and I shall miss him terribly."

John Cleese, who appeared with Corbett and Barker in a famous Frost Report sketch about social class in 1966, said he was a "great, kind mentor and a wonderfully witty companion".

Born in Edinburgh in 1930, by the time he was 15 Corbett was playing the Wicked Aunt in pantomime at his local church, moving to London after his National Service to do summer seasons and intimate revues.

Initially sensitive about his tiny stature - he was only 5ft 1in - he exploited his limited height later in his career to great comic effect.

Spotted at Danny La Rue's Club at Hanover Square by David Frost, he was invited to join Barker and John Cleese in The Frost Report, one of the most influential TV shows of the 1960s. "David turned my life around," Corbett said later.

After TV success with Frost On Sunday, Corbett's Follies, and No, That's Me Over Here, Corbett and Barker got their biggest break thanks to a technical mishap at the Bafta awards, which left them having to concoct a lengthy ad-lib.

Watching executives immediately signed them up and The Two Ronnies was born.

It ran from 1971 to 1987 - most TV critics rated them even funnier than Morecambe and Wise - and produced some of the nation's best-loved sketches, including the infamous "Four Candles" skit in a hardware store, as well as their regular sign-off: "It's goodnight from me ... and it's goodnight from him."

The pair worked together for 40 years and, speaking in 2010, five years after Barker's death, Corbett told the BBC he never considered a partnership with another comedian.

He said: "I suppose I avoided thoughts of it because it had been such a happy and supportive collaboration that we had, that I would miss his advice and his touch."

As well as performing in the theatre and on TV he appeared in a number of films, including the James Bond spoof Casino Royale in 1967, No Sex Please, We're British, and Cleese's 1996 comedy Fierce Creatures. 

A keen golfer, he was a member of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and took a meticulous approach to his dress sense on the course, occasionally admonishing others on the course with more sloppy attire.

Corbett was awarded a CBE in the 2012 New Year Honours for his services to charity and the entertainment industry. But at a celebration to mark the award he collapsed in a restaurant, and two years ago was admitted to hospital with gallbladder problems.

His death on Thursday marked the death of a comedy giant. Monty Python star Michael Palin called him "the complete professional", saying: "He was one of the fortunate few who could tell jokes that would reduce audiences to helpless laughter, and also create rounded and believable characters that you instantly warmed to."

Tony Hall, director general of the BBC, described Corbett as "one of the true greats of British comedy".

He is survived by Anne, his wife of 50 years, and his two daughters.