A fixture of British television for more than 50 years who was best known for BBC comedy sketch show The Two Ronnies, veteran comedian and actor Ronnie Corbett has died at the age of 85. His publicist said today, “Ronnie Corbett CBE, one of the nation’s best-loved entertainers, passed away this morning, surrounded by his loving family.” The BBC reports he had been in ill health for some time.
Corbett was an institution who, along with Ronnie Barker, formed a hugely successful double act in the 1970s and ’80s. Their The Two Ronnies ran on the BBC from 1971-1987. Barker died in 2005. Corbett told The Telegraph in 2013, “We were a real couple with matching tastes and styles. Of course we were quite different but somehow we fitted so well together.” The Guardian notes that Corbett will be particularly remembered for his rambling monologues which went off at wild tangents before hitting the punch line on The Two Ronnies.
After stints in the Royal Air Force and at the Ministry of Agriculture, the Edinburgh-born Corbett went to work in London. Standing 5’1″, he was often cast in schoolboy roles. While working in revues in 1960, he was spotted by David Frost who invited him to join Barker and John Cleese in The Frost Report. Thus began his longterm collaboration with Barker.
On the solo side, Corbett starred in sitcom Sorry! as a fortysomething man dominated by his mother. He also hosted the game show Small Talk and continued in various television roles, including a 2000 production of Cinderella and as himself in a 2006 episode of Ricky Gervais’ Extras. In 2010, he appeared in John Landis’ feature comedy Burke And Hare.
Tributes have poured onto Twitter from the British industry. Here’s Cleese and more:
Just heard about Ronnie C.So sad.He had the best timing I’ve ever watched.He was a great, kind mentor and a wonderfully witty companion.
— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) March 31, 2016
Goodbye my friend and comedy idol #RonnieCorbett Thank you for all the laughs. It was the greatest honour to know and work with you.
— David Walliams (@davidwalliams) March 31, 2016
BBC Director General Tony Hall called Corbett, “a wonderful comic and entertainer. A man of great charm and warmth who brought laughter and joy to millions. He was quite simply one of the true greats of British comedy. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.”