The 1987 Christmas Special was the Two Ronnies’ last hurrah. This was primarily the decision of Ronnie Barker, who had decided to walk away from showbusiness at the age of 58. Although the Two Ronnies was still popular, Barker was wise enough to realise that their time was coming to an end and presumably wanted to avoid the treatment meted out to the likes of Benny Hill (who had been unceremoniously dropped by Thames a few years earlier). Barker would later confirm exactly why he retired.
“The reason I retired was that the material was getting less good. I’d run out of ideas. I was dry of sketches. Plus, I’d done everything I wanted to do. The situation sort of pushed me, goaded me into asking, ‘Well, haven’t you done enough?’ And I had.”
With one more series to come in 1988 (Clarence) and this final Christmas special from the Rons, Barker could ensure that he was leaving at a point where the audience still wanted more – which was much the best way to go. He was tempted back for a few decent character roles, but in the main he stuck to his decision and enjoyed a long and happy retirement,
None of this would have been known at Christmas 1987, so it was just another special with none of the baggage that would have surrounded the show had it been known it was the last one. As ever, there’s nothing radical here – no deviations from the tried and true formula. But what they do, they do so well.
One of my favourite sketches (which reappeared several times down the years) gets one final outing here. Ronnie C is a man who can never complete his sentences and Ronnie B is his friend who has several attempts at filling in the missing words.
RONNIE C: We had our Christmas party the other night. Funny old do, it was. It’s always the same every year. Always takes the form of an egg and …
RONNIE B: Egg and … What, egg and spoon race?
RONNIE C: No, takes the form of an egg and …
RONNIE B: Egon Ronay banquet?
RONNIE C: No, no. No, an egg and chip supper
It’s just a pity that the final punch-line was so weak, but then the Rons never went down the Python route of abolishing punchlines, which was sometimes a problem. The big musical number was set in the Klondyke Saloon, Alaska and goes from black and white to colour as well as featuring some gorgeous girls.
Ronnie Barker always enjoyed writing the Yokels sketches, since it gave him a chance to reuse old jokes and some of them (“‘Ere, the girl I was with last night wouldn’t kiss me under the mistletoe. She didn’t like where I was wearing it”) would be familiar to anybody who’s been watching these Christmas specials in sequence.
After Ronnie C’s chair monologue, we’re into the big closing film – Pinocchio II – Killer Doll. No expense was spared (the village set looks very impressive) and whilst it’s quite long (seventeen minutes) there’s more than enough going on to justify the length.
Ronnie C is wonderful as the evil Pinocchio II whilst Ronnie B has, as you might expect, spot-on comic timing as Geppetto. They’re well supported by the likes of Lynda Baron and Sandra Dickinson and having Ed Bishop as the narrator was another joy. Unlike Morecambe & Wise, the Two Ronnies didn’t make such a habit of featuring guest stars but there’s cameos here from Frank Finlay, Dennis Quilley and most unexpected of all, Charlton Heston.
It’s a more than decent way to bring their career to a close and whilst it’s interesting to ponder if they could have continued into the 1990’s, they probably made the best decision by deciding to bow out whilst they were still at the top.