The Two Ronnies – Series One, Show Five

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Original Transmission – 8th May 1971

Written by Garry Chambers, Tony Hare, Eric Idle, David McKellar, Spike Mullins, David Nobbs, Michael Palin & Terry Jones, Peter Vincent, Bill Solly, Dick Vosburgh, Gerald Wiley

Introduction/News Items
Party Sketch – Toilet Humour
New World
Ronnie C at the piano
Hampton Wick – Episode Five
Tina Charles – Time and Love
Doctor sketch
Chaz Chase
Rev Spooner – The Musical
Outro

Notes: In this party sketch, Ronnie C desperately wants to find the toilet, but can’t bring himself to actually say so – instead he uses a string of subtle hints (inspect the plumbing, etc) which Ronnie B totally fails to understand. It’s not a terribly long sketch, nor does it have a particularly good punchline, but you can’t beat a bit of good, honest toilet humour.

New World, a vision in matching blue sweaters, are as relaxing as always. Tina Charles ups the tempo a little with another Laura Nyro song, Time and Love.

Now this is odd. Even this early on, the Two Ronnies had a sense of order and tradition, so it’s jarring that Ronnie C’s solo spot is so early in the show (we’re only seven minutes in) and what’s worse he’s not sitting in his chair – he’s by a piano instead! Luckily the jokes are just the same, including this one which I’m sure had more than one outing over the years. “This morning we had an argument with the children about staying up late to watch daddy. They wanted to go to bed.”

Hampton Wick once again places Madeline Smith in low cut dresses as well as offering us the chance to see Ronnie C as Toulouse Lautrec.

Next up Ronnie B plays a confused Scottish doctor (he doesn’t seem to realise he’s a doctor) whilst Ronnie C is his patient attempting to get a little treatment. When Ronnie C gives his profession as a Chartered Surveyor, it’s impossible not to wonder if one of the Pythons scripted this (Chartered Surveyors tended to loom large in Python).   That the sketch veers off in an unexpected direction also supports this, as that’s a very Pythonesque trademark.

Chaz Chase, born in Russia in 1901, made a career out of eating practically anything – cigarettes, flowers – and he does so here as well. Definitely one of the odder spesh acts we’ve seen so far, but I’m rather glad we have it.

The closing musical number is something that’s archetypical Two Ronnies fare. Ronnie B is the Rev Spooner who has endless trouble with words. Here he is attempting to give his wife (Josephiner Tewson) a present.  “I knew you needed a scentle of bot. A sottle of bent. Perfume”. Ronnie C gets in on the act. “The manner of your speaking, it ounds it a little sod.” And so on and on.

There’s several ways to date the episodes. If you don’t want to do it by the suits the Rons wear, then you can always do so by observing which big-breasted celebrity is the butt (as it were) of many of the news items. Here it’s Raquel Welch, so it’s plainly early days. She’s been signed to play Quasimodo “in the new film entitled The Hunchfront of Notre Dame.”

The Two Ronnies – Series One, Show Four

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Original Transmission – 1st May 1971

Written by Garry Chambers, Tony Hare, Eric Idle, David McKellar, Spike Mullins, David Nobbs, Michael Palin & Terry Jones, Peter Vincent, Bill Solly, Dick Vosburgh, Gerald Wiley

Introduction/News Items
Party Sketch – Fancy Dress
Tina Charles – Stoney End
Ronnie B Solo – Smart Cooking
Hampton Wick – Episode Four
New World – Delia
Ronnie C in the Chair
Joe Andy
Marriage Sketch
Outro

Notes: The party sketch is a fancy dress affair, with Ronnie C making a very fetching Nell Gwynne, complete with copious oranges. His appearance certainly tickles the studio audience, leading to a round of applause. Ronnie B has apparently come as Richard the Lionheart, although he doesn’t quite look the part in a lounge suit (but apparently that’s what Richard wore when he wanted to relax).

Tina Charles tackles Laura Nyro’s Stoney End, which had been a hit for Barbra Streisand in early 1971, whilst New World offer rather soporific fare with Delia.

Ronnie B is Lionel Smart, who demonstrates Smart Cooking (this week bourguinon a la pouf celebre). That Smart is a grubby common type is the joke, of course.

Hampton Wick continues, with Madeline Smith’s winsome heroine now ensconced in the Crimea, tending to the wounded. She has to make the ultimate sacrifice (her clothes for bandages) which certainly seems to bring a smile to the faces of the patients (and no doubt warmed the hearts of some of the viewers at home too).

Joe Andy balances swords on his chin and attempts to climb a ladder at the same time. Oddly, he doesn’t receive an introduction (not even an onscreen caption). As impressive as his feats are, what’s more interesting is that as he slowly climbs the ladder you can see the studio lights, transmission sign and the clock – which tells you exactly what time this was recorded. Well it interested me anyway.

Up next is a sketch with Ronnie B as a vicar attempting to marry Ronnie C and Josephine Tewson. If they all didn’t have various ailments (hiccups, sneezing fits) then no doubt things would be a lot easier. This is one of those sketches where because the joke is obvious straight away, the question is whether things will get more or less funny when the gag gets repeated numerous times.

No musical item in this one, so the marriage sketch leads into the closing items.

The Two Ronnies – Series One, Show Three

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Original Transmission – 24th April 1971

Written by Garry Chambers, Eric Idle, David McKellar, Spike Mullins, David Nobbs, Michael Palin & Terry Jones, Peter Vincent, Dick Vosburgh, Gerald Wiley

Intro/News Items
Party Sketch – Hello
New World – Listen to the Falling Rain
Ronnie B Solo – Weather Forecaster
Tina Charles – Close to Me
Hampton Wick – Episode Three
Ronnie C in the Chair
Doctor’s Sketch – Ronnie B as a man who’s caught Radio 4
Georges Schlick
Moira McKellar and Kenneth Anderson
Outro

Notes: Yet another party sketch with Ronnie B as the dominant force, in this case a man so sensitive that he reacts with suspicion to Ronnie C’s innocent greeting of hello.  For example, Ronnie B’s first response is to wonder whether Ronnie C really meant to say “hello, you boring old git, who invited you?” Given that most of the Pythons have writing credits on these early shows, it seems that some of the material had originally been earmarked for Monty Python. Indeed, in the past the Pythons have joked that if a sketch didn’t work then they’d send it onto the Ronnies!

This is one that could easily have fitted into Monty Python (and so seems a little out of place here) as the punchline sees the camera pull back to reveal that everyone in the party, expect for Ronnie C, is dead. Not quite the way you’d expect a Two Ronnies sketch to end.

New World are a vision in matching outfits whilst Tina Charles demonstrates she’s able to show restraint by tackling a quieter song in Close to Me.

There’s another typically convoluted chair monologue from Ronnie C, with plenty of incidental pleasures along the way.  “I was just stretching my legs there. Did you see that? Stretching my legs. Left it a bit late in life, haven’t I really?”

A short sketch features the Ronnies as doctor and patient (Ronnie B is a man who’s caught Radio 4). After he asks if it’s bad, there’s an obvious punch-line. “Bad? Have you heard it? It’s terrible.”

Georges Schlick is the latest speciality act – a rather good ventriloquism performance – which leads into the Ronnies as Moira McKellar and Kenneth Anderson. Any similarities to Kenneth McKellar and Moira Anderson must be purely coincidental then ….

The Two Ronnies – Series One, Show Two

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Original Transmission – 17th April 1971

Written by Tim Brooke-Taylor, Barry Cryer, Eric Idle, David McKellar, Chris Miller, Spike Mullins, David Nobbs, Michael Palin & Terry Jones, Bill Solly, Peter Vincent, Dick Vosburgh, Gerald Wiley

Introduction/News Items
Party Sketch – Ronnie C’s embarrassing baldness
New World
Hampton Wick – Episode Two
Tina Charles – Ruby Tuesday
Ronnie C in the Chair
Tarzan in Suburbia sketch
Jo, Jac and Joni
Gilbert and Sullivan
Outro

Notes: The desks are no longer at a weird angle and although a smaller CSO back screen remains – seemingly showing a shot of the universe – it no longer changes to display a picture for every news item.

The party sketch features Ronnie C as Mr Goldie, a rather bald man (wearing a not very convincing bald cap). After being told not to mention his baldness, of course Ronnie B can’t help himself (referring to him as Baldy, rather than Goldie to begin with). Ronnie B gets most the lines here as he attempts to dig himself out of this unpromising start, whilst Ronnie C is able to sit back and simply react. Such is Ronnie B’s over-sensitiveness, that even words like “wig-wam” are off limits – he quickly changes it to “wog-wam” (“you know, the wams where the wogs live”). Politically correct this is not …

Episode Two of Hampton Wick is chiefly memorable for Madeline Smith’s dress, which at times is unable to restrain her ample charms.  How they got away with some of the shots is anyone’s guess ….

New World warble an unknown (to me) song whilst Tina Charles continues her full-throttle attack on pop classics by tackling the Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday. She certainly doesn’t hold back, that’s for sure.

Although some of the productions misteps from the opening show have been ironed out, there’s still a sense that this is early days – as sometimes sketches don’t finish with a musical flourish, as they do later on, but rather with a fade to black.

Ronnie B makes an unlikely looking Tarzan (but then Ronnie C would have been even less convincing). But the strange juxtaposition of Tarzan crashing into the suburban garden of Ronnie C’s Arthur Norris is an appealing one.

As with the first show, there’s a moment of fourth-wall breakage, as the end of this sketch is interrupted to prepare the way for the spesh act – in this case Jo, Jac and Joni. They demonstrate that variety isn’t dead with a spot of musical comedy.

For a long time, the show would often end with a musical number – in this case Gilbert and Sullivan entertain (or not) us with a some of their favourite numbers, albeit cunningly re-worded. At least this one doesn’t outstay its welcome.

The Two Ronnies – Series One, Show One

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Original Transmission – 10th April 1971

Written by Tim Brooke-Taylor, Barry Cyer, Eric Idle, Chris Miller, Spike Mullins, David Nobbs, Michael Palin & Terry Jones, Bill Solly, Peter Vincent, Dick Vosburgh, Gerald Wiley

Introduction/News Items
Party Sketch – Ronnie B finds it impossible not to keep attacking Ronnie C
Tina Charles – River Deep, Mountain High
Ronnie B Solo – A Doctor who has a cure for people who say everything twice
Hampton Wick – Episode One
Ronnie C – Interpol Sketch
New World – Rose Garden
Ronnie C in the Chair
Hearing Aid Sketch
Alfredo
Big Jim Jehosophat and Fat Belly Jones
Outro

Notes: Although the Ronnies had worked together for a number of years prior to this, there’s still a slight sense of nervousness on show (especially in Ronnie B’s case). This is evident in the opening news items which seem more than a little stilled – although the weird set design (angled desks) and CSO back projections don’t help. This would be swiftly amended for show two.

The first of many party sketches finds Ronnie B in an abusive mood, first slapping Ronnie C’s face and then kneeing him in the groin! And since the slaps sound real it seems that Ronnie B wasn’t holding back.

Some of the Ronnies serials tend to drag a bit and Hampton Wick is the first example of this.  Luckily Madeline Smith’s winsome beauty is some recompense for the fairly laboured comedy.

These early series have an abundance of guests (later on they’d be pared down to just a single guest spot). The sixteen-year old Tina Charles impressively belts out River Deep, Mountain High whilst New World offer a blend of laid-back acoustic warbling that’s rather relaxing – although the moustaches and hairstyles on display make it a little hard to take them seriously.  But Rose Garden was a hit for them in 1971, reaching no 15 in the UK charts.

As for Alfredo, well he’s the first in a series of speciality acts who pop up in most of the series one shows.  Where else are you going to see a man dressed in German military uniform playing the drums and (sometimes) catching ping pong balls in his mouth?  If that’s not entertainment I don’t know what is.

The Two Ronnies Christmas Special 1987

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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.

The Two Ronnies Christmas Special 1984

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As might be expected from the Two Ronnies, there’s several wordplay orientated sketches in the show.  The first (upper class city gents who can’t pronounce their words properly) is amusing enough, but does slightly outstay its welcome.

Ronnie B’s monologue is delivered by a milkman (H.M. Quinn) in the style of the Queen’s Christmas speech.  His delivery clearly appeals to at least one member of the audience (listen out for some very audible female squealing on the most innocuous of lines).  The majority of the monologue doesn’t actually contain any jokes – the idea that Barker is talking like the Queen is obviously supposed to be funny in itself.

Next up are a couple of Northern road-workers who exhume some golden oldies from the Old Jokes Home, such as –

RONNIE C: Sithee, does tha believe in reincarnation?
RONNIE B: Well, it’s all right on fruit salad, but I don’t like it in me tea.

Following the very Chrissmassy musical number (the Rons dressed as a couple of Stereo Santas) and a quick Ronnie C solo sketch we move into the best part of the show.  First up is another wordplay sketch – with the Ronnies as two soldiers in a WW1 trench.  Ronnie C has the unfortunate knack of mishearing everything that Ronnie B says, such as –

RONNIE B: God, I wish I were back in Blightly.
RONNIE C: Do you, sir? What sort of nightie, sir? Black frilly one?

RONNIE B: Sounded like a Jerry rifle.
RONNIE C: Bit strange in the trenches, sir. A sherry trifle.

It’s a lovely, typical Two Ronnies sketch.  The courtroom sketch that follows is something a little different.  It opens quite normally, with Ronnie C prosecuting and Ronnie B in the dock, but it quickly becomes a parody of several popular quiz shows (What’s my Line?, Call My Bluff, Blankety Blank, Mastermind, The Price is Right) – it’s also a pleasure to see Patrick Troughton as the judge.

Ronnie B has a solo singing spot as Lightweight Louie Danvers (not too dissimilar to Fatbelly Jones it has to be said).

Following Ronnie C in the chair, it’s the big film –  The Ballad of Snivelling and Grudge.  Guest star Peter Wyngarde is a delight – mainly because he takes the whole thing totally seriously.  There’s no winks to camera and his dead-pan performance is spot on.  And if, like me, you can spot Pat Gorman in the background, then you’ve probably watched far, far too much old British television.  If you don’t know who Pat Gorman is, then you’ve clearly not watched enough!

No news items to end the show – instead it’s a old-fashioned style song about Christmas.  It’s somewhat comforting and sums up the Two Ronnies quite well.  By the mid eighties they were pretty much out of step with contemporary comedy (and Barker knew that their time was nearly up) but it doesn’t really matter – great comedy is timeless, and there’s several examples here that still work thirty years later and will surely endure for decades to come.