Ronnie Corbett, the diminutive half of The Two Ronnies – one of the funniest duos of their generation – was a highly versatile comedian who was just as much at home doing stand-up comedy (although usually sitting down) on his own, or sitcom characters, as he was with his famous partner Ronnie Barker.
His long professional association with Barker produced one of the most popular TV programs of the late 20th century until Barker’s retirement in the mid-1980s, after it had run for 12 series.
The Two Ronnies, which ran from 1971 to 1987, invariably ended with the two saying: “It’s goodnight from me … and it’s goodnight from him.”
When on his own, Corbett specialised in long, rambling jokes delivered from an outsize armchair with his legs dangling in the air. The punchline came after the beginning had long been forgotten, so many twists and turns were there in the telling along the way.
Ronald Balfour Corbett was born in Edinburgh on December 4, 1930. He was educated at the James Gillespie School and the Royal High School, Edinburgh.
At the age of 15, he was playing the Wicked Aunt in a pantomime at his local church youth club in Edinburgh.
After two years overseeing animal-feed rationing at the Ministry of Agriculture in Edinburgh, and National Service with the Royal Air Force, Corbett moved to London and started to do summer seasons, intimate revues and running the bar at the Buckstone Club off Haymarket, where he first met Ronnie Barker.
In the late 1950s, Corbett worked in the late-night revues at Danny La Rue’s Club at Hanover Square, where he met his wife Anne Hart, the actress and singer.
He was spotted at this club by David Frost who invited him 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 subsequent TV successes with Frost on Sunday, Corbett’s Follies, and the sitcom No, That’s Me Over Here, he and Barker got their biggest break thanks to a mishap at the Bafta awards.
They were hosting the live ceremony when a technical fault meant they had to fill in unscripted for some minutes. High-ranking BBC executives who saw this immediately signed them up. The Two Ronnies was born.
The program won the Best Entertainment Show Award of 1972, ran for 16 highly popular years on the BBC and for a record-breaking spell at the London Palladium in 1978.
Corbett said that their success lay in the fact that they got on well together and that they complemented each other.
“We had a certain kind of material that was not dangerously esoteric. It’s difficult to be clean and clever at the same time, but a lot of our stuff was.”
After Barker’s retirement, Corbett had many starring roles in the theatre, including The Seven Year Itch, Out of Order, The Dressmaker, and on the TV sitcom Sorry.
In 1996, Corbett appeared in John Cleese’s follow-up to A Fish Called Wanda, Fierce Creatures.
The following year he recorded An Audience With… and in 1998 he returned to his famous armchair in a new Ben Elton series.
Films he appeared in included Top of the Form, You’re Only Young Once, Casino Royale, No Sex Please, We’re British and Fierce Creatures.
Corbett was awarded a CBE in the 2012 New Year Honours for his services to charity and the entertainment industry.
In March 2014 Corbett was among the speakers at a memorial service at Westminster Abbey for Sir David Frost, who died the previous September, aged 74.
Corbett was also among more than 200 celebrities and public figures who urged Scotland to stay part of the UK ahead of the country’s historic vote on independence in September 2014.
He is survived by his wife Anne and two daughters.