As one of England's finest entertainment figures of the 20th Century, Ronnie Barker was most recognized for his contributions to the medium of television. The English actor was best known for his roles in several ... Read more »
As one of England's finest entertainment figures of the 20th Century, Ronnie Barker was most recognized for his contributions to the medium of television. The English actor was best known for his roles in several memorable British television series such as "Porridge" (BBC1, 1974-77), "The Two Ronnies" (BBC1, 1971-77), and "Open All Hours" (BBC2, 1973-1985). The middle child sandwiched between two sisters, he was born Ronald William George Barker on September 25, 1929, the son of Leonard and Edith Barker. As a young boy, he developed a fascination with theater and humor. He took up amateer dramatics, despite his father's objections. Barker attempted to join the Young Vic theater in London, but he instead found his acting footing at the Manchester Repertory Company. Barker's entry to the entertainment industry was slow at first, but he eventually made his debut as a professional actor in 1948 in a performance of J.M. Barrie's "Quality Street." His first lead role was in "The Guinea Pig" as a working class boy at a public school. Barker soon realized that he preferred comedy over drama. In 1951, he joined the Oxford Playhouse where he appeared in such plays as "He Who Gets Slapped." By 1955, Barker had quite a prolific theater career with over 350 plays and he was soon ready to take on other media.
Barker's success at the theater enabled him to easily transition to radio work. In 1956, he lent his voice to play Lord Russett in "Floggit's" in his first radio performance. After several years in radio, Barker appeared on television for the first time in the show "I'm Not Bothered," headed by Glenn Melvyn, an actor whom Barker met back in his theater days. In an uncredited role, Barker made his feature film debut in "Wonderful Things!" (1958), a British comedy that starred Frankie Vaughan and Jocelyn Lane. Barker continued to make headway in television and eventually landed a break by joining the satirical sketch series, "The Frost Report" (BBC, 1966-67), led by British television personality David Frost and featuring iconic British comedian John Cleese before he founded Monty Python. It was also on "The Frost Report" that Barker met Ronnie Corbett, who would become one of Barker's frequent collaborators in the future. Through David Frost, Barker was given his own show in 1968 called "The Ronnie Barker Playhouse" (Rediffusion, 1968), a six-episode series that showcased Barker's comedic talents.
Although he was now a recognized figure in British television, Barker's popularity had yet to rise to its pinnacle. BBC was impressed by the comedic material Barker and Corbett had performed in the 1971 BAFTA Awards and granted them their own show. "The Two Ronnies" began its long run in 1971 to immediate success. The comedic sketch show was lauded for its variety and sharp wit, and won several BAFTA TV awards for Barker and Corbett in the Best Light Entertainment Performance category. "The Two Ronnies" opened up more opportunities for Barker on television. The BBC let him produce two sitcom pilots, which eventually became the series "Porridge" and "Open All Hours." From 1974 to 1977, "Porridge" centered around two inmates, played by Barker and Richard Beckinsale, who are interned at the fictional HMP Slade prison. "Open All Hours" was a bona fide television hit that ran as four series in 1976, 1981, 1982, and 1985, . Barker played the series' central character Albert Arkwright, a miserly old man with a hilarious stammer. Both programs have been deemed to be two of the greatest British sitcoms of all time.
By the late 1980s, Barker's career had spanned over three decades. Some of his subsequent series such as "The Magnificent Evans" (BBC1, 1984) and "Clarence" (BBC1, 1988) were nowhere near as successful as "Porridge" and Open All Hours," and Barker wanted to go out on a high note. At the height of his fame, Barker retired from show business so as not to damage his legacy, as well as concerns about his health. However, Barker occasionally made guest appearances on TV after his retirement. His first return to television was when he and Corbett appeared as guests on the popular British cooking show "Two Fat Ladies" in 1997, just a little over a decade after his retirement. Despite not being in the television spotlight, he was not forgotten by the industry. In 2004, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awarded him the Lifetime Achievement Award. In the following year, he and Corbett were one of the first 100 people who were given a star on London's Avenue of the Stars. To commemorate the 18th anniversary of the last episode of "The Two Ronnies," BBC put together a special clip show in 2005 called "The Two Ronnies Sketchbook" that featured newly recorded introductions from Barker and Corbett. Unfortunately, it was the last time Barker would appear on television. Due to his failing health, Barker died on October 3, 2005 at the age of 76.