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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 October 2005, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
The secret of Barker's success
By Ian Youngs
BBC News entertainment reporter

Ronnie Barker, who has died aged 76, has been hailed as one of the UK's greatest TV talents - but why was he so popular with the public and younger comedians?

Peter Kay and Ronnie Corbett
Peter Kay took part in the Bafta tribute to Ronnie Barker last year
When Ronnie Barker was honoured with a Bafta tribute ceremony last year, it was not just old timers who turned out to sing his praises.

One of the most affectionate tributes came from one of today's hottest stars, Peter Kay, who revealed Porridge inspired him to become a comedian.

In a sign of Barker's influence, Kay was joined by other young stars like Rob Brydon and Johnny Vegas to admit their debt to him.

Kay praised Barker's "impeccable comic timing" and said he was "one of this country's most gifted but sadly underrated actors".

Stephen Fry and Ronnie Barker
I grew up admiring and adoring Ronnie Barker's genius
Stephen Fry
"People think of him as a comedian but I think of him as a fantastic actor - everything he ever does, you believe that he's playing that person," he said.

From Kay to Stephen Fry, John Cleese and David Jason, Barker either inspired or guided a string of younger comedy stars.

After Barker's death, Rik Mayall called Barker "a hero" and Fry told the BBC News website he grew up "admiring and adoring Ronnie Barker's genius".

"His skills as a comic actor were unrivalled - no-one came or comes close," Fry said.

"I was lucky enough to meet him a few times and to work with him once. I felt as if I had been allowed to try on the Crown Jewels. He was a great, remarkable man."

The Two Ronnies
The Two Ronnies were not afraid to play for the biggest laughs
Like the would-be comedians, millions of people around the UK were raised on Barker's comedy.

Open All Hours and Porridge both made it into the Top 10 in a survey to find Britain's Best Sitcom in 2004, while The Two Ronnies attracted 22 million viewers at its peak.

And a new audience warmed to him when The Two Ronnies Sketchbook was aired earlier this year, watched by about seven million viewers in an era when audiences are lower than they once were.

Barker's acting ability, warmth, timing, attention to detail and writing skill have been mentioned as reasons why he was so popular and well-loved.

At its heart, his comedy was silliness aimed at the biggest laugh.

Open All Hours
Arkwright the shopkeeper was a classic creation
But it also revelled in British social attitudes, offering an acute but fond reflection of our stereotypes - from the butler or bumpkin of The Two Ronnies to the stuttering corner shop owner in Open All Hours.

His train of thought was absurd enough for to those who liked their comedy slightly offbeat, but the tone and the content appealed to all.

The puns and double entendres often approached the risque, offering an extra smirk for the grown-ups, but always staying within the bounds of taste and decency.

"That's the great thing about Ronnie Barker - he wrote for the family audience," said Michael Hurll, who produced The Two Ronnies.

It was good honest comedy in the old music hall tradition
Michael Hurll
TV producer
"So much of the comedy we have nowadays is after the watershed. With Ronnie Barker, you felt safe. The whole family could watch, granny and the kids.

"You didn't have to worry that anything rude was going to be said and you knew you would laugh. It was good honest comedy in the old music hall tradition."

Barker had a rhythm to his jokes that worked every time, Mr Hurll said, and passed on his "fountain of knowledge" about comedy.

Explaining why Barker's comedy worked so well, Bruce Forsyth said: "There wasn't any syllable out of place.

He was a brilliant comic actor but he could still do sketches in a sort of vaudeville tradition
Michael Grade
BBC chairman
"When Ronnie did something on television, you could tell the way he delivered it that every syllable was going to be right on the nose.

"He paused right at the right time for the laugh. He knew where the laugh was going to come. He was just brilliant."

BBC chairman Michael Grade hailed the "extraordinary" range of Barker's talent.

"He was a brilliant comic actor but he could still do sketches in a sort of vaudeville tradition," he said.

"I've never known any comic performer who could do great characters for situation comedies like Porridge and still do rough house broad sketches - fork handles and all those things that we all remember - so brilliantly."

Highlights of Ronnie Barker's TV career



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