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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 October 2005, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
Who was Gerald Wiley?
The Magazine answers...

The Two Ronnies script
No clues to the real identity of Wiley were laid
The burning question among producers and writers on The Two Ronnies was what was the true identity of the reclusive Gerald Wiley.

Having just completed another successful series of the show, the team behind the Two Ronnies was invited to a Chinese restaurant in the early 1970s.

This was a meal few of them wanted to miss, given that the request came from the mystery man who had written many of the sketches.

The show had operated an open-door policy for writers, so all submitted suggestions were considered. Barker and Corbett went through them and rated them as if marking schoolwork, with an A, B+, C etc.

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The producers noted that some of the best sketches came from a man called Gerald Wiley, a writer first credited for a sketch on Frost on Sunday.

He had a particular knack for clever wordplay and his work included the famous "fork handles, four candles" sketch later voted the best ever in a television poll. In it, Corbett plays a shop assistant trying to understand what Barker's customer wants.

The hunt for Gerald Wiley became a great game, says Barry Cryer, who was one of many writers for the series, and who attended the restaurant.

"We had accused Frank Muir and also pointed the finger at Tom Stoppard, who had the same agent," he says.

Barry Cryer
No-one believed Ronnie and he had to stand up twice
Barry Cryer
Two Ronnies writer

"Wiley was a recluse and wouldn't come to meetings, so people cancelled appointments just to get to the restaurant. No-one wanted to miss it."

When Ronnie Barker stood up and said 'I'm sorry, it was me,' he was told to sit down again, recalls Cryer.

"It was a big joke that everyone had claimed to be Gerald Wiley, so no-one believed Ronnie and he had to stand up twice. It was quite a moment when his cover was blown."

He had even turned down one of his own scripts, saying "Wiley's lost it, I wouldn't do this one" to maintain his cover, says Cryer, he was so determined his work be accepted on its own merit.

'Shadow of wily'

The show's producer at the time, Michael Hurll, says: "The whole point was he would have been embarrassed to put his own name to it because he felt no-one could then say if it wasn't a good script.

"Even after that, I'm not sure that he stopped and I wouldn't be surprised if he continued to submit under another name."

Real name hard to pronounce
Another famous writer has same name
Avoids over-exposure
To publish two books or articles at once
To put a collaboration under one name
Writing in several genres
Writing about a personal issue
To experiment in style
Other Barker pseudonyms include Jonathan Cobbald and Jack Goetz, but critic Mark Lawson thinks there was significance in him choosing Wiley. "The shadow of 'wily' in that name is typical," he says. "Raised on radio comedy, Barker wrote verbally rather than visually for television, delighting in wordplay."

A famous contemporary of Barker was seeking similar cover, for quite a different reason. Alan Ayckbourn wrote for Hark at Barker under the name of Peter Caulfield because he was employed as a BBC radio drama producer at the time and was not supposed to work elsewhere.

In the wider world of writing, there can also be more practical reasons. One of the most famous examples was Mary Ann Evans, who assumed the name George Eliot because she thought she would be taken more seriously.

The mask of another name also enables writers to experiment without alienating the audience, or give one name to a team effort.

But few could have earned a name on a dressing room door, which is what happened to Gerald Wiley at the BBC after Ronnie Barker's revelation.

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