March 31

Ronnie Corbett – brilliant comedy actor and lovely man

Incredibly sad news about Ronnie Corbett. Anyone who, like me, grew up in the UK in the seventies and eighties would have almost certainly spent many happy hours watching The Two Ronnies with their families.

It was a British institution and Ronnie C and Ronnie B were very funny men. I must admit that it could all be a bit baffling as a child…. The Phantom Raspberry Blower scared me to death and Ronnie C’s monologue in the chair, which amused my Dad so much, just confused me (later, once I was older, I got the jokes and, as an adult, Ronnie’s brilliant comic timing made it my favourite part of the show).

As a child I liked watching him in Sorry, perhaps not a comedy classic, but gentle, sweet – sad even – and with fine performances all round.

Ronnie had one of those warm, seemingly always smiling faces that made you smile whenever you saw him. His comic timing was superb. I was lucky enough to witness it first hand when he brought his one-man show to a local theatre, the Fernham Hall in Fareham, Hampshire in the late eighties.

I covered entertainment for a local paper so got to interview Ronnie in advance of the show to promote it. “Make sure you come for a drink after the show,” he said. So I did. His show was superb and his comic timing flawless as ever.

Afterwards – a little nervously (he was after all, a comedy legend) I went to find him for that drink. Friendly, charming and warm, he introduced me to his wife Anne and their daughters Emma and Sophie – and he poured me a gin and tonic, which was the first time I’d ever tried it. It’s been downhill ever since…

He always had time for journalists and I interviewed him a couple of times over the years that followed. He was always courteous and helpful. His contribution to British comedy was huge and his loss is a great one, most of all, of course, to his family, who I am thinking off tonight.

Goodnight Ronnie. And thank you.



Here are a couple of my favourite Ronnie moments: 


March 29

From sleepy village street to Ladybird cover picture

The Little Red HenI’ve always loved the old series of Ladybird books and now my son likes to read my old battered copies (many of them themselves second-hand)…

Of course, some of the non-fiction ones are rather out of date, and some of the older ones are hilariously twee. The ones that have stood the test of time best are the traditional stories like The Enormous Turnip and The Elves and The Shoemaker.

The illustrations in the books captured my imagination as a child and recently a friend told me that at least one of the pictures in The Little Red Hen was of a scene in a village not far from where I live, Hambledon in Hampshire (which is also famous as the ‘cradle of cricket).

Last week I finally got a minute to go to Hambledon and take a picture of the High Street which, except for a few cars, has changed very little since illustrator Robert Lumley painted it in 1966.

More on the work of Robert Lumley here.

January 31

The day Terry Wogan bought me a coffee

I was really sad to hear about the death of Sir Terry Wogan. Like so many people, I grew up listening to him on Radio 2 as he was a favourite of my parents. Later, of course, his BBC One chat show Wogan became a national institution and Terry himself became a national treasure.

I was lucky enough to meet him in 1997. As I have written before, meeting people you’ve grown up watching or listening to can be a worrying experience. You hope they aren’t disappointment or, even worse, unpleasant. Terry was neither.

We had coffee in the bar of a hotel next to Broadcasting House. He was funny, open and when we finished, insisted on paying the bill… (you wouldn’t believe the number of famous people who just assume that someone else is picking up the tab and just leave without even checking…)

The purpose of my interview with Terry was to promote a BBC One programme called Wogan Years, a selection of his best interviews. As part of it I asked him about some of his best and worst interviewees…

Here they are:

Some of the guests he adored….

Princess Anne
Princess Anne was great and I think she gave one of her best interviews on Wogan. At that time she didn’t have all that good an image and the studio audience really responded well to her. She came across as having a great sense of humour and I hope it helped her to improve her image with the people watching at home too and let them see the sort of person she really is.

Simon Weston
Simon was the young soldier who was injured so badly during the Falkland War when the Sir Galahad was bombed by Argentinean planes. He came on the programme to give his first interview and he is just a wonderful and very brave man. He came back onto the show again twice more over the years.

James Stewart
He was wonderful and quite possibly the nicest man I ever interviewed. That was because he was a man who seemed to be untouched by Hollywood. He went through his life meeting lots of awful people in Hollywood without seeing bad in any of them at all and that made him unblemished. He had an aura of great goodness and innocence about him.

Kenneth Williams
Kenneth was always great value for money and came on the show a few times and even stood in for me sometimes when I went on holiday. He knew why he was on the programme and always had people in stitches and you could tell he watched the programme and knew what was expected of him.

Larry Hagman
Larry had a big following as JR Ewing in Dallas and he was great and certainly didn’t need any help to be made a star. He came on with Linda Gray who played Sue Ellen and the funny thing was that off stage they did behave rather like JR and Sue Ellen. They got on very, very well but he was terribly protective of her. They were both super.

….and some that he didn’t….

Anne Bancroft
Anne was beyond criticism as an actress but not the easiest of guests. She came into make-up before the show and she was crying with fear because no one had told her that the show was live and she never did live television. She got herself into a catatonic state by the time she came on the show and didn’t speak at all. Ben Elton was on too and he sort of saved the day by keeping talking.

The Duke Of Edinburgh
Prince Phillip was very difficult and came on a bit like a Hollywood star and didn’t understand why we didn’t want to talk to him about carriage driving. That’s was what he wanted to talk about and I wanted to talk to him a bit about that but mainly about him. Fortunately for me Michael Caine was on with him and he’s gold dust and a very nice man and a wonderful interviewee. He saved me totally.

John Malkovich
He was a right pain the bottom because he just wasn’t prepared to talk. That’s all very well if it’s a taped programme because you can cut it all out later but when you are really live and being broadcast nationwide then it’s a real problem. It really isn’t playing the game to come on as a guest and not talk. When that happens I just used to think: what are you doing here?

Bette Davis
Bette was a real hero of mine who I’d been really looking forward to having on the show. But when she came on she was a right pain because we didn’t mention her book in the first sentence and she was cross about it.

George Best
George Best came on staggering about after enjoying a few too many in our hospitality suite and let’s just say his communication skills weren’t working too well that day. It became a bit of a famous occasion and where we were supposed to only have about eight or nine million viewers everyone in the country seemed to see it. Fortunately Omar Sharif was on as well and he saved the day.

And the guest he’d have liked to have on the show but never did:
I would have loved to interview Princess Diana and I suppose I’d loved to have talk to Prince Charles but we never did. John Wayne is also someone I’d have liked to have had on the programme but he died in 1979 before we even started the show. I’d have liked to ask him why he didn’t like horses.

(c) Steve Clark 2016. All Rights Reserved