Ronnie Barker Collection

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection consists of memorabilia material collected by Ronnie Barker to document his career. Materials include scrapbooks compiled by Ronnie Barker with press cuttings, reviews, memorabilia and photographs of his theatre, television and film work, photographs, manuscript material, scripts, correspondence, certificates and awards, press and marketing materials, audio recordings, audio visual recordings and material relating to special events and honours in his career.

Administrative / Biographical History

Ronnie Barker a British actor, comedian, writer, critic, collector, broadcaster and businessman was born in 1929.

His first role on stage was A Murder has Been Arranged by Emlyn Williams in Oxford, 1946, where he was very active in amateur dramatics. Despite failing to get in to the Young Vic School, he began his career in theatre in the Manchester Repertory Theatre, his first professional role being that of Lieutenant Spicer in Quality Street by Sir J.M. Barrie in 1948. In 1951 he joined the Oxford Playhouse Theatre Players. Peter Hall worked with him in Oxford and brought him to London's West End.

Following his first radio appearance in 1956 he went on to feature in The Navy Lark (1959-1977). He soon began working in television and film, from 1962 appearing in various roles in the comedy series The Seven Faces of Jim. He also appeared in A Tale of Two Cities (1965) and the films Kill or Cure (1962), Father Came Too! (1963) and A Home of Your Own (1965).

His break came in the 1966 satirical sketch series The Frost Report which starred David Frost, John Cleese and his future comedy partner Ronnie Corbett. In 1968 he was given his own show The Ronnie Barker Playhouse. David Frost moved to ITV and hosted Frost on Sunday, which featured Barker and Corbett more prominently. It was also during this period that Barker began writing sketches under the pseudonym Gerald Wiley. In 1969 Barker produced, wrote and performed in the comedy film Futtock's End which featured no dialogue, only grunts. The series Hark at Barker (1969-1970) featured the bumbling aristocratic character Lord Rustless who originally appeared in The Ronnie Barker Playhouse. Barker wrote for the show under the pseudonym Jonathan Cobbald. As Wiley he wrote the 1971 series Six Dates with Barker.

Barker and Corbett were signed up to do a show together at the BBC after impressing the BBC's Head of Light Entertainment Bill Cotton at the 1971 BAFTAs where they successfully kept the audience entertained for several minutes when the show was stopped due to technical difficulties. That show was The Two Ronnies which was an immediate and long running success, with twelve series running from 1971-1986. They filmed on location in the West Country for much of the series. Barker wrote much of the show's material as Gerald Wiley. Barker also reprised his character Lord Rustless in the sitcom His Lordship Entertains in 1972, written by Barker under the name Jonathon Cobbald.

Barker played Friar Tuck in the 1976 film Robin and Marian. Barker and Corbett also starred in the short, mostly silent films The Picnic (1975) and By the Sea (1982). By the Sea was Barker's tribute to the seaside postcard humour of Donald McGill. Barker had a special interest in collecting postcards and amassed a collection of over 53,000. He produced several compilation books of them including Ronnie Barker's Book of Bathing Beauties, A Pennyworth of Art, Ronnie Barker's Book of Boudoir Beauties, Ooh-La-La: The Ladies Of Paris, Gentleman's Relish: A Saucy Look at the Fairer Sex and Pebbles On The Beach: A Tribute To The Seaside Girl. He was also a collector of antiques, books and posters.

The great success of The Two Ronnies meant that Barker was given more creative freedom which led to some sitcom pilots shown as part of Seven of One (1973). Two of these pilots became series; Prisoner and Escort (written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais) became Porridge (1974-1997) and Open All Hours (written by Roy Clarke) became the series of the same name. Barker won the BAFTA for Best Light Entertainment Performance in 1975 and 1979 for his performance of prisoner Norman Fletcher. Open All Hours aired one series in 1976 on BBC Two, although a second and further series were not commissioned until 1981 when repeats of the show on BBC One gained high ratings. As a result of the initial low ratings for Open All Hours, Barker produced a third series of Porridge (1977) and a 1979 film adaptation. Next came the spin-off sitcom Going Straight (1978-9) which focused on Fletcher after his release from prison.

In 1978 Harold Fielding's stage version of The Two Ronnies premiered at the Bristol Hippodrome before opening at the London Palladium and touring to Southampton. Barker and Corbett moved with their families to Sydney, Australia for tax reasons in 1979. They toured their stage show in Melbourne and Sydney and went on to produce two series of The Two Ronnies in Australia.

The next sitcom Barker produced, The Magnificent Evans (1984), was not hugely successful. He wrote his final sitcom, Clarence (1988), using the pseudonym Bob Ferris.

In 1987, in an interview with Terry Wogan, Barker announced his retirement from show business. Following his retirement he opened and ran an antiques shop called The Emporium in Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire. After ten years the shop was sold, due to its unprofitability, and a few years later Barker began to make occasional television appearances again.

Barker wrote his autobiography Dancing in the Moonlight: My Early Years on Stage in 1993 and published his complete scripts All I Ever Wrote in 1999. He wrote the play Mum for his daughter Charlotte Barker in 1998, that was performed at the King's Head Theatre.

In 1997 Barker and Corbett drove on stage in a motorcycle as the Two Fat Ladies at the Royal Command Performance. In 1999 they reunited for the Two Ronnies Night on BBC One, and the following year for A Tribute to the Two Ronnies. In 2002 Barker was persuaded by director Richard Loncraine to play Winston Churchill's butler David Inches in the BBC-HBO drama The Gathering Storm, and in 2003 was also cast in the TV film My House in Umbria. Barker briefly reprised his role as Norman Stanley Fletcher in the spoof documentary Life Beyond the Box (2003).

Barker received several awards throughout his career, including the Royal Television Society's award for Outstanding Creative Achievement in 1975. He was presented by Sir Alec Guinness with a lifetime achievement honour at the inaugural British Comedy Awards (1990) and received the same again at the BBC Centenary Programme (1996). He was given a special BAFTA lifetime achievement award, at Ronnie Barker: A BAFTA Tribute, a televised celebratory tribute evening in 2003. Alongside Corbett, Barker was one of the first 100 people given stars on London's Avenue of Stars in 2005. Earlier awards include the Variety Club of Great Britain Award in 1969, 1974 and 1980, the Radio Industry Club Award in 1973, 1974, 1977 and 1981. In 1978 Barker received an OBE.

Barker's health declined rapidly after the filming of The Two Ronnies Christmas Sketchbook and he died in October 2005.

Arrangement

Arranged in to the following series:

  • THM/407/1 - Scrapbooks
  • THM/407/2 - Photographs
  • THM/407/3 - Scripts, writings and research by Ronnie Barker
  • THM/407/4 - Correspondence
  • THM/407/5 - Business papers and contracts
  • THM/407/6 - Events, awards and certificates
  • THM/407/7 - Press and Marketing
  • THM/407/8 - Audio Recordings
  • THM/407/9 - Audio Visual Recordings
  • THM/407/10 - Artworks
  • THM/407/11 - Objects, Trophies and awards
  • THM/407/12 - Posters

Conditions Governing Access

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

Appraisal Information

This collection has been appraised according to departmental policy. Programmes have been incorporated in to the Theatre and Department core collections. Cuttings from copies of Radio Times and TV Times were added to the Ronnie Barker Biographical File.

Custodial History

This collection was created and maintained by Ronnie Barker, until his death when his daughter Charlotte Barker took over care of the collection.

Accruals

No further accruals expected.

Related Material

See also the core collections of the V&A Theatre and Performance Department. Material relating to Ronnie Barker may be found in several collections, including the biographical, productions, company and photographs files.

Please ask for details.

Bibliography