Ronnie Corbett, one of Britain’s most popular entertainers, who was a regular television fixture for more than 50 years, has died aged 85.
Corbett first came to fame on The Frost Report in the 1960s but was best known as one half of The Two Ronnies with his comedy partner, Ronnie Barker, who died in 2005.
A statement from his publicist said: “Ronnie Corbett CBE, one of the nation’s best-loved entertainers, passed away this morning, surrounded by his loving family.
“They have asked that their privacy is respected at this very sad time.”
Tributes were paid by figures from across the comedy world. Michael Palin fondly remembered Corbett’s silliness, John Cleese called him “a great, kind mentor”, and Miranda Hart said she was “having a little weep at the death of one of my heroes”.
Corbett was a staple of British television for more than 50 years and will be particularly remembered for his rambling, convoluted monologues which went off at wild tangents on The Two Ronnies – often at the expense of the show’s producer – before reaching its punchline.
The Two Ronnies ran from 1971 to 1987 and always began with the pair reading mock news headlines, along the lines of: “A man from Dagenham has named his son TGF 308F. He said he may not be rich but when he eventually leaves his son his Ford Mondeo, at least he’ll have his own personalised number plate.”
He appeared in some of the most fondly remembered comedy sketches of the last 50 years, not least as an increasingly exasperated hardware store owner not knowing if Barker wanted four candles or fork handles.
Another was the Mastermind sketch where he chose his subject as “answering the question before last” so what’s the difference between a donkey and an ass was answered: “One’s a trade union leader, the other is a member of the cabinet.”
Corbett’s breakthrough came after David Frost spotted him in cabaret at Danny La Rue’s nightclub Winston’s.
He was invited to appear in The Frost Report slongside Frost, Barker and John Cleese and soon went on to enjoy a string of other TV successes including Corbett’s Follies and No, That’s Me Over Here.
Like Barker, Corbett had a successful solo career, with his best-known role being that of Timothy Lumsden in the sitcom Sorry! between 1981 and 88. Dominated by his overpowering mother he played a fortysomething single man who could never quite leave home.
Many of his jokes revolved around his diminutive stature. Only 5ft 1in, Corbett enjoyed telling people that he was, during national service, the shortest commissioned officer in the British forces, and he rarely missed an opportunity to poke self-deprecating fun at his height.
Born in Edinburgh in 1930 Corbett began his acting career at the age of 15, when he starred in a pantomime at his local church youth club.
The versatile comedian also hosted the BBC One game show Small Talk for two years from 1994 to 96. He recently appeared on the BBC Radio 4 show When the Dog Dies, which saw him reunited with the writers of Sorry!
He became something of a national treasure and was not afraid to make fun of it – memorably appearing in Ricky Gervais’s sitcom Extras in which he was caught sniffing cocaine in the gents’ toilet.
He kept on working and made, aged 80, a two-part series called Ronnie Corbett’s Comedy Britain in which he met comedians he admired including David Mitchell, Michael McIntyre and Miranda Hart, who all appeared in genuine awe.
His comedy skills were often under-appreciated or taken for granted, partly because of the brilliance of Barker. But his fellow performers recognised his talents, with Cleese crediting Corbett with teaching him how to hold a pause.
Just heard about Ronnie C.So sad.He had the best timing I’ve ever watched.He was a great, kind mentor and a wonderfully witty companion.
— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) March 31, 2016
Tony Hall, director general of the BBC, said: “Ronnie Corbett was a wonderful comic and entertainer. A man of great charm and warmth who brought laughter and joy to millions. He was quite simply one of the true greats of British comedy. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.”
The prime minister, David Cameron, said: “Ronnie Corbett had the rare talent of making all generations laugh. He’ll be remembered as one of the all-time great comedians.”
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, tweeted:
Ronnie Corbett was a giant of British entertainment who was loved by millions. He will be dearly missed. Our thoughts are with his family
— Jeremy Corbyn MP (@jeremycorbyn) March 31, 2016
Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP, tweeted: “Sad to hear about Ronnie Corbett’s death. I loved the Two Ronnies and feel lucky to have grown up in those years. Great comic & a proud Scot.”
Sir Michael Parkinson said: “He was a very easy man to love. He was a perfect companion. He was bright. He could tell good stories. He was funny. He was very rarely depressed.
“Anne, his wife, she’ll be distraught. I mean, it was a great marriage. They’ve been together for many, many years, and it was a very loving partnership. We were just mates and I shall miss him terribly.”
Sir Bruce Forsyth hailed Corbett as one of the greatest entertainers the nation had ever seen: “I have lost a close and very dear friend and we have all lost one of the greatest comedians and entertainers this country has known.”
Steve Coogan said: “Ronnie Corbett is the last of the BBC’s magic quartet of Morecambe and Wise and the Two Ronnies. The end of an era of comedy loved by the whole nation regardless of age, creed or class.”
Hugh Laurie, who starred in the BBC’s Night Manager, tweeted:
Ronnie Corbett, may he rest in peace. A beautiful, brilliant man.
— Hugh Laurie (@hughlaurie) March 31, 2016
Comedian Miranda Hart said: “Having a little weep at the death of one of my heroes Ronnie Corbett. As he would say ‘Miranda you can’t look up to me’. Goodbye from me.”
Michael Palin told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “Ronnie had a great sense of silliness, which I responded to greatly. He could do the serious stuff as well but there was a lovely sort of mischief, his eyes twinkled.
“He was absolutely delightful to play with and against, and do material with and, also, just a good friend too.”
David Walliams said:
Goodbye my friend and comedy idol #RonnieCorbett Thank you for all the laughs. It was the greatest honour to know and work with you.
— David Walliams (@davidwalliams) March 31, 2016
Lord Sugar tweeted: “Sad news about Ronnie Corbett, very funny man RIP.”
Ricky Gervais wrote on Twitter: “RIP the lovely, funny legend Ronnie Corbett. It was an absolute honour & joy to have known him.”
Rob Brydon said: “So saddened that Ronnie Corbett has passed away. A truly great comedian, a great man and a great friend. He was one of the special ones. RIP.”
Writer and actor Mark Gatiss wrote on Twitter: “Ronnie Corbett was the most generous, charming and lovely man. Hugely supportive in the early days of The League Of Gentlemen. The day after we won the Perrier, I saw him in the queue. It was like being blessed by all our childhood Saturday nights. RIP dear man.”
Omid Djalili said: “And now Ronnie Corbett. What an absolutely delightful man. Sad sad news RIP.”
Jack Whitehall tweeted: “RIP Ronnie Corbett, what a brilliant and funny man he was.”
Comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar tweeted:
— Sanjeev Bhaskar (@TVSanjeev) March 31, 2016
Julian Clary wrote: “R.I.P. Ronnie Corbett, a master of his craft and a huge star.”
Former deputy prime minister John Prescott posted a photograph on Twitter of four candles or fork handles, and wrote: “RIP Ronnie Corbett.”
RIP Ronnie Corbett. pic.twitter.com/AajCfXJ4Ts
— John Prescott (@johnprescott) March 31, 2016
Corbett and his wife, Anne Hart, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary last year.
The actor, who enjoyed golf, cricket and bread-making, was awarded a CBE in the 2012 New Year honours for his services to charity and the entertainment industry.
His wife later revealed that, during a celebration to mark the achievement, he had collapsed in a restaurant and was rushed to hospital.