When people talk about the ‘Golden Age’ it’s hard to know when they’re referring to. If one thing’s for sure, nobody’s talking about 2016.
It’s only the end of March, and already we’ve lost more iconic figures than is good for our national identity. Or our impressionists. Between David Bowie, Terry Wogan and now, tragically, Ronnie Corbett, we’re all but empty of national treasures.
In fact, in this last week alone, comedy has lost both Mr Corbett and Garry Shandling. You couldn’t get two comedians who sit more comfortably at either end of the spectrum. If the ‘rule of three’ is to be believed, then somewhere, Jethro is holed up in an oxygen tent.
For me, the Golden Age was in my teens. Not because it was a drug and alcohol-fuelled celebration of sexual awakening – far from it. At a time when I withdrew quite a lot, nervous, shy, unsure of myself, I was locked away in my bedroom watching comedy.
Why have a fumble outside the Youth Club when you could watch a creaky VHS of The Goodies and the Beanstalk?
While many people my age were embracing up-and-coming comedians, or better yet, living their lives, I was looking back at the decades I’d missed, drinking it in. And there, in the middle of it all were The Two Ronnies.
Quite simply two of the funniest men I’ve ever laid eyes on. Their shows were rich with comic invention – from their gag-based news items, technically flawless sketches, and their knockabout musical numbers; to the vocal dexterity of Ronnie B’s monologues, and the warm, personal setting of Ronnie C’s chats to camera. While many sketch shows struggle to nail one tone, The Two Ronnies nailed several, consistently, and always in the funniest way possible.
I often think back to when I watched those sketches for the first time, jealous that I can’t discover them afresh. There was something incredibly potent about that time. I was still forming my sense of humour and subjecting it to a diverse range of comedy. Each viewing brought new inspirations and new techniques, I was bubbling with ideas and bursting with laughter.
Soon the desire to watch Two Ronnies’ sketches wasn’t enough. Like an upwardly mobile crack addict, I wanted something better, something stronger. So I took to performing them at school.
Long before the Internet had become the encyclopedia of cack it is today, I would have to transcribe the sketches from VHS, obsessing over comic perfection in painstaking detail. Undoubtedly, the best sketch writing education you could get.
I’ve never had the experience of trying to sneak material past broadcast censors, but I imagine it’s not dissimilar to convincing your English teacher to let you perform the ‘OXO’ gag from the Crossed Lines sketch. With the help of a small group of friends, we performed several classic Two Ronnies sketches, including a pretty ambitious recreation of the Sailor Gals song. This was beyond a dream come true, performing these classics, paying tribute to the men that made me laugh.
Not long after, the itch came again and the writing started. I formed a sketch group with two friends. The blueprint was clearly, shamelessly, The Two Ronnies. I still believe the best thing I’ve ever written was a sketch from around this time. It’s not so much a blood relation to The Two Ronnies, more a morally dubious cloning experiment gone wrong.
I would rush home from school each evening, binge watch comedy videos (way before Netflix made it popular) then write until the early hours. This period was rich with creation in a way I haven’t matched since. While it’s worrying to think I may have peaked at 16, it remains a special time to me. It was the Golden Age.
So much of that is down to Ronnie Corbett, a man whose humour, excitement and passion were visible until the very end, as this tribute sketch proves. He was a man who separately, and with the irreplaceable Ronnie Barker (no offense Kevin Bishop), created numerous iconic moments of tearful laughter.
Ronnie Corbett was an utter perfectionist. Technically flawless, but rich with warmth and charm, open and encouraging of new talent, he was a true Comedy Legend. And living in a world without him? Well, that’s no one’s idea of a Golden Age.