The Ronnie Barker Collection

Young Christian is impressed by a resurfaced gem from the archives of TV comedy...

The Ronnie Barker Collection

To be honest I had never heard of Ronnie Barker before watching this DVD set, which I believe is a good thing as I had no prior convictions about what to expect. I must say I was pleasantly surprised. I soon found out that the much-loved actor and comedian Ronald Barker was best known for his roles as Fletcher in the television series Porridge, as a wide range of characters in The Two Ronnies, and as Arkwright in Open All Hours. Ronnie has brilliant ‘old’ school’ humour and slips in to each of his characters masterfully as he delivers a greatly entertaining show.

Being the ignorant youngster that I am, I thought that sketch shows were an invention of the more modern television producers, but I see I was sadly mistaken. The sketches that Barker does in Hark at Barker 1 and 2 are pure genius and, considering the level of today’s comedy sketch-shows, far beyond their time.

Hark at Barker was a 1969-1970 British sitcom that was made for the ITV franchise London Weekend Television and is a mixture of sitcom and sketch material which starred Ronnie Barker as Lord Rustless, hereditary owner of Chrome Hall, and seems to be an expert on whatever takes his fancy.

Barker has a knack for creating and delivering characters of purely stereotypical nature that cause uncontrollable laughter and are so effortlessly played. Series one is held back a bit by being in black and white, which I find makes the viewing not quite as enjoyable because, being so young, I personally am only used to colour television. As the series moved on to season two it came to colour which I found to be more visually engaging as only the simple-minded can. Ronnie is also supported by some brilliant characters, one of which is David Jason (who also plays multiple roles including ‘Dithers’, the hundred year-old gardener). Hark at Barker showcases Ronnie’s pitch-perfect timing and mastery of hilarity, and earned Barker the 1969 Variety Club Award for ITV Personality of the Year.

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Six Dates With Barker involves a different story for each show, from the ‘Phantom Raspberry Blower’ who traumatizes Londoners, to the future world where laughter is compulsory and there are terrible consequences for those who refuse to laugh. Some of the brilliant writers in this compilation series include Spike Milligan, John Cleese and Gerard Wiley (actually Barker’s own pseudonym). Six Dates with Barker exhibits the total resourcefulness and adaptability of one of the greatest British comedians.

Ronnie Barker has been called a ‘comic genius’ and I completely agree after watching The Ronnie Barker Collection. His humor exceeds all expectations and has obviously inspired new generations of comedians who still live in the shadow of Ronnie’s enormous talent both as writer and performer. I must say I have never enjoyed watching anything from that era of television or film as much as I did with the Barker Collection. It is humor for people of all ages and all interests as the concoction of comedy continues to impress.

The Ronnie Barker collection is out now.