The Two Ronnies series three DVD review

Originally shown in 1973, the third series of The Two Ronnies doesn't sit easily in the modern climate, and nor does it find the pair regularly hitting their stride.

Comedy geniuses, but this series doesn't highlight their best work

This 1973 season finds Messrs. Corbett and Barker still in a state of transition tonally. Having opened their legendary TV pairing with two series that attempted – with some awkwardness – to retain the political and social satire that both comedians had been so grounded in under David Frost, it was beginning to become evident that the British public would rather escape into seaside naughtiness and more traditional character-based humour than try and wring a laugh out of sitting ducks such as Harold Wilson and Richard Nixon.

The absurdist or surreal humour which so often fell flat in the first two series is slowly edged out over the eight episodes of series three, although as venerable comic names such as John Cleese, Marty Feldman, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and Michael Palin vanish from the closing credits over the course of this two-disc DVD edition, the comedy-value of the episodes drops like a stone as well.

For season three, the Ronnies abandon their ‘classic serial’, which started sensationally with Hampton Wick in series one and would later bring us season regulars Charley Farley and Piggy Malone, as well as the belly-laughs of the Spike Milligan-penned Phantom Raspberry Blower Of Olde London Towne and the almost pornographic The Worm That Turned.

Instead there is a short series of Ministry-Of-Information style ‘How To’ films, which opens on its highest note in ‘How To Care For The Sick’ and drops in quality until abandoned entirely for occasional one-off spoofs, including a pretty good one of the unremembered The Onedin Line, as well as Upstairs Downstairs, Jason King, Colditz  and an absolutely awful Star Trek skit, from which some potentially-racist reference to Lt. Uhura’s skin colour has clearly been excised.

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In fact, the politically-correct brigade had better steer well clear of anything by the Ronnies until at least series six. This particular round of japes includes jokes that make fun of black people, Irishmen, women (endlessly) and then saves its most shocking salvos for a relentless comic assault on homosexuality. Britain: 1973 was a very different time culturally.

The Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was one of the most potent British bogeyman of the day, a front-page fixture, and ‘news-items’ featuring him top and tail nearly all the shows in series three. Example:

RC: “Uganda – At the press conference today in the garden of government house, General Amin was asked what he was going to do about tightening up defence. He replied ‘De man wid de nails is coming to mend it’”RB: “And we’re very pleased to say that General Amin has just purchased 23 episodes of the BBC programme Pot Black – under the impression it’s a cooking programme”.

So be warned – season three is a product of its time.

The – in my opinion – coma-inducing musical numbers that were later to close each Two Ronnies show are mercifully absent, bar a gruesome Black And White Minstrel Show skit and a faux folk-music act, both of which were made for the Skip button, and instead the hugely popular Top Of The Pops dance troupe Pan’s People appear on each show after the opening sketch.

The producers were clearly trying for a sexier image for these highly attractive but potentially very twee women, and the first routine is a steamy Hot Gossip-style effort. Clearly the ever-active Mary Whitehouse was on the blower sharpish, and by episode eight the People are as anodyne as ever, though amusingly they perform one awful pre-Riverdance routine with their hands glued to their sides, and another flowery number on which Kate Bush must have based all of her early career. At no point are they asked to dance to ‘Send In The Clowns’ (not this time, anyway), so rest easy.

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Weekly guest singers in the series are Dana, Design, the New Seekers, Clodagh Rogers, Elaine Delmar, Blue Mink, Finn Jonn and Tony Orlando, and once again that Skip button will prove your friend.

There are hints of the genuine linguistic ingenuity which would later hallmark Ronnie Barker’s self-penned ‘spokesman’ sketches and the ‘four candles’ sketch, but it is still at the testing stage here. That said, Barker’s official who explains the new BBC symbol rating warnings is hilarious, mainly because nonsense of that nature is still going on.

Other excellent sketches include the Harley Street doctor who – for no apparent reason – constantly tries to sell bent watches and dodgy services to his well-heeled patients and Corbett as the utterly ineffectual gangster trying to get protection money out of unshakeable shop-keeper Barker. Some of the more ambitious conceits fall flat in a noble effort, such as the two priests who hold an entire conversation by referring to chapter-and-verse points (not quotations) from the bible, and the sports commentator who has to adapt quickly to a badly edited football match reel that takes in games as diverse as cricket, golf and polo.

Tiswas presenter Sally James features in the latter sketch, as well as playing a ‘white Uhura’ in the abominable Star Trek spoof and a rude customer in a quick bar-sketch.

In 1973, the full heights of seventies television lechery had not been reached, nor had the early notions that black/Irish/female people didn’t like to constantly be the butt of derisive jokes, so season three is neither that fulsome nor that acceptable, dithering as it does on the precipice between satirical and mainstream comedy, and frequently failing to hit either mark.

But in all honesty, a classic like the ‘four candles’ sketch was a diamond in the rough of a much broader output, rather than some mythical indicator that later series were far better, and there are several gems in these two discs for those who remember the oddly-matched duo with affection.

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2 out of 5

Release Date: 17th MarchPrice: £15.99Duration: 8 x 44 Mins Approx

Rating:

2 out of 5