Ronnie Corbett hits back at those baseless rumours he was retiring – and reveals how he dreads ‘losing his marbles’.
The comedy star hits back at those scurrilous retirement rumours
R onnie Corbett isn’t as agile as he once was. He wishes it wasn’t so, but he’ll be 84 years old this year and, as he says, ‘you must accept the slow aging process with grace’, which he does, in his twinkly, life’stoo-short-to-make-a-fuss way.
When we meet his eyes won’t stop watering (‘You don’t happen to know a good eye doctor do you darling? Mine’s retired...’), his left knee is playing him up (‘It annoys me a bit when I find myself going down the stairs somewhere and it’s, “Oh b****r!’’) and he’s a touch forgetful. So much so, the day after we meet he phones to apologise. ‘I do hope I was OK darling,’ he says. ‘I fear I wasn’t on particularly good form.’
Fear not Ronnie. Lunch with you is always a joy. He would never dream of being late. He’s one of those ‘stand up straight, forget the stiff knee, I must deliver the goods’ types that existed way before today’s famous-forsex-texting-a-footballer celebrities, although he does have a mobile phone ‘somewhere, which is wonderful for calling the car to pick me up. I did a little campaign for Tesco mobile phones and they gave me one,’ he says, adding with a roar of laughter, ‘that’s not all they gave me. Now, did we order potatoes?’ Yes, we did.
Ronnie likes to make people laugh. It’s part
‘A bit of Brucie will be disappointed to be out, but he’ll be glad’
of his DNA. He’s been in showbusiness for 62 years now and ‘still gets a buzz from being asked to do things’. A few months ago he was admitted to hospital with pains in his side, prompting ill-founded reports he was retiring. Ronnie, the comic genius who with his partner the late Ronnie Barker touched us with their joyous brand of humour, wishing us a final ‘So, it’s goodnight from me’? ‘I don’t know where the inspiration came from for that story,’ he says. ‘It couldn’t have been more false or fallacious...
‘I’m not going to be doing a lot but I’ll keep chugging away. In our business you don’t really retire but you don’t do more than you’re able — you don’t push your luck.’
As it was Ronnie received a huge chunk of money from the paper that published the retirement story, which he promptly divided between three charitable causes, including Denville Hall, a care home for elderly actors.
‘The last time I was at Denville Hall for an open day last autumn I was quite alarmed with the number of people who came up and said to me, “Will you come over and say hel- lo to my dad because you worked with him and his memory’s gone.”’ He shakes his head. ‘When it gets to that severe aging memory loss I suppose it’s advanced Alzheimer’s.’
Alzheimer’s or, as he calls it ‘ losing yo u r ma r bl e s’, frightens Ronnie. His mother began to struggle with her memory at 87. ‘She began to go out to post letters at 4am so we had to put her in a very sweet, caring home,’ he says. ‘It concerns me that can happen. But you must be aware when it starts going a bit, mustn’t you? I think, if you can, it’s important to try to keep every department of your life bubbling along on simmer — even if it’s not fiercely boiling.’ He chews on his skate wing and repeats. ‘Everything on simmer. You don’t cut off anything. Terrible really.’ He roars with laughter, not making it seem terrible at all.
Talking to Ronnie these days is less of a quick-fire question-and-answer session and more of a gentle meander through his memories. The late David Frost was the person, he says, who was crucial to the making of his life and career. ‘I’m godfather to one of his sons. When you think he just said to me, “I’m doing this show called The Frost Report, I’d love you to be in it.”’ Ronnie appeared on the show with Ronnie Barker and so began that friendship that reinforced The Two Ronnies for 16 years. ‘The gates opened. Mind you I was 37 at the time so I’d been patient,’ he chuckles. ‘Although I’d made a living and loved it and enjoyed it, it wasn’t until The Frost Report that the two of us were away. We were nearly 40 so we were quite experienced, calm sort of folk.’
There are, he observes, fewer friends left these days, including Ronnie B, who died from heart trouble nine years ago. Ronnie and his wife Anne continue to miss him. ‘Of course Ronnie and Joy [his wife] died with- out knowing Adam was still alive,’ he says referring to the Barkers’ youngest son — who went on the run a year before his father’s death to avoid arrest for child porn offences.
‘He was a very sweet boy. I don’t know how he got himself into the muddled state he was in. I was never… er, precisely sure what he did time for. The police found stuff on his computer. He’ll never forgive himself. I’ve dropped him a wee note...’
And this is the thing about Ronnie. He is an inexorably kind man. Take when I ask about his pal Bruce Forsyth. ‘I would think he’s glad to be off Strictly. A bit of him would be disappointed to be out, but he’ll be glad. I don’t know about the two girls doing it.’ He means Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman, who are taking over as co-hosts.
Ronnie moves on to chat away about his family, his two daughters Emma, 47, and Sophie, 48, and his grandson, Tom, 28, who’s a writer and ‘an absolute darling, sweet boy who has been a real delight.’
In 2006, Ronnie played himself in a cameo role for Ricky Gervais’ Extras. ‘At home I’m out with the dogs every evening and I sleep soundly. I’m on several kinds of medication — little regimes I take all the time. I don’t know what they’re all for, but I take four in the mornings and four different ones at night. Inside I feel late 60s.’ He shakes his head and begins to search in his briefcase for his Tesco phone. Ronnie may be a bit stiff on his pins, but I hope he’ll continue to bring laughter to our TV screens for many years to come.
Ronnie with the late Ronnie Barker on The Two Ronnies