RON­NIE COR­BETT

Ron­nie Cor­bett hits back at those base­less ru­mours he was re­tir­ing – and re­veals how he dreads ‘los­ing his mar­bles’.

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS - By Re­becca Hardy

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

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