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Why these punny guys helped make the woman I am today.

Byline: CAROLYN HITT COLUMNIST

WO Ronnies. One Ronnie.

TNow sadly it's goodnight from them both.

With the loss of each much-loved figure from this era a little part of our childhood goes with them.

We feel a pang for a past when comedy didn't have to rely on cruelty and entertainment really was a family affair.

Ronnie Corbett was five feet of feel-good fun. But I have to admit that when we were kids the part of The Two Ronnies where he climbed on the black Mastermind-style chair to deliver an endless golf joke was our cup of tea moment.

Once his solo spot had returned to double act we were back in the realms of the Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town and our attention was fixed once more.

Yet with adult hindsight, the little man's contribution to British comedy was absolutely massive - even if our younger selves struggled with those rambling monologues.

In his latter years, the pocket comic still popped up on our screens with a dash of post-modern irony, lauded by his much younger comedy counterparts. Part of the entertainment landscape for more than 60 years, Corbett's career longevity was remarkable.

Indeed, he spans my earliest and most recent memories of laugh-outloud mirth. Just a few months ago I remember chortling in the bath, listening to Corbett playing hapless grandad Sandy in Radio Four's uproarious sit-com When The Dog Dies.

And 40 years ago, as the more diminutive half of the Two Ronnies, he provided my generation with its first significant experience of television comedy.

It is interesting that the likes of Rob Brydon, David Williams and Ricky Gervais held Corbett in such reverence.

But they are all of an age that suggests they spent Saturday nights like I did - on the settee with our parents watching two chaps in big specs on the box working comedy magic with words and music.

They made a huge impact on our impressionable young minds. Morecambe and Wise were dual icons and contemporaries of the Two Ronnies, of course. Yet I'm not sure they caught the imagination of the smallest viewers in quite the same way. So in the wake of Corbett's passing this week I've been thinking about just why The Two Ronnies are such a lasting influence on we children of the '70s and '80s. And it's more than the fact that at the time Corbett was the same size as most of us.

Humour is a funny thing. Extremely peculiar as well as ha-ha. There are different jokes for different folks. I never understood why anyone laughed at Eric Sykes and his plank. Ditto Mr Bean.

Rowan Atkinson pulling frog faces while being inept. Tedious in the extreme. And all those videos of people falling off quad bikes to a soundtrack of canned hysteria on You've Been Framed.

Slapstick will always have an audience - and Michael Crawford as Frank Spencer was brilliant in turning it into an extreme sport. But for me the greatest gags are spoken.

It's all in the wonder of word-play.

I love puns, perhaps now the least fashionable form of wit. Shakespeare used them all the time. But while punning barely features in the repertoire of the modern comedian, the Elizabethan genius still gets away with them.

When he lets one slip at Stratford no-one ever rolls their eyes and groans, "That was SO bad". (Or even that was so bard - a pun that only works in Wales.) On the contrary, they snigger rather smugly, congratulating themselves on recognising the reference without recourse to York Notes.

At school, my devotion to this type of word-play irritated my fellow A-level English pupils so much they made me promise to give up punning for Lent.

That's a Catholic education for you. Denial is practically on the syllabus, and we're not talking about the river in Egypt.

Yet this was one pleasure I couldn't forgo. The pun-ishment lasted around 24 hours before I crumbled with a cheap quip in the dinner hall as pudding was served. "What's the fastest cake in the world? Ssss-cone!" Geddit? I even thought I might make a career out of punning. The week after I left university - panic-stricken at the prospect of finding a job that might entail wearing shoulder pads and carrying a briefcase - my first interview was with an advertising company for a junior copywriting post.

This seemed the perfect profession. Imagine getting paid for telling the nation's domestic goddesses to "wipe out germs in a Flash" or being the mind behind "more positive thinking from Brains".

There was also a certain glamour to it. Fay Weldon had been on the pun production line before she wrote her first novel.

The reality, however, was rather more mundane. The interview included a written test which asked candidates to create an ad campaign for an airport runway drainage system.

There aren't many puns to be had with drains. I toyed with "let our drains take the strain" before someone pointed out British Rail had been using something similar for several years. I didn't get the job.

Never mind, the same week brought an interview with Celtic Newspapers.

Journalism offers plenty of opportunities for word-play and by the time I was allowed to create headlines at the Western Mail the excitement was almost too much to bear. Could I be the first person to write Last Quango in Powys? All these years later I now realise the root of my pun obsession. It has nothing to do with studying the literary techniques of 16th-century playwrights.

It's all down to Barker and Corbett.

What better education in the nuances of humorous word-play could you want than a childhood watching The Two Ronnies? They were punning maestros.

Nobody explored the comedic potential of language and syntax like this pair.

A comic conversation between the two had a counterpoint as meticulously formed as a baroque fugue. Who can forget the verbal mischief of Barker taking the Magnus Magnusson role in Mastermind and quizzing Corbett on the specialised subject of "answering the question before last."

I heard an excerpt from this sketch on every BBC radio tribute to Corbett on Thursday - and giggled every single time.

Then there was arguably the greatest British sketch ever.

With a hardware store setting inspired by a shop in Taff's Well recommended to Barker by his Open All Hours co-star David Jason, it was the ultimate punning riff, exploiting such sound-alike phrases as four candles and fork handles.

When words were set to music another layer of hilarity ensued - such as the song lyrics devised for the duo's appearance in drag as members of the Plumstead Ladies Male Choir and their Little Trains of Wales medley, where Bugeilio'r Gwenith Gwyn and Men of Harlech are given a cheeky new spin.

Left to his own devices, Short Ronnie - resplendent in polyester argyle jumpers - performed those meandering shaggy dog stories.

My grown-up self can now appreciate the timing, wit and warm delivery of Corbett's monologues from the chair.

And by all accounts he was as loveable as he was talented.

The Two Ronnies also created the last form of humour that achieved the Holy Grail of Saturday night television - it was comedy that could be enjoyed by the whole family.

Now it's more a case of enduring Ant and Dec or Simon Cowell & Co for the sake of your tweenagers.

Perhaps a generation reared on text-speak and emojis wouldn't be so tickled by Corbett and Barker's verbal jousting anyway.

But The Two Ronnies have defi-nitely left their mark on my sense of humour and with it a life-long appreciation of the alchemy of comic word-play.

So last week it was goodnight from him.

And it's thank-you from me.

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The Two Ronnies - They were punning maestros. Nobody explored the comedic potential of language and syntax like this pair
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 2, 2016
Words:1309
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