The final goodbye

Stars' tribute to Barker

Friends and colleagues have paid their final tributes to Ronnie Barker at a historic  memorial service in Westminster Abbey.

He is only the third comic to have been honoured there, after Joyce Grenfell in 1980 and Les Dawson in 1994.

Among the 2,000 people who attended were Terry Wogan,  Nicholas Lyndhurst, Michael Palin, Stephen Fry, Lenny Henry, Dawn French, and David Jason.

 Ronnie Corbett  gave a eulogy, saying: 'This is a truly monumental task for me, to encapsulate in a few minutes 40 years of working harmoniously with this dearest of men. Forty years without an argument. Forty years of unmitigated pleasure, thrills and laughs.'

Richard Briers, Peter Kay and BBC chairman Michael Grade also gave readings. Briers from Barker's favourite play, Henry V, and Grade from Barker's autobiography.

Kay revealed he and Barker were penpals, after he wrote  a fan letter to Barker saying he was his comedy hero. Barker wrote back in the guise of Norman Fletcher, his character in Porridge.'

Kay told the congregation:  'I wrote to him about three or four years ago. I had always been a massive fan.

'And then this letter came one day...  I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe I had a letter from Norman Stanley Fletcher. It meant so much to me and it still does.

'We wrote to each other over a few years and talked about everything. It's not often you get to meet your heroes in life, let alone become penpals with them.'

Kay responded to the first letter by replying as Phoenix Nights club boss Brian Potter and sending him a nail file.

As well as his showbusiness friends, several hundred tickets had gone to fans.

Outside the Abbey, David Jason, who starred with Barker in Open All Hours and Porridge, said: 'I attribute most of what I've done and achieved to Ronnie Barker. I always called him the guv’nor which he was for me.'

And June Whitfield said: 'He had talent by the bundle. I would never call Ronnie a comedian. He was a different kind of actor. He just disappeared into the role he was playing and magnificently.'

The service, which included a broadcast of Barker's comedy sketch A Sermon In Rhyming Slang, ended with words from Barker. A clip from an interview was played to the congregation, in which he said: "I suppose I would like to be remembered as one of the funniest men people have seen on TV. He did make us laugh.'

Barker died in October, aged 76. He left a widow, Joy, two sons Larry and Adam and daughter Charlotte.  Adam, who fled the UK after being arrested on suspicion of downloading children porn from the internet, did not attend the service.

 

Published: 3 Mar 2006

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