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In A Packed Programme Tonight
on 4 November 2012
Between 1971 and 1987 The Two Ronnies was one of the BBC's key light entertainment programmes. Running for twelve series, plus a number of one-off Christmas specials, it was a perfect showcase for the talents of Ronnie B and Ronnie C.
In addition to Ronnie Barker's contributions, writing as Gerald Wiley, the series also employed some of the best writing talent around, such as David Nobbs, Michael Palin & Terry Jones, Barry Cryer, David Renwick and John Sullivan. This meant that they were able to maintain a high standard over such a long run - by the time they called it a day in 1987 they had made nearly 100 editions of the show.
It's interesting that when watching the series in order, it takes a little time to bed in. The first series in particular is a little uneven, with both of the Rons seeming nervous at times. This is quite surprising, as by this time they'd been performing together for a number of years.
Over the course of the next few series, the quality of the programme gradually increases until by series five, transmitted in 1976, you get one of the strongest set of episodes in the whole run. Spike Milligan's serial "The Phantom Raspberry Blower Of Old London Town" and the Fork Handles sketch are two obvious reasons why this run of episodes is so fondly remembered.
By the late 1970's the quality dips slightly, and it's interesting to see subtle changes in the series' format for the later runs of episodes produced in the 1980's. The running serial is dropped, the musical sketch is moved from the end of the show to the middle, and the shows now close with glossy one-off tv and film spoofs. These changes, plus some new writers, ensure that the last few series are all pretty strong. So whilst it's fair to say that the quality of the programme does vary, there's always something of interest in even the most average shows.
As regards cuts, I have been made aware that new pressings of this box sadly do have one - the last episode of series nine had a TOTP spoof with the Ronnies dressed as Jimmy Saville. Both the original stand-alone release and the first pressings of this boxset included this sequence. However, the section with The Two Jimmies has now been cut. It's easy enough to check if you have a complete copy as the back cover of series nine should have a picture of the Rons dressed as Saville. If your copy doesn't and the episode doesn't run for 49" 40' then you've a new, edited copy. At present (January 2014) it does seem like pot luck as to whether you get a cut or uncut copy. But once the original stock has been sold it's certain that only the cut edition will be available to buy.
Although this editing is unfortunate, it doesn't alter the fact that this is a wonderful collection of classic comedy from two British comedy greats.