Barker and Ronnie Corbett had worked together on 'The Frost Report' with
David Frost in 1966, appearing in a number of sketches with John Cleese.
When David Frost went to ITV in 1968 for 'Frost on Sunday', Barker and
Corbett went with him.
They found that the writers increasingly paired them off for sketches. Then they performed live together at the annual BAFTA awards, ad-libbing after the equipment had broken down. BBC bigwigs Bill Cotton and Paul Fox were sitting next to each other in the audience. During the impromptu act, Cotton whispered to Fox: 'What about a series with those two?'
So the pair returned to the BBC. All they needed now was a name for their new show. It was a struggle until somebody remembered a familiar remark at rehearsals for the Frost programs: 'The two Ronnies can do that sketch'. A title was born.
The show ran from 1971 to 1987 on BBC1. Twelve series plus Christmas specials, for a total of 98 shows.
Each show started and finished with the pair seated behind a desk reading spoof news items. In between there were sketches, musical extravaganzas where the Ronnies danced, sang or marched, adventure serials such as 'Death Can be Fatal' plus a rambling monologue from Ronnie Corbett.
The show operated an open-door policy whereby anyone could send in ideas. Hundreds of sketches or news items (some the work of hopeful amateur writers) were submitted each week. The news items were whittled down to a final 18 often only minutes before the start of recording.
Messrs. Barker and Corbett went through the sketch ideas separately, marking each one with up to three ticks for a possible yes or a cross for a definite no. Later comparing notes, they found that their tastes were remarkably similar. 'Our policy,' said Ronnie B., 'was that if one of us was dubious about a sketch during rehearsal and said so, out it went, even if the other partner quite liked it.'
The producers noted that some of the best sketches came from Gerald Wiley, a writer first credited for a sketch on 'Frost on Sunday'. Nobody seemed to know anything about Wiley until he was eventually revealed to be a pseudonym used by Ronnie Barker.
Before the unmasking, Barker himself played along with the subterfuge at rehearsals, saying things like 'not one of Wiley's best this week'. He said that he used a pseudonym so that his writing would be considered on merit, not because he was one of the stars of the show.
Other writers who contributed to 'The Two Ronnies' included David Nobbs ('The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin'), David Renwick ('One Foot in the Grave'), John Sullivan ('Only Fools And Horses'), Spike Mullins (who wrote Ronnie Corbett's monologues), Peter Vincent, John Cleese and Graham Chapman, Michael Palin and Terry Jones and Barry Cryer.