The Two Ronnies Annual, 1979
I’ve got a list of childhood books that I feel the need to write about, all of a sudden, in tribute to Ronnie Corbett, Paul Daniels and Victoria Wood, who have all died in such heartbreakingly quick succession.
The three books – The Two Ronnies Annual (1979), The Paul Daniels Magic Annual (1982) and Victoria Wood’s sketch book Barmy (1987) were those kind of formative books that I read and re-read until I knew every word like I know the lyrics of a favourite song. The kind of books that, like a song, you can have no contact with for years, but on finding them again you can still join in, word-perfect, remembering where you were and how you felt, overwhelmed with nostalgia.
The Two Ronnies was from 1979, but I got it a few years after that, from a charity shop, as so many of my annuals were. I barely knew the pleasure of seeing a blank crossword, pre-filled in as they always were from a previous owner. And when I bought this replacement some years ago for my long-lost original copy, so this crossword (written by Gyles Brandreth) was also completed, quite comfortingly.
I always loved the Two Ronnies with a kind of pure love, unsullied by any other, more alternative comedy I was also developing a passion for. On the surface, they were one of those old fashioned double acts which abounded in the 70s and early 80s – except they were just so much better. The absolutely flawless sketch acting was a delight, Ronnie B’s wordplay a joy for a kid like me who collected words I liked in a little book, and the serial sketches like Village of the Smiths really quite gripping and even influential, looking back.
As well as their own performing talents, they had some of the best writers around, of course. It wasn’t everyone who had the Pythons on their writing team, and I would dearly have loved to have seen Ronnie C’s face when Ronnie B revealed that he was actually the Phantom Sketch Writer of old London Town, Gerald Wylie. But my absolute favourite bit was Ronnie C’s monologue – such a hard piece to deliver as naturally as he did, like a mini Tristram Shandy story every week, “But I am getting ahead of myself…”
Ronnie C was really my favourite, much as I loved Ronnie B too, not only because of the monologues but I was also a devotee of Sorry! with its strangely exciting opening credits. He was one of the few authors that I’ve ever felt he need to immediately write to after reading their book – “And it’s goodnight from him“, Ronnie C’s 2007 autobiography of the Two Ronnies is just so bloody lovely. He’s interesting, insightful, generous to everyone he knows and, importantly, to all the crew they worked with. I wanted to write to him and tell him just how happy that book made me, but I never did. I wish I had.
Anyway. The Annual. It’s a combination of sketches reproduced in rather exciting, dynamic comic form, games, jokes and factual depictions of what it’s like to work in telly. Like the page below. Brilliantly, these are the bits with no jokes, but they’ve become retrospectively funny because Viz magazine has taken this exact format and is still running “Behind the Scenes”-style comics strips now.
Here’s a board game on making it in the world of 70s showbiz, and which I seem to remember I utterly failed to get anyone to play with me. Moving over the “Jim’ll Fix It” reference swiftly….
Calculator games! Remember when that was the absolutely most up to the minute thing you could be doing at school? They’ve glossed over “boob” and the advanced “boobless” here though. That guess your age trick – I remember trying to get my mum to play this and she wouldn’t, for reasons that I couldn’t fathom. They were possibly connected to the fact that she told me she was 21, which I once related solemnly to a teacher, who looked slightly startled as I was 8 at the time. It was one of those times when adults are obviously (to them) amusing themselves, but kids just take that stuff as gospel.
Euro Christmas- this was my favourite bit of the book, and is strangely topical now, although it’s about the EEC as things were at the time. It’s a strangely frighteningly drawn cartoon, and one which I was very impressed to discover was written by Eric Idle and David Nobbs. High pedigree indeed.
This was another favourite – A consumers corner endlessly recommending the disastrous Boffo products. Now reminding me a bit of “Reeves and Mortimer products”, too.
But now, here’s the late news…
A survey on the decline of morals in Britain reveals that in Liverpool alone on each day last week an average of 267 women made love to an unmarried man. The man is now recovering in hospital.
Next week we’ll have hints on coarse fishing…..followed by lewd hockey, suggestive cricket and obscene golf.
And it’s goodnight from me.