Cast & Crew
Harry H. Corbett
George A. Cooper
Hemel Pike is a canal barge casanova, aided and abetted by his illiterate cousin, Ronnie. Hemel has a girl in every town along his route, and each one is intent on marriage. He is finally caught when one of the girls, Christine, falls pregnant. Her protective father, a 'larger than life' character, who holds the canal record for drinking 29 pints of 'Brown & Mild' in a single session, is understandably upset by his daughter's situation...
Harry H. Corbett
George A. Cooper
Ronnie Barker (1929-2005)
He was born Ronald William George Barker in Bedford, England on September 25, 1929 and raised in Oxford. Educated at the City of Oxford High School, he took a job as a clerk at Westminster Bank, all the while harboring dreams of becoming an actor.
He was offered his first break in 1948 when he joined the Manchester Repertory Company. His roles were small, but for a starry-eyed 19-year-old it could not have been more fascinating. Three years later, he joined the Oxford Playhouse where he gained more experience, particularly in comedy, and in 1955, director Peter Hall gave him his first big opportunity at the famed Arts Theatre in London, where he worked steadily and developed his craft over the next several years.
After some success on BBC radio, Barker moved into films. His parts were small, but his comic timing and avuncular mannerism made him memorable in some sharp comedies: the little known Terry Thomas gem Kill or Cure (1962); a put-upon customer at a railway station in Doctor in Distress (1963); his first prominent film role as doleful sad sack in The Bargee (1964); and a cameo in the pleasant if harmless family outing Runaway Railway (1965).
Yet his achievements in film paled in comparison to his success on television, which would prove to be Barker's calling card. In 1966, commentator David Frost would hire him (along with Ronnie Corbett and John Cleese) for The Frost Report, a wildly popular revue show that would satirize the popular fads and political situations of the day. From there, he moved onto Frost on Sunday the following year which was also hit. Not coincidentally, his good fortune on television led to improved film parts: a dramatic turn in a spy thriller starring veteran character actor Van Heflin The Man Outside (1967); and as a ghost who tries to help young children save a historical landmark in Ghost of a Chance (1968).
Still, his success up to this point was marginal when compared to the golden stride he hit in the '70s. He starred in no less than three hit series that decade: the popular sketch comedy opposite Ronnie Corbett in The Two Ronnies (1971-1987); the endearing prison sitcom Porridge (1973-1977); and as a frugal Northern shopkeeper with a penchant for stammering in Open All Hours (1973-1985). All three of these programs had developed a huge cult following in America over the years due to their screening on public television, and it's safe to say that Barker was, if not an international star, a very welcome talent and presence to million of fans worldwide.
This decade would also contain his most lauded film performance - that of Friar Tuck in Richard Lester's Robin and Marian (1976), co-starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn. Barker offered a cheeky take on this established character with just the right touch of pathos, making him an essential component to this robust adventure film. Oddly, despite his good critical notices, he made only one more film that decade, a full theatrical feature based on his television series, Porridge (1979).
Barker was still a popular fixture in British entertainment when he semi-retired in 1987. He spent most of his time operating an antique shop in the Oxfordshire village of Chipping Norton, but he was always coaxed back for an occasional appearance, the most impressive by far were his two serio-comic turns in The Gathering Storm (2002), playing the wise manservant to Albert Finney's Winston Churchill; and the HBO special My House in Umbria (2003), a moving portrayal as a retired general maintaining his wit and dignity after tragic circumstances opposite Dame Maggie Smith. Barker is survived by his wife of 48 years, Joy; a daughter, Charlotte; and sons, Adam and Larry.
by Michael T. Toole