Barker was a potentially great comic actor who squandered his talent on middle of the road sketch shows and progressively weaker sit-coms- in the last of which he played a short-sighted old git who is continually bumping into things and mistaking the mustard for the marmalade. He could have been a memorable Falstaff (it was offered him by Peter Hall) but he backed away. This combination in him of poor taste and lack of ambition depresses me.
No way are the Ronnies the equals of Morecambe and Wise- the rival double-act of their generation. Morecambe was a great zany, an anarch, and though his scripts were safe enough, his antics- like Groucho Marx's- rip through the illusions of dignity and manners and caste. Anyone brave enough to go on stage with him wound up looking like a twit.
Or even a twat.
There's nothing like that with the Ronnies. They concluded this year's Christmas compendium of greatest hits with a lamentable skit on Alice in Wonderland- which featured the self-satisfied Ronnies, dressed as a succession of Wonderland characters, singing coyly bawdy lyrics to tired old show tunes. The mismatch in quality between Carroll's imagination and the imagination of Barker (who was probably the author of most of the stupid songs) was embarrassing. You don't spoof Carroll- he's the cleverest, darkest, twistiest, most wildly imaginative humorist in the English language. Go up against him with your stale jokes about drinking and shagging and you wind up looking vulgar and stupid and coarse.
Like a pigeon shitting on a Stradivarius.
I know Barker's recently dead and de mortuis etc- but I'm sick of the chorus of praise, praise and more praise. Yeah, he was handy with a pun, yeah, he was good in Porridge, but he never cut loose, he never took risks, he never did anything (on Telly anyway) that wasn't middle-brow. I look at his career and think, what a fearful waste.