25 September 1929 – 3 October 2005
British actor and writer; one could argue (perhaps hyperbolically) the greatest writer since Shakespeare and a star of some of comedy’s greatest shows. A bank clerk who never abandoned an acting dream, Barker rose from weekly repertory theatre, to a substantial career on the West End and on to TV fame. He was part of the pioneering satirical sketch shows The Frost Report and Frost on Sunday (1966-1970), featuring in the legendary class sketch alongside John Cleese and his later comedy partner Ronnie Corbett. It was on the latter that his prodigious gift for writing was revealed. Barker secretly submitted scripts for the show under the name Gerald Wiley, fearing their true authorship would see them selected regardless of their actual merit. They well heralded as the show’s best and Barker eventually revealed his deception. With Corbett he starred in twelve series of sketch show The Two Ronnies (1971–1987) for the BBC. Now respected he nevertheless continued with his pseudonym, writing the majority of the show’s content. This included ‘Four Candles’, which entered the pantheon of comedic greatness, encapsulating Barker’s mastery of the English language, wordplay and perfectly tuned comedic sensibility. His acting genius and meticulous embodiment of character were demonstrated throughout the show, and with two of Britain’s most celebrated characters: meddlesome, penny-pinching Northern shopkeeper Albert Arkwright in Open All Hours (1976-1985) and endearing habitual criminal Norman Stanley Fletcher in Porridge (1974-1977) and Going Straight (1978). He won four BAFTAs for his work and received an OBE in 1978. An immensely modest, happily-married family man, Barker shunned the limelight, refusing to appear publically unless in character and rejected dramatic roles in preference for comedy. Barker, fearing for his health and that his best days would soon be behind him, retired in 1987 to run an antiques shop. Sporadic returns were inevitable and, after the success of a BAFTA Tribute show, retrospective compilation The Two Ronnies Sketchbook aired in 2005, as a celebration of Barker’s unrivalled brilliance. He died in October 2005, aged 76, from heart failure.