Late Obituaries

Category: 2005

Ronnie Barker

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.

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Joe Ranft

March 13, 1960 – August 16, 2005

American writer, animator and actor, acclaimed for his work with Disney and Pixar. A student of the esteemed Cal Arts animation programme, Ranft was a key figure in the 1990s animation renaissance. Joining Disney in 1980, he worked as a writer and storyboard artist on The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Lion King. He collaborated with Tim Burton on both The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. In 1991 Cal Arts contemporary John Lasseter hired him as head of story at the fledgling CGI animation studios Pixar. He garnered an Academy Award nomination for co-writing the revolutionary Toy Story in 1995, storyboarding many of the film’s central sequences including the moving van chase. A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles were classics produced under his watch. Ranft also had voice roles: Wheezy the penguin and Lenny the binoculars in the Toy Storys, Jacques the shrimp in Finding Nemo and Heimlich the German caterpillar in A Bug’s Life. Cars, which he co-wrote and directed, was his final Pixar feature. Ranft died before its completion, aged 45, in August 2005, after the car he was a passenger in crashed through a highway guardrail, and rolled over a cliff.

Richard Whiteley

28 December 1943 – 26 June 2005

British television presenter and journalist who served as the jovial, self-deprecating, garishly-dressed, pun-loving host of the much-loved letters and numbers puzzle-based tea-time game show Countdown for 23 years, from its inception in 1982, till his death in 2005. A fixture of local journalism in Yorkshire, Whiteley co-presented the magazine show Calendar from 1968 till 1995, where his reporting, including during the miners’ strike, was well respected. His work on the show is chiefly remembered, though, for a live piece where his finger was bitten by a ferret. But it was his mild-mannered compèring of Countdown, alongside Carol Vorderman, that made him a nationally loved star. It meant he was the first face to appear on the newly launched Channel 4, and the ‘twice nightly’ broadcasts of Countdown and Calendar saw him clock up over 10,000 TV hours, a number bettered only by Carol Hersee, the Test Card girl. He received an OBE in 2004, before dying the following year, aged 61, from pneumonia developed following a heart operation.