1988 - United Kingdom

Unknown to millions of his adoring fans, Ronnie Barker had made the decision to retire some time in 1985. But before that he was contracted to a series of The Two Ronnies to be filmed in, and for, Australia. During the four months he stayed there, Ronnie B wrote his next, and final sitcom: Clarence

The idea was not original. Ronnie had often returned to characters that he'd played in previous comedy series as one-offs. In this particular case the original had appeared in 1971's Six Dates With Barker. The story, written by Hugh Leonard, was called The Removals Person

Set in 1937 the story centred round a myopic removal man called Fred and his gentle courtship of a ladies maid called Travers, played by Josephine Tewson. For the full series, made over a decade later, Barker renamed the shortsighted Fred but retained all his original mannerisms and characteristics. Tewson returned as Jane Travers. 

The first episode was a virtual remake of the 1971 episode. Fred/Clarence turns up on Coronation Day 1937, at the London home of a family preparing to move to Rangoon. It's his job to pack up the furniture and make sure it gets to Southampton in one piece. But it soon becomes apparent to Travers that without her help the short-sighted removal person is unlikely to leave the family with a single piece of furniture intact. As she helps him pack up the two begin to develop a relationship, and by the end of the original episode Fred proposes marriage. In the series the romance begins to develop a little slower, and when Travers inherits a run down cottage, Clarence moves his business (Get A Move On) and the two of them move on from London to the gentle countryside of Oxfordshire. Clarence wants to make an honest woman of her, but Travers thinks it'd be a good idea if they live together first and find out if they are compatible. The rest of the series concerns Clarence's attempts to bed Travers and adjust to country life. 

The location for the series was deliberately chosen by Barker so he could be near his home, a mill house that he had purchased in 1981, as he later explained: "I was coming back to my roots. Absolutely. So when I was writing Clarence, I thought, "I'll write it round the corner." I also wanted to write a country thing and the fact that this cockney man didn't know anything about the country. I enjoyed that sort of peasant thing. And he was very naïve. I'd enjoyed it when I'd done the original and thought this character had potential." 

He may have had potential but it was quite clear that it would all have to be realised within that single series, because for Barker there was no going back. "The reason I retired was that the material was getting less good. It wasn't even a block. I'd run out of ideas and I'd done everything I wanted to do. I had no ambition left." Without being a barrelful of belly laughs, Clarence stands as a gentle comedy about two gentle folk. In his career, Ronnie Barker had certainly done better, and many fans were somewhat disappointed with Clarence. But if the series suffers from anything, it's being compared to an amazing back-catalogue of shows that had established Ronnie Barker as one of the greatest sitcom character actors that Britain ever produced.

Published on December 4th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.

Read Next...

Ronnie Corbett biography

Ronnie Corbett achieved such fame as one of the Two Ronnies that his solo career was often eclipsed. But his status as a national treasure and a much-loved household name was as much down to his own talent as that of his comedy partner. Brian Slade looks back on a remarkable career.

Also starring Ronnie Barker

Six Dates With Barker

Series of six self-contained sitcoms starring Ronnie Barker

Also starring Ronnie Barker

Clive Dunn in My Old Man

"40 years you live in a house then suddenly someone decides its a slum. So down it comes and out you goes. Daft beggars!"

Also tagged Ronnie Barker

Porridge - The Film

In this full-length feature, Fletcher is ordered to arrange a prisoner vs celebrity football game. But by the time he and Godber learn that it's a ruse to cover a break-out, they are unwittingly forced to go on the run

Also starring Ronnie Barker

Bless This House

Devised by Vince Powell and Harry Driver, Bless This House was a starring vehicle for Sid James that showed him in a new and unfamiliar light-as a family man.

Also tagged Britcom


The story of how one of Britain's all-time favourite sitcoms came to our screens

Also tagged Ronnie Barker

You Rang M'Lord

A comedic take on 'Upstairs Downstairs', the hugely successful drama centred around the aristocratic home of a member of parliament and the staff employed to keep the home functioning in accordance with social standing of the time, set as it was in the early decades of the 20th century.

Also released in 1988

Beggar My Neighbour

A 'keeping up with the Joneses sitcom starring Reg Varney and Pat Combs

Also tagged Sitcom

Count Duckula

Children's cartoon series centred around Duckula's adventures in search of riches and fame.

Also released in 1988