Ronnie Corbett
Ronnie Corbett Rebecca Naden - PA via AP

Legendary comedian Ronnie Corbett has died age 85

THE entertainer Ronnie Corbett, best known for The Two Ronnies sketch show, has died.

"Ronnie Corbett CBE, one of the nation's best-loved entertainers, passed away this morning, surrounded by his loving family," his publicist said. "They have asked that their privacy is respected at this very sad time."

Corbett appeared alongside the late comedian Ronnie Barker in the BBC TV show The Two Ronnies for 16 years. Barker passed away in 2005.

Ricky Gervais was among the numerous comedians and entertainers to pay tribute.

Gervais, who acted alongside Corbett when he made a memorable appearance on Extras in 2006, said it was an "honour and joy to have known him".

Sir Bruce Forsyth said his day was one of the "saddest days of his life". He told the BBC: "Ronnie was a friend, someone I admired so much. It's a very, very sad day. I'm going to miss him like crazy, I really will."

John Cleese, who appeared with Corbett and Barker in a famous Frost Report sketch about social class in 1966, said he was a "great, kind mentor and a wonderfully witty companion".

David Walliams, a close friend of Corbett, said he was his "comedy idol".

Russell Crowe, Jack Whitehall, Miranda Hart and Hugh Laurie also paid tribute with Hart saying she was "having a little weep".

Tony Hall, director general of the BBC, described Corbett as "one of the true greats of British comedy".

Born in Edinburgh, Corbett joined the Ministry of Agriculture after leaving school. He served with the Royal Air Force and then moved to London and played a number of schoolboy roles because of his height - Corbett was just 5ft tall. His first stage role came in Take it Easy in 1956. He began working with Barker in the Frost Report in 1966 and starred in The Two Ronnies from 1971 to 1987.

The show was particularly memorable for beginning each episode with the pair reading out news headlines and Corbett's tendency to go off on tangents in the monologues he delivered to camera.

Comic headlines read out during episodes included: "We've just heard that a juggernaut of onions has shed its load all over the M1. Motorists are advised to find a hard shoulder to cry on," and, "A vicar who rode his bike the wrong way up the M1 was asked how he managed to avoid an accident. He replied 'God was with me' and was furthered charged for riding two on a bike."

Corbett put the success and longevity of the show down to his relationship with Barker and how well they complemented each other. "We had a certain kind of material that was not dangerously esoteric," he said. "It's difficult to be clean and clever at the same time, but a lot of our stuff was."

Corbett said The Two Ronnies remained relevant for so many years after it came to a close because their material was more nuanced than modern comedy. "Comedy today is grosser," he told the Radio Times. "We did Donald McGill, seaside-postcard stuff - middle of the road. We knew what mums, dads, and children would understand and enjoy without resentment. I don't see the requirement to upset people. You're there to entertain and please. We'd never do anything tasteless. There's enough to make fun of without offending. Our comedy was light-hearted amusement that seemingly tripped naturally off the tongue. That's why I don't think it will date."

Corbett was awarded a CBE in the 2012 New Year Honours for his services to charity and the entertainment industry. At a celebration to mark the award, Corbett collapsed in a restaurant in January, but recovered. He had been suffering with ill health since 2014.

Corbett is survived by his wife Anne Hart, an actress and dancer and their two daughters, Emma and Sophie Corbett. Their first child Andrew died when he was six weeks old from a heart defect.