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Blue Plaque honour at Ronnie Barker’s former home
9:30am Wednesday 5th September 2012 in News
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RONNIE Barker fans have won a campaign to fast-track a blue plaque to honour the funnyman.
The Two Ronnies comic’s best known link to Oxfordshire for running an antiques shop in Chipping Norton.
But he moved from Bedford to Oxford in 1935, aged about five, and stayed at 23 Church Cowley Road until the late 1940s.
Now the owner of the home has agreed there should be a permanent reminder of Mr Barker’s formative years in the form of a blue plaque.
Together with members of the Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board, Lord Mayor Alan Armitage will unveil the plaque on Saturday, September 29.
Usually the board has a rule that a plaque should not be erected until 20 years afterthe death of a renowned citizen.
Mr Barker, who lived in Dean, near Chipping Norton, died aged 76 in 2005, but board members felt it would be wrong to wait any longer.
Board member Malcolm Graham, a local historian from Botley, lobbied for the accolade for Mr Barker to be brought forward.
He said: “Shortly after Ronnie Barker died, city councillor Stan Taylor suggested there should be a blue plaque, but these things take time.
“When I noticed that Aylesbury had unveiled a statue a couple of years ago, I thought we should do something because his life was shaped by his time in Oxford.
“I’m a big fan of Ronnie Barker – I love Porridge – and my daughter once bought me a complete set of the scripts, so I became word-perfect.
“The Barkers were the first occupants of this new house on the Florence Park estate and the current owner recently agreed that the plaque could go ahead.”
The Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board was formed in 1999 and, since 2001, has erected about 65 plaques around the county.
Board secretary Eda Forbes said: “The owner of the house was delighted when we approached her as she is a great fan of Ronnie Barker.”
After living briefly at 386 Cowley Road, the Barker family settled at 23 Church Cowley Road.
Mr Barker first tried architecture before joining the Westminster Bank in Cowley Road as a junior.
But he then got a taste for drama after watching The Theatre Players rehearse at the St Mary and St John Church Hall in Cowley Road.
After spells acting in Aylesbury and Cheshire, he returned to Oxford in 1951 to join the Playhouse company, and made his name there over the next four years.
Ms Forbes added: “Ronnie Barker played every conceivable part at the Playhouse, serious as well as comic, before the director Peter Hall spotted his talent and whisked him off to London.
“We have every right to be proud that Ronnie Barker’s formative years were spent in Oxford.”
The Wetherspoons pub The Four Candles in George Street takes its name from a Two Ronnies sketch.
The former City of Oxford High School for Boys was on the same site and Mr Barker was a former pupil.
Another Oxford property that was home to Ronnie Barker is on the market. Oliver Road, in Cowley, where he lived with his parents in 1951, is up for sale for £330,000.
COMEDY LEGEND’S CAREER SPENT MAKING US LAUGH
AFTER Ronnie Barker became a leading light at the Oxford Playhouse , left, director Peter Hall persuaded him to do a show in London and this was his first big break.
The second was getting a part in a radio show working with Leslie Crowther. He finally joined The Frost Report, where one of the stars was Ronnie Corbett.
Father-of-three Mr Barker lived with wife Joy at Dean Mill, near Chadlington, and after retiring from showbusiness in the 1980s ran The Emporium antiques shop in The Horsefair, Chipping Norton, until it shut in 1999.
The Two Ronnies – featuring the double act of Barker and Corbett – ran on BBC1 from 1971 to 1987 and was a huge hit.
Mr Barker also won fans with the prison-based TV comedy Porridge, which he starred in between 1974 and 1977, and Open All Hours, in which he played shopkeeper Albert Arkwright.