I was very fortunate to be invited to the Service Of Thanksgiving to celebrate the life and work of Ronnie Corbett on Wednesday 7th June 2017 at Westminster Abbey.
(inside Westminster Abbey before the ceremony started)
It was a very emotional event – full of laughter, sadness and song. The abbey was filled with around 2000 people comprising of Ronnie C’s family, various personalities from the world of TV, theatre and film and a select few members of the public.
It was very touching to see so many people turn out for the event – it really goes to show that Ronnie Corbett meant so much to so many.
It was a star studded event – with many personalities in attendance. No single media source has listed all those in attendance, so allow me to list off the people I saw attending:
Lee Mack, Graham Norton, Su Pollard, Maureen Lipman, Dame Patricia Routledge, Michael Crawford, Patricia Hodge, David Walliams, David Renwick, Richard Wilson, Alan Yentob, Harold Snoad, Charles Garland, Terry Hughes, Dame Barbara Windsor, Stephen Fry, Rob Brydon, Joanna Lumley, Jimmy Tarbuck, Liza Tarbuck, Sarah Ferguson, Lauren O’Rourke, Jim Howick, Robert Lindsay, Nicholas Parsons, Mathew Horne, Jo Brand, Susan Penhaligon, Ben Elton, Reece Shearsmith, Penelope Keith, Julian Clary, Barry Cryer, Peter Bowles, Harry Hill, Gyles Brandreth and Greg Dyke.
(Graham Norton arrives with Su Pollard)
Also in attendance was Ronnie Corbett’s custom-made monologue chair. Sitting proudly at the front of the Abbey, it was a bittersweet reminder of the comedy that was once delivered upon it.
The service began with a few minutes of audio – delving largely into Two Ronnies sketches – including the famous Mastermind Sketch which caused much laughter amongst the congregation.
Then Sarah, the Duchess Of York and Dame Penelope Keith (representing the Prince Of Wales and the Duchess Of Cornwall) were shown to their places.
(the Four Candles that started proceedings waiting at the entrance of the Abbey)
Various guest speakers were called upon – the first being the great Jimmy Tarbuck who spoke greatly of his friend; ‘He was 5ft tall, with a 10ft talent.’ Visibly sad, he signed off his speech thanking Ronnie for the friendship. It was a moving moment, and not the last of the day.
Sir Michael Parkinson was due to speak next, but due to illness his reading was undertaken by Simon Parker Bowles (family friend).
Perhaps the most moving moment of the service came when Rob Brydon led his tribute to Ronnie whom he called a ‘great friend.’ Not only was it visibly very upsetting for Brydon – who was clearly very close to Corbett – but something strange happened when Brydon did his now famous impression of the great man. For a brief moment, Ronnie Corbett was among the congregation. Brydon perfecting his trademark ‘chuckle’ for all to hear. It was an uplifting moment in an otherwise touching dedication.
As the service came to an end, Anne, Ronnie’s Widow, and the other members of the Corbett family walked the length of the Abbey. Anne, wearing Ronnie’s CBE, took it upon herself to thank as many people for coming as she could. It was moving to see her so visibly upset, but still taking the time to thank total strangers for attending. I certainly got the impression that they were a very tight family, and I hope it is so.
(Stephen Fry talks to members of the congregation inside the Abbey)
(mourners file out of the Abbey – Rob Brydon (blurry, to the right) is followed by David Walliams (standing) and other personalities in attendance)
A sizeable crowd had gathered outside the Abbey. Security was very tight with several Police and Armed Police present to control the crowds. It was at this moment that many of the stars in attendance could be seen. A wall of news cameras and paparazzi were present just outside the gate – trying to nab anyone who would talk to them.
(Press coverage of the event was large – news cameras and reported from all the major networks and newspapers were in attendance)
(a large crowd had gathered outside the Abbey)
It was very clear almost immediately this was an event of national interest. Personalities queued up to pay tribute on camera. What struck me the most was the amount of respect paid. There was no crowd of autograph hunters, nobody wanting selfies. Everyone was just stood around watching the congregation leave.
(Dame Barbara Windsor talks to the press outside the gates)
It was a time for mingling and rejoicing – one could join a conversation between Richard Wilson and Patricia Routledge, or listen to BBC producer Harold Snoad talking about his time with Ronnie Corbett. I spoke to many of those present – and everyone had only fond memories of Ronnie C. He was so clearly well loved, not only by the public, but by his peers also.
(Richard Wilson talks to Alan Yentob and friends outside)
(Jon Culshaw, Reece Shearsmith, Robert Powell and others after the event)
The event was an incredibly fitting tribute to Ronnie Corbett. On a personal note, it was a time to reflect on the human side of life and death. To many people in the Abbey it was not about the Ronnie Corbett we all know on television, but about their friend Ronnie Corbett, their father or grandfather. It was a very humbling and touching event.
The final words of The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean Of Westminster were ‘So, it’s a good day from me, and it’s good day from him.’