Ronnie Barker's remarkable versatility as a performer can be traced back to his time in repertory theatre, where he was able to play a wide range of roles and develop his talent for accents, voices and verbal dexterity. It was during this time that he met Glenn Melvyn, who taught him how to stammer (something he would later use to great effect in the sitcom Open All Hours (1976)). Melvyn also gave Ronnie his break into television by offering him a role in I'm Not Bothered (1956). During the 1960s, Ronnie became well-established in radio, providing multiple voices for "The Navy Lark" and working with comedy great Jon Pertwee. He also became a regular face on television, appearing in The Frost Report (1966) (perhaps most memorably in a sketch about Britain's class system, with John Cleese and Ronnie Corbett) and playing character roles on The Saint (1962) and The Avengers (1961).
In 1971, Ronnie teamed up with Ronnie Corbett again, this time for a BBC sketch series called The Two Ronnies (1971). This series proved enormously popular, continuing until the late 1980s. In addition to "The Two Ronnies", Barker starred on the popular BBC sitcoms Porridge (1974) (as a cockney prisoner) and Open All Hours (1976) (as a stammering Northern shopkeeper). In fact, only Leonard Rossiter could be said to have rivaled him during this time for the crown of British television's most popular comedy star. In 1982, he revived silent comedy in By the Sea (1982). Despite his extrovert performances on television, Barker remained a quiet, retiring individual in his personal life, much preferring to spend time with his family rather than mix with the celebrity crowd. This humility, combined with memories of his extraordinary abilities, meant that he continued to be greatly respected by his fellow professionals. In a BAFTA special shown by the BBC in 2004, stars as diverse as Gene Wilder, Peter Kay and Peter Hall paid tribute to his contribution to comedy and British television in general. Ronnie Barker died on 3 October 2005 after suffering from heart problems.