Near the entrance to the new theatre in Aylesbury is a statue of Ronnie Barker, as he looked when he played the prisoner Fletcher in the TV series Porridge, between 1974 and 1977. He considered Norman Stanley Fletcher to be his finest creation.
Born in Bedford in 1929, Ronald William George Barker was living in Oxford in 1948 and working in a bank there. He took a trip to Aylesbury to see a play at the Market Theatre, where the Manchester Repertory Company were Performing.
The Market Theatre was off the Market Square, and behind The Green Man pub. It's gone now.
Back home, he wrote to the company asking for a job and enclosing a photograph, but didn’t receive a reply. He wrote to them again asking for the photo back, and they offered him an audition. At the audition, he was hired on the spot.
His first role was in J.M. Barrie’s comedy play Quality Street. That was in November 1948; he was nineteen.
Once Ronnie Barker had performed in two more comedy plays he realised that he wanted to become a comic actor. In 1956 he made his first radio appearance in the sit com The Floggits. Later he played Able Seaman Fatso Johnson, in the excellent long running comedy series The Navy Lark.
This radio programme ran from 1959 to 1976, and he played a total of 40 different characters.
Many people don’t realise that he played another role in Porridge, too; that of the judge who sentences the “habitual criminal” Norman Stanley Fletcher to five years in the opening credits. Ronnie Barker played a huge variety of radio, TV, and film roles over the years; he was a man of great talent. He passed away aged 76, in October 2005.
If you want to hear how good he was in his younger days, The Navy Lark is often broadcast on Radio 4 Extra. See if you can spot which characters he plays; it’s not as easy as you might think.
I’ve written about some of the other statues in Aylesbury; there's lots of them:
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Aylesbury. David Bowie played in the Borough Assembly Hall, which is what the Market Theatre later became. Standing Square in Aylesbury. A Market Square hero. A Bird From Aylesbury. John Hampden gets the bird.