Tonight's telly: Ronnie Corbett's Comedy Britain, ITV1, 9PM

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Ronnie Corbett fronts this brand new ITV1 series, Ronnie Corbett's Comedy Britain, which delves into the history of British comedy as seen through Ronnie's eyes. The legendary comedian explores the subject by speaking to some of the country’s top comics and gaining an insight into their beginnings.

In the first episode Ronnie begins his very personal story of comedy by meeting contemporary comedienne Miranda Hart.

Miranda admits to Ronnie that her slapstick humour has been inspired by The Two Ronnies and their great comedy contemporaries Morcambe and Wise. “I just thought I’d love to play at what they’re playing. I’d love to do that myself as a profession. It’s still hilarious,” says Miranda.

Miranda and Ronnie go to Fairfields Hall, the location of Morcambe and Wise’s most celebrated stage show. Miranda is excited, to say the least!

As one half of The Two Ronnies, Ronnie is keen to explore other comic partnerships. He goes to meet Stephen Merchant who explains that he met Ricky Gervais when he was taken on as Ricky’s assistant at a local radio station. “I sent my CV in and I think, I’ve always joked, it must have been the first one on the pile. He went, ‘This’ll be fine,’ and he hired me and we just hit it off really,” explains Stephen. “There’s a synchronicity that happens. You think, ‘What if we hadn’t met?’”

The University of Cambridge has produced some of Britain’s finest comic talent including another great comedy duo – Mitchell and Webb. Ronnie takes a trip to Cambridge to meet David Mitchell and, as they punt along the river, David talks about what makes their relationship work: “I’ve always felt working with Rob that we’re greater than the sum of our parts.”

Mitchell and Webb’s big break was a radio series called ‘That Mitchell and Webb Sound’. They’re in distinguished company as Spike Milligan’s infamous Goons owe their success to radio and The Mighty Boosh and League of Gentlemen both started out in a world with no pictures.

The most successful comedy double act of the last decade also first made its mark on radio. Ronnie meets Matt Lucas who explains how he and David Walliams made the jump from Little Britain the radio show, to Little Britain the award winning TV series. “We always had these images in our minds of what the characters would look like,” says Matt, “even when we were doing it on radio.”

Having explored comic duos, Ronnie talks passionately about the comedy double act closest to his own heart – The Two Ronnies. Ronnie explains how he and Ronnie Barker met on The Frost Report when they worked alongside other comedy greats such as John Cleese. Ronnie travels to Oxford to see John who reminisces back to the day when David Frost called him.

“David suddenly rung me up and I can remember this because basically he said, ‘Hello, I’m doing a show in the spring, sketches for the BBC, with two people called Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett – you won’t have heard of them,’ laughs John. “And suddenly I’m there with you and Ronnie B and nobody knows who any of us are.”

With fourteen million people tuning into The Frost Report each week, Ronnie C and Ronnie B soon became household names, but it was unexpected good fortune on the evening of 8th March 1970 that made them a double act. Ronnie goes to the London Palladium to explain.

“Ron and I were hosting BAFTAs from this very theatre and there was a technical breakdown, they lost power and we were off the air for about fourteen minutes. Ron and I allegedly held it together and ad libbed and entertained the audience,” say Ronnie. “We were comfortable enough with each other to take advantage of it and of course that was the start of The Two Ronnies.” He continues, “It was the start of a fabulous sixteen year partnership in which I was blessed to work alongside one of the finest performers in the history of British comedy.”

Ronnie Corbett's Comedy Britain, ITV1, 9PM

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