Hark at Barker (1969–1970)
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Ronnie later described 'Rustless' as his second favourite character, the first being 'Fletcher' of 'Porridge'.
The show was the creation of Alan Owen, and grew out of an episode of 'Playhouse' broadcast on 10/4/68 entitled 'Ah, There You Are'. Owen was unavailable to write the series, so the job went to Alan Ayckbourn ( under the name 'Peter Caulfield' ), later to become acclaimed as one of Britain's finest playwrights.
The show was ground breaking in two notable respects; firstly, Lord Rustless' habit of addressing the audience directly ( a device later known as 'breaking the fourth wall' ), and the interruption of the plot with sketches ( some by Ronnie himself under his 'Gerald Wiley' alias ), many of which would be remade for 'The Two Ronnies'. The second season had a different theme each week, such as 'Law', 'Cooking', 'Do-It-Yourself', and 'Music', with Rustless trying his hand at each but failing dismally.
Two series were made in all. Having viewed these recently, I found much to enjoy, even though it had not stood up as well as I had hoped. The sketches were the best part of the programme, standing out like raisins in an undercooked scone.
Ronnie stayed with L.W.T. for 'Six Dates With Barker', and then it was off to the B.B.C. for 'The Two Ronnies', 'Seven Of One', 'Porridge', and 'Open All Hours', every one a classic.
But the end of 'Hark At Barker' did not mean the end of Lord Rustless. Ronnie resurrected him - and his staff - for 'His Lordship Entertains' in 1972. It was an altogether different show; the sketches were gone, Ronnie wrote the scripts himself, reformatting the concept so that Chrome Hall was now a country hotel. There was location filming, and other characters got to interact with Rustless and co. Ronnie later described it as 'Fawlty Towers Mark One'. Not a trace of 'Entertains' survives in the B.B.C. archives, which is indeed unfortunate as it is the better show. Luckily, the scripts are to be found in Ronnie's book 'All I Ever Wrote'.