The Two Ronnies were rightly famous for their verbal comedy: Ronnie Barker for his tongue-twisting lectures as various characters, and Ronnie Corbett for his long-winded comic monologues that take dozens of wrong turns before arriving at the punchline. (Corbett's solo spot was always my favourite part of any 'Two Ronnies' episode.) In this delightful one-off 'The Picnic', the Two Ronnies get to show their flair for visual humour without relying on dialogue. 'The Picnic' features the Two Ronnies venturing into Benny Hill territory, and the excursion is a definite success.
'The Picnic' features a device which I call 'rhubarb dialogue', a device from radio dramas that was first used in films by Chaplin in 'City Lights' but more notably used by Eric Sykes in 'The Plank' and (of course) 'Rhubarb'. Rhubarb dialogue occurs when the actors speak normally but incoherent 'rhubarb, rhubarb' voice effects are heard on the soundtrack instead of coherent dialogue. What distinguishes rhubarb comedy from pantomime dumb-show (in which there's no dialogue at all) is that the 'rhubarb' is useful for conveying the characters' emotional reactions. In 'The Picnic', the actors expertly use vocal mannerisms to convey Ronnie Barker's perplexity, Julie Crosthwaite's girlish squeals, and so forth ... without ever speaking a coherent word.
'The Picnic' takes place in some ill-defined but genteel era, somewhere between 1910 and 1930. Barker is a Blimpish martinet who takes his household (family and servants) on an elaborate motorcar excursion, climaxing in a picnic that seems to be more trouble than it was worth. There's hilarity all along the way.
SPOILERS COMING. My favourite gag in 'The Picnic' occurs as the car passes a stately home and Ronnie Corbett indicates for Barker to stop, pantomiming an urgent need. Corbett alights and scurries towards the house so that he can attend to his need. In a reverse angle, we see a gardener (Pat Milner) standing behind a wall, out of view of Barker and the others in the motorcar. The gardener has just attached a hosepipe to a spigot, and is about to switch it on as Corbett arrives and pantomimes his urgent need. The gardener points towards a nearby outhouse, then he turns on his hosepipe. Back in the car, Barker and the others look on in amazement as a gusher of liquid sprays forth from behind the wall where Corbett has gone to attend to his call of nature. A moment later the spray stops and Corbett emerges, buttoning his flies. Hilarious!
Elsewhere, we get the beauteous and buxom Julie Crosthwaite, who delightfully manages to lose most of her kit while running across a field. While watching this special, I was intrigued to realise that this was the very first time I'd ever seen the Two Ronnies together in daylight, in an exterior set. The cheerful music by Ronnie Hazlehurst (the third Ronnie?) adds to the jovial mood, and Ray Millichope's split-second editing is superb. 'The Picnic' is hilarious, and I'll rate it a perfect 10 in 10.
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