Croydon today lost one of its most famous residents, and firmest of friends, after the death of comedian Ronnie Corbett.
Corbett, who was 85, had been ill for some time.
Figures from theatre and television were quick to pay tribute to the comedy great, who for nearly 20 years was a fixture on Saturday evening primetime television with Ronnie Barker in their sketch show, The Two Ronnies – a bit like Ant and Dec today. Only funny.
But Corbett had been a mainstay of variety shows and TV since the 1960s, and he and his wife, Anne Hart, were successful enough to be able to buy one of the prestige houses on Shirley Church Road, close to Addington Palace golf course, where Corbett spent many happy hours.
Today, Corbett’s inspirational role in the re-opening the David Lean Cinema in Croydon’s Clocktower complex was recalled by both the editor of Inside Croydon and the cinema campaign.
“If Ronnie hadn’t stood up that night, after a screening of Brief Encounter, and made such an impassioned plea to save the cinema, we probably wouldn’t have run a report,” Steven Downes, the website’s editor, said today. “He was the inspiration behind the launch of the cinema campaign.
“It was clear that he really cared, and was upset and angry in equal measures over the cost-cutting closure of the cinema. He was holding Anne’s hand as he spoke, off-the-cuff, and you could see a tear in his eye.”
As we reported at the time, five years ago, Corbett called the closure decision of the council “monstrous”.
“We must start a campaign so that this darling place isn’t trashed,” Corbett said after the screening of the David Lean-directed classic.
“What a waste it is that it isn’t going to be further treasured,” Corbett said, to a round of applause from another packed audience in the cinema’s farewell season. The council closed the doors on the venue at the end of that week.
The website’s resulting report prompted a call to Inside Croydon Towers from Adrian Winchester. A public meeting was soon organised, the Campaign group was formed with Winchester as chair and, two years ago, the cinema was re-opened with programming by volunteers.
“The Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign will always have reason to be grateful to Ronnie,” Winchester said today.
“His words calling upon people to ‘start a campaign’ to save the cinema were genuinely inspiring, and proved to be extremely helpful.”
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