The traditional high street hardware store is still thriving in Norfolk
- Credit: PA
When Ronnie Corbett passed away a couple of weeks ago, there were tributes from the great and the good across the celebrity world reflecting on his comic genius.
Inevitably, the focus turned to his jokes, his armchair soliloquies, and the many hilarious sketches he appeared in with his Two Ronnies partner, the late Ronnie Barker.
Of course, there is one that stands out in particular where the pair appear in an old-style hardware shop and Ronnie Barker works through a shopping list of 'fork handles,' 'peas', and 'hose' etc – all with beautifully clever double meanings which the increasingly exasperated Corbett misinterprets.
What fun they must have had writing, honing, and filming the sketch simply known as The Hardware Store.
Comic wordplay at its finest and highlighting the pair's fascination with the quirks of the English language, it has gone down as one of the all-time classic comedy sketches, though I would argue that it does have a 'flaw'.
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How does it end? Who can remember how it ends and, actually, given the genius of the opening line, does it really matter?
For those who do know the final lines, the climax is somewhat weak – a fact they both acknowledged – though Barker did have the opportunity to re-write it for a live performance with an amended ending hilariously ripe with 70s innuendo.
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The funeral for Ronnie Corbett will take place on Monday, close to his home in south London, yet with this passing of another great comic leaving for a world of laughter upstairs, the famous hardware sketch came into mind when I needed a plunger for my blocked sink recently.
In this world of B&Q, Homebase and other DIY warehouses – which do clearly meet a demand, I must stress – it is pleasing to see there are still traditional hardware shops around where you can go in and buy a handful of nails, a prescribed length of hose, a plunger, candles of course, a handle for your fork or broom, and even a new head for your brush. (How else could Trigger have kept the same council sweeping brush for 20-odd years with his 17 new heads and 14 new handles?)
It was in the Dereham DIY & Hardware store, appropriately standing firm in the town's High Street, that I purchased my plunger in what is a mesmeric labyrinth of everything the handyman, the innovative householder and the curious hoarder may ever require.
Shelves stacked high with all kinds of screws, nails, implements and gadgets and helpful and well-informed staff who know where everything is and can lay their hands on just what you are looking for in an instant.
Corbett and Barker would not be out of place in this wonderful cavern.
Yet far from being a throwback to the 70s and beyond, it is a modern business serving a public need and demand and one that is hopefully being well patronised.
Norwich is equally well served with its own version in Thorns, standing on the corner at Exchange Street selling everything in DIY, ironmongery, tools, electrical, houseware and gardening that you could possibly ever need.
A family-run business, established in 1835 by London merchant Robert Elliot Thorn, who owned several properties within the city, he noticed there was an opening in the market for an ironmongers and decided to set up the company which is still going strong today.
While there may be fewer of these specialist hardware stories about, these two are not the only such outlets in Norfolk.
There is one in Reepham, for example, and I am sure readers can point to several other such establishments dotted across the county, staffed by knowledgeable, dedicated and long-serving personnel behind the counter.
The reruns of that sketch have of course underlined how funny Barker and Corbett were and may have also had an unexpected nostalgic resonance for many in that we realise how many of these sorts of shops have vanished.
However, while we may smile at the antics of Corbett and Barker in The Hardware Store we can also be reassured that there are still such establishments serving a very special need in this day and age of fast consumerism and online shopping...somewhere you can pop in for a few nails, a single socket or a new spade.
I know exactly where I can purchase four candles, a handle for my fork, some hose, Os, peas, Ps and plugs (whether bath or 13 amp) – all under one roof at the traditional high street hardware store, which is still thriving in Norfolk.
So let's make the effort to continue to support these fabulous independent hardware stores that will always have just what we need. Actually, let's support ALL our fabulous independent stores...