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Ronnie Wolfe

Ronnie Wolfe, who died last Sunday aged 89, was one of the creators of the television comedies The Rag Trade (1961-63) and On the Buses (1970-75), among many other sitcoms.

With his writing partner Ronald Chesney, Wolfe created such catchphrases as "Everybody out!" (the battle-cry of the bolshie, chain-smoking shop steward played by Miriam Karlin in The Rag Trade), and "I'll get you, Butler" (the unavailing weekly threat of Blakey, the fist-shaking inspector, played by Stephen Lewis, in On the Buses).

Wolfe's partnership with Chesney, now 92, led to the pair being known as "the other Two Ronnies".

On the Buses was commissioned by ITV after being rejected by the BBC, despite the success of Wolfe and Chesney's earlier series, The Rag Trade. It featured such characters as Reg Varney's bus driver Stan Butler, and the amorous conductor Jack Harper (Bob Grant), and led to three spin-off films.

Wolfe and Chesney's other popular shows included Meet the Wife (BBC, 1964-66) with Thora Hird and Freddie Frinton, and, for ITV, Yus, My Dear (1976), and Take a Letter, Mr Jones (1981), with John Inman.

Harvey Ronald Wolfe-Luberoff was born on August 8, 1922, at Stoke Newington, north London. His grandparents were Russian migrants who had settled in the East End, where his father ran a small chain of restaurants before moving to Southend-on-Sea to run a highly successful fish-and-chip shop called Wolfe's.

Ronnie was educated at the Central Foundation Boys' Grammar School, Islington, and during the war worked as a radio engineer at the Ecko factory in Southend. During tea breaks, he entertained staff with stand-up routines, and in the Fifties he moved into writing, turning out scripts for the Jewish comedian Max Bacon. This led to his scripting a weekly spot for Beryl Reid, as the young Brummie Marlene, in the BBC Radio comedy series Educating Archie. When the chief writer, Eric Sykes, left the show, Wolfe took over.

His highly successful partnership with Ronald Chesney, a harmonica-playing comedian, began with The Rag Trade, set in an East End garment workshop, which they created and wrote, and which caught the mood of factory-floor life in the early Sixties. "Everybody out!" became a national catchphrase. Such was the show's appeal that it also did well abroad.

Also in the cast was the comedian Reg Varney, who 10 years later starred as the bus driver Stan Butler in On the Buses, which they created and wrote for London Weekend Television. Set in a London bus depot, this was another workplace sitcom. As in The Rag Trade, the stories largely hinged on assorted battles between staff and management. Once again, the humour proved exportable, and more than 100 episodes of the series were remade for television in South Africa, using a different cast.

Of the three spin-off films, the first, also called On the Buses, became the highest-earning British film of 1971. Wolfe and Chesney wrote the scripts and also produced the films.

Their next television success came with four series of Meet the Wife (1964-66), which developed from a single Comedy Playhouse presentation in 1963 called The Bed. Starring Freddie Frinton, and Thora Hird as his socially ambitious wife, it is the only British sitcom to be cited in a Beatles song. In Good Morning, Good Morning on the album Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), John Lennon, who wrote it, sings: "It's time for tea and Meet the Wife".

Ronnie Wolfe married, in 1953, Rose Krieger who, as his secretary, estimated she typed 95 per cent of his entire comic output. She and their two daughters survive him.

Sunday Independent