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‘To me, to you!’ What makes a great double act?

Written by Darius Rubics

“To me, to you!” The Chuckle Brothers’ catchphrase is held dear by generations of children across the UK. Paul and Barry Elliott, two brothers from Rotherham, spent their working life as a double act.

After Barry’s death at 73, we asked lifelong fans and collaborators Dick and Dom what makes a great comedy double act, and why they’re so popular.

The Chuckle Brothers spent more than 30 years on BBC television, entertaining the nation’s children with shows such as Chuckle Hounds, To Me, To You! and, of course, the farcical sitcom Chucklevision.

But what is the appeal of the double act?

“I think the thing that people love about double acts is it reminds them of their two best mates down the pub, or the relationship they have with their best mate,” says Dominic Wood.

“There’s nothing better than watching two best friends laughing their heads off.”

With comedy partner Richard ‘Dick’ McCourt, the pair have performed as Dick and Dom for 22 years.

The pair watched the Chuckle Brothers as kids, and were astonished by Paul and Barry’s intuitive performance style.

“They were able to almost read each other’s minds,” says Dom. “They would just give each other this little look.

“And that little look was just like saying ‘Right we’re going to do this little bit of the routine now’ and they’d just go into it. It was quite extraordinary.”

Like Laurel and Hardy, the Chuckle Brothers had a straight man and a fall guy. Paul played the swaggering, cocky brother, while Barry performed the part of the long-suffering sibling who pratfalls, with great comic effect.

“I think with Paul and Barry there was a well-used dynamic, of Paul going ‘Oh Barry, you are silly’. And Barry just going ‘Oh dear, have I got it wrong again?’ says Dom.

“It was a joy to watch because he was smaller, he was skinnier, he knew how to make funny faces as well. It was just right for him to be the fall guy as well.”

But do all double acts need a straight man?

“I think all double acts work differently,” says Dom. “I think with me and Dom we’re both kind of the straight man and the funny man. If you look at other double acts, like Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, there was no real straight man.”

Dick believes for some acts, like Morecambe and Wise, you have the distinct straight man and funny man, “but people like Ant and Dec are both the straight man and funny man, it can change during double acts”.

Dick’s choice: The Two Ronnies

Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett first appeared on The Frost Report in 1966, in the infamous class sketch alongside John Cleese.

The pair were eventually given their own show and The Two Ronnies ran from 1971 to 1987. The double act’s sketches are considered classics, with Four Candles and Mastermind particularly standing out.

Both comedians were successful in their own right, with Barker starring in the sitcoms Porridge and Open All Hours. Corbett had his own starring role in Sorry.

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Double acts come in all shapes and sizes. From the presenting duo Mel and Sue, to sketch group French and Saunders, every troupe has its own unique peg.

But Dick and Dom believe there are three key components needed to be in a successful double act.

“You’ve got to have utter trust in each other as friend, you’ve got to find the same things funny, and you’ve got to be able to read each other’s thoughts,” Dom says.

“When Dom says read each other’s thoughts, it’s really like in a psychic sense,” Dick says.” Dom doesn’t even need to give me a question, give me a lead into something. I can just tell by a slight look in his eye.”

But after Barry’s passing, The Chuckle Brothers have finally moved their last piece of furniture.

Dick said: “They were just out-and-out old school entertainers, you don’t get many of those people anymore, they could just go up on stage and do a perfect routine.”

“They’re lovely, lovely people,” Dom says.

“Barry was just a really down-to-earth bloke and that’s how we’ll remember him, we’ll miss him dearly.”

 

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Darius Rubics

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