Fork Handles

Dec 19, 2013
Fork Handles the two ronnies fork handles sketchThink back to the great moments in television history: the Coronation, 1953; the Moon landing, 1969; EastEnders, Christmas Day 1986, when Dirty Den serves Angie with divorce papers. But perhaps BBC 1, on the evening of Saturday 18th September 1976, eclipses them all:

CORBETT: “Well there you are, four candles!”
BARKER: “No, fork 'andles! 'Andles for forks!”

We’ve all got our favourite television comedians and for me it was The Two Ronnies. In particular it was their “Crossed Lines” sketch from 1981, when the audience overhear two very different conversations at neighbouring payphone booths:

BARKER: “Where did you take her Simon - somewhere exotic?”
CORBETT: “Sainsburys.”
I vividly remember a real life “crossed lines” moment. I was on limousine hire to a combination undertaker & hardware shop. They were a proper, old-fashioned ironmongers of the kind where you could ask for a thing-ummy or a what-cha-call-it without having to buy a whole packet of them. Meanwhile, undertaking was performed alongside the “day job.”

I was waiting in the office out back. The proprietor was on the phone to a bereaved client whilst Cyril the shop assistant was on the other line, taking a hardware enquiry from a local landlord with a garden to tidy up:   
Proprietor: “Oh yes, Mrs. Watkins, your Father was a very familiar face locally. I am so sorry to hear he’s died. It’ll be a privilege to arrange his funeral.” 

Cyril: “Oh, that old ruin at the far end of the village? Yeah, I know. Got a real clearance job on yer hands now then, eh?!”

“I take it there’ll be a church service here? I’m sure a lot of local folks will want to attend.”

“Aye, I know what you mean. It’ll be a big job for sure. You can’t be standin’ on ceremony with summat like that though. Just have to get some old clothes on and get stuck in, don’t you? Then you can get on renovating the house and renting it again.”    

“And presumably a private cremation after the service?”

“It’s just that we got a special offer on garden incinerators - the proper ones with the little chimney. Watch the smoke though, else you’ll have all the neighbours complaining.”
“And did your Father want his ashes scattered in the Crematorium Garden Of Remembrance, where your Mother’s ashes were originally put?”

“You’ll never grow anything there afterwards mind. Probably best to stick a patio over it. Although we got decking on special offer if you wanna do it that way.” 

“Now, we’ll have a range of coffins suitable for cremation for you to choose from.”

“Yep, always got plenty of empty boxes. Just call in and grab one.”

“You’ll need to think about transport for immediate family. Will you need anything from our vehicle fleet?”

“Um, mainly ride-on lawnmowers. But we can do a little push-along one if you want something cheaper.”

“Will you be wanting to come and see your Father one last time?”

“We’ve always got a range of them on display outside the shop. All different sizes. Have a peep when you’re passing and decide which one you like the look of.”

“Now, as the funeral might not be for another fortnight it might be better to have embalming carried out, just to keep Dad at his best.”

“Y’know the best thing for that? Sump oil mixed with creosote. Works a treat. Makes everything go a bit black but the preservation’s longer lasting. Still be there in years to come.”

“…And catering after the service. Were you planning on having everyone back at your house? I gather from your sister that you were concerned about having to provide refreshments for everyone.”

“Sodium chlorate. That’ll stop the buggers coming back. Soon as you spot ‘em appearing on your driveway sprinkle summa that on ‘em and you won’t see they back again for a twelve month.”

In all seriousness, small family businesses are the backbone of this country, and nowhere more so than in the funeral profession, where the personal touch and patient, understanding service still counts for everything: 

CORBETT: “ ‘Ose! I thought you said " 'oes!"
BARKER: “No, no, 'O's! 'O's for the gate. Mon repose! 'O's! Letter O's!”

James Baker owns and runs Fred Stevens Funeral Directors of Nailsworth, Glos.

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