Celebrity guests including Dame Barbara Windsor, Joanna Lumley, Jimmy Tarbuck, Stephen Fry, Ben Elton, Graham Norton, David Walliams and Sir Bruce Forsyth’s wife, Lady Wilnelia Forsyth, attended the packed service of thanksgiving yesterday, joining Anne Hart, Corbett’s widow, and family members.
Corbett’s trademark armchair, from which he would deliver his monologue on The Two Ronnies, was placed in the Abbey in his memory.
After a procession through the Abbey, four candles were laid out behind the chair in a oblique reference to the duo’s famous sketch.
The joke, as well as the class satire, which debuted on The Frost Report, and a Mastermind skit were played to the congregation.
Fans also heard Corbett and comedy partner Ronnie Barker’s famous sign-off: “It’s goodnight from me… and it’s goodnight from him.”
Comedian Tarbuck gave a moving tribute to the Scottish entertainer, who died in March last year aged 85, saying: “Ronnie was a poet of comedy and when a poet dies he leaves us with the laughter.”
Despite his short stature, Corbett was “10ft in comedic talent”, Tarbuck added.
He said he wanted to give his friend an honour he did not receive in life.
“He never received a knighthood and I could never understand why,” Tarbuck said. “I’m taking the opportunity to make him a knight. All those in favour say ‘Aye’.”
The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster gave thanks to the “comic genius that gave immeasurable joy to countless people” at the packed service.
He recalled Corbett’s “brilliant comic timing, the twinkle in the eye” and “the richness in the voice”.
Comedy star Rob Brydon became tearful as he recalled his friendship and golfing partnership with Corbett.
He said: “One of the great pleasures of my life was to walk down the street with Ronnie Corbett and witness … wonderful faces which would light up with joy when they saw him.”
Actress Penelope Keith represented the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and the Duchess of York represented the Duke of York.
Music was played by the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Abbey choir.
The Two Ronnies, which pulled in up to 22 million viewers, ran for 16 years on the BBC. Former BBC executive James Moir said Corbett was a “comedy alchemist, who lifted the word from the page and transformed it into echoing, golden laughter”.