Obituary: Ronald Chesney (1920-2018)

WGGB Chair Gail Renard pays tribute to long-standing member and television writer Ronald Chesney
Ronnie Chesney

Ronald Chesney, co-creator of On The Buses and The Rag Trade, has died at the age of 98. Simultaneously the Writers’ Guild has lost one of its oldest members, and television one of the kings of comedy writing.

Chesney left school at the age of 16 and became a successful harmonica player performing with, amongst others, Gracie Fields and Duke Ellington. During the war, illness kept Chesney from active service. Instead he entertained troops round the world.

After the war, whilst appearing on the BBC Radio show, Educating Archie, Chesney met writer Ronnie Wolfe. The two became friends. Ronnie W persuaded Ronnie C to give up his harmonica act so they could write together. Their partnership, known as “The Other Two Ronnies” lasted harmoniously for 50 years. Together they co-created and/or wrote close to 20 comedy series.

Their first television hit was The Rag Trade (1961-3) which starred Peter Jones, Barbara Windsor and Reg Varney. Set in a small garment factory, the comedy revolved around the conflict between the workers and management. It ran for three series on BBC, then was relaunched in the 1970s for a further two series on LWT. The Rag Trade was also remade for film and television in Norway and South Africa.

Wolfe and Chesney’s biggest hit, On The Buses, was turned down by the BBC who didn’t see the comic potential of a series set in a bus depot. It was bought by the Head of Entertainment at LWT, Frank Muir. On The Buses ran for seven series, spawned three hit films, an American TV spin off, a stage play and a board game.

Repeats of On The Buses are still being shown on telly today, with a highly active fan club and a Facebook group of over 15,000 members. To quote fan club member, Steve Holden, “Ronnie was a lovely man and seemed very at peace with himself and always had time to chat with fans at events.”

Chesney remained a harmonica player, being a past President of the National Harmonica League. He was married with two children, to whom we send our condolences.

Photo: Steve Holden