Porridge (BBC-1 1974-1977, Ronnie Barker, Richard Beckinsale) (1973)
One of the all time great sitcoms, Porridge had Ronnie Barker as recidivist thief Fletch sent to Slade prison for five years, he finds himself sharing a cell with young first time offender Lenny Godber and proceeds to give him the benefit of his wisdom.
The show began as an entry in Ronnie Barker’s comedy anthology of 1973 Seven of One. In the episode Prisoner and Escort (broadcast 1 April 1973) Fletch is being transported to Slade prison by “screws” Barraclough and MacKay. Written by the fantastic team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais this was considered strong enough to go to a series.
The pair had been writing a sitcom for John Thaw called Thick as Thieves but Thaw was keen instead to go into a new series called The Sweeney, otherwise Clement and La Frenais would not have had time to go with this show.
Mackay and Barraclough were both huge parts of the success of the show, Mackay, the tough take no nonsense Scottish screw and Barraclough the gentle, what am I doing here screw. Other regulars included the illiterate Bunny Warren, black Scotsman McClaren, the homosexual Lukewarm, ‘orrible Ives and later in the show the evil Harry Grout played very menacingly by Peter Vaughan. Grouty was a prisoner but basically ran the prison.Also worth mentioning were a couple of superb appearances by David Jason playing an elderly prisoner called Blanco who was in for murdering his wife (a crime he claims he didn’t commit – although he did kill her lover).
The nucleus of the show was always the relationship between the older Fletch and young Lenny with Fletch teaching Godber a few important things about life. The plots, given the prison setting, took second place to the fantastic dialogue.
Besides the three seasons there were also a pair of extended Christmas specials and a film version appeared in 1979 but the year before that there had been a Porridge sequel called Going Straight this showed Fletch and Lenny (who had begun a relationship with Fletch’s daughter Ingrid) coping with life on the outside. On 28 August 2016 the BBC broadcast a brand new episode of Porridge as part of their sitcom season celebrating 60 years of classic comedy. This saw Fletch’s grandson Nigel sent to Slade for cybercrime. Clement and La Frenais also wrote the episode. A full series emerged in 2017.
“Norman Stanley Fletcher you are an habitual criminal” …
Broadcast 5 September 1974 – 25 March 1977