Porridge (BBC-1 1974-1977, Ronnie Barker, Richard Beckinsale)

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 (Richard Beckinsale) 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 (Fulton Mackay) and Barraclough (Brian Wilde) 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 (Sam Kelly), black Scotsman McClaren (Tony Osoba), the homosexual Lukewarm (Christopher Biggins), ‘orrible Ives (Ken Jones) 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.

classic quote
“Norman Stanley Fletcher you are an habitual criminal” …

Cast: RONNIE BARKER as Norman Stanley Fletcher; RICHARD BECKINSALE as Lennie Godber; FULTON MACKAY as Mr Mackay; BRIAN WILDE as Mr Barraclough; SAM KELLY as Warren; TONY OSOBA as McClaren; KEN JONES as Ives; DAVID JASON as Blanco; MICHAEL BARRINGTON as Mr Venables; PETER VAUGHAN as Harry Grout; CHRISTOPHER BIGGINS as Lukewarm

Writers: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais / Music: Max Harris / Producer: Sydney Lotterby

UK / BBC-1 / 18×30 minute episodes and 2×40 minute episodes / Broadcast 5 September 1974 – 25 March 1977 3 seasons + 2 specials

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.