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Classic TV Revisited: Porridge



In Porridge Norman Stanley Fletcher, a cynical old lag, was sentenced to five years in Slade Prison where he tried to put one over Chief Warden McKay, a dour Scot who made Kenny Dalglish look a bundle of laughs.

When was it on?
1974-77. There was also a 1979 film and a 1978 sequel, Going Straight, with Fletch released from prison.

Who wrote it?
Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais who also created The Likely Lads. They wanted to study prison life but the Home Office only allowed them a couple of visits. So they recruited an ex-con as adviser.

Who were the star turns?
Ronnie Barker as Fletcher; Richard Beckinsale as his naive young cellmate Lennie Godber; Fulton Mackay as neck-thrusting Chief Warden Mackay; and Brian Wilde as soft screw Mr. Barrowclough, a man whose indecision was final.

Who else did time?
Grouty (Peter Vaughan), the prison baron; the ancient Blanco (David Jason); skiving Ives (Ken Jones); Scottish headcase McLaren (Tony Osoba); limp Lukewarm (Christopher Biggins); and simple Heslop (Brian Glover).

Who watched it?
Prisoners everywhere. Punishment for bad behaviour became not being allowed to watch Porridge.

How realistic was it?
Very. Prison staff loved it too. And Ronnie Barker used to get Christmas cards from addresses like ‘The Boys in B Block’.

What was the best joke?
Fletcher, finding a birthday cake in the drawer of a filing cabinet: ‘That’s a novelty – a file with a cake in it.’

Any distant cousins?
Thick as Thieves with John Thaw and Bob Hoskins. And of course Prisoner: Cell Block H – but the inmates in Porridge were better looking.