Porridge – 1974
Following on from the successful pilot ‘Prisoner And Escort’ Norman Stanley Fletcher returns for a full stretch of Porridge.
Ronnie Barker had preferred another of the proposed pilots about a Welsh gambling addict, but the BBC commissioned Prisoner and Escort.
Porridge ran for twenty episodes over three series and managed number seven in a BBC Poll of the one hundred greatest sitcoms.
The Home Office refused permission for any production filming in or outside a real prison. So the BBC had to look around for suitable locations.
For the opening credits they used the main gatehouse of the disused St Albans Prison (in the town’s Victoria Street).
Exteriors were initially filmed at a psychiatric hospital near Watford. However by the end the second series, the permission for more filming was withdrawn after complaints from patients’ families. Another institution near Ealing was then used for the third series.
A light bulb moment
Struggling to think up plots and humour for such a grim environment, writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais spoke to a former prisoner Jonathan Marshall, He had written a book: ‘How to Survive in the Nick’, Marshall gave the two writers advice on prison slang, dress and routines.
Within the book there was a particular phrase “little victories.” This became a light bulb moment and persuaded the writers to base the series on an inmate who made his daily life in prison more bearable by beating the system, even in trivial ways.
Norman Stanley Fletcher is “an habitual criminal who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard.”
Serving a five year sentence, the hardened Fletcher takes his young cellmate Lenny Godber under his wing.
The comedy focuses on the day to day life in Slade Prison and Fletcher’s manipulation of the system and of the gullible Mr Baraclough (to whom Fletcher becomes somthing of an Agony Aunt) not forgetting his hilarious run-ins with Chief Warder Mr Mackay. There can be no doubt that porridge remains one of the all time classics.
Written By: Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais
Produced and Directed By: Sydney Lotterby
Original Transmission Dates: 5 September 1974 – 25 March 1977
A follow on series Going Straight, Porridge The Movie, and in 2009 a touring stage play, written by the show’s original writers, obviously with all new cast, featuring Shaun Williamson as Fletch.
Historically, novelisations of the three series of Porridge and the film were issued by BBC Books, as well as an adaptation of Going Straight. Two volumes of audio cassette releases (comprising of four episodes each) were issued in the mid-1990s. They were later re-released on CD.