Porridge (BBC2, 1973, BBC1, 1974-1977)
As I have said before, I have never really been a huge fan of 70s sitcoms, mostly because I wasn’t there to watch them at the time, although I am definitely familiar with this one because it is one of the successful sitcoms that this country has produced, and it is also one of the few from this era that is still in the repeats loop, and is probably on Gold right now.
Porridge started out as a pilot episode called Prisoner And Escort. The writers had hoped to develop this into a series, but when the BBC were unsure, they took the idea to ITV, which became the sitcom Thick As Thieves. But this only lasted for one series, by which time the BBC had finally decided to give this one a full series, which turned out to be a very good idea.
The thing that really made Porridge stand out for many was that this was set in a prison, which didn’t seem like it was a suitable place for a sitcom at first. But mostly, it’s because the main character was played by Ronnie Barker. Now I personally have always preferred Open All Hours, as this is a sitcom with a much harder edge than that one.
But it really is remarkable to think that the smart-talking Fletcher and stingy shopkeeper Arkwright were played by the same person (or indeed the same person who was in The Two Ronnies), and that really is a tribute to Barker’s ability to portray his characters. Fletcher is a criminal who is in prison once again, although he insists that this will be the final time.
Over the years, he has certainly learned how to hold his own and deal with things, always hoping to talk his way out of situations and get one up on his fellow inmates and wardens. But then he is joined by the younger Godber, who is in prison for the first time, and Fletcher soon realises that he has to somewhat steer him through this difficult period.
There were also lots of other memorable characters, including an appearance by David Jason as an elderly prisoner, it turned out that there were indeed plenty of laughs to be had, and a Bafta for best comedy was deservedly won. There were three series of Porridge, including two specials, and all of the episodes have been released on DVD.
There was then the spin-off series Going Straight, where Fletcher adjusted to life after prison, although this was less successful with viewers, and I plan to review that one soon too. After this there was a film, and then for some reason, in more recent years the format of Porridge was revived, and it clearly runs in the family as this time Fletcher’s grandson was in prison, but this was a one-series wonder.