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Porridge title.jpg
Porridge Titles
Format Comedy
Created by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais
Starring Ronnie Barker
Richard Beckinsale
Fulton Mackay
Brian Wilde
Sam Kelly
Tony Osoba
Michael Barrington
Country of origin  United Kingdom
No. of episodes 20 (List of episodes)
Running time 18x 30 minutes
1x 40 minutes
1x 45 minutes
Original channel BBC1
Original run 5 September 1974 – 5 March 1977
Followed by Going Straight

Porridge is a British situation comedy broadcast on BBC1 from 1974 to 1977, running for three series, two Christmas specials and a feature film. Written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, it stars Ronnie Barker and Richard Beckinsale as two inmates at the fictional HMP Slade in Cumberland. "Doing porridge" is British slang for imprisonment, porridge being once traditional breakfast in UK prisons.

The series was followed by a 1978 sequel, Going Straight. Porridge was voted number seven in a 2004 BBC poll of the 100 greatest British sitcoms.



Porridge originated from an idea used in a 1973 series called Seven of One, also starring Barker. Each of its seven 30-minute episodes saw him playing a new character in a different setting. In the second, "Prisoner and Escort", a prisoner, Norman Stanley Fletcher (Barker), is being escorted from Brixton Prison to Slade Prison by two warders: the easy-going Mr Barrowclough (Brian Wilde) and the stern Mr Mackay (Fulton Mackay). After a long train journey, Fletcher asks to relieve himself at the tiny station where the prison minibus is waiting to take them to the prison. He urinates into the petrol tank, and Mackay strides off to the prison for help when the van stops in the middle of the moors.

Fletcher encourages Barrowclough to spend the night in an abandoned cottage. Here, Fletcher escapes and spends the night on the moors. He hides in a second empty building. He finds he is not alone and prepares to attack. Only then does it become obvious the other resident is Barrowclough and that the cottage is the one from which he set off. Back at the prison, Mackay tells Fletcher that the petrol tank was fuller than when checked and that it was "definitely not 5-star".[1] Thus started the humorous conflict between Mackay and Fletch.

A year later this episode was chosen when the BBC was looking for a sitcom to star Barker. The first Seven of One programme also developed into a series: Open All Hours.



Basic premise

H.M. Prison Slade Front Gatehouse (in reality the former St Albans Prison Gatehouse)

The central character of Porridge is Norman Stanley Fletcher, described by his sentencing judge as "an habitual criminal" from Muswell Hill, London. Fletcher is sent to HMP Slade, a fictional Category C prison in Cumberland, alongside his cellmate, Lennie Godber, a naïve inmate from Birmingham serving his first sentence, whom Fletcher takes under his wing. Mr Mackay is a tough warder with whom Fletcher often comes into conflict. Mackay's subordinate, Mr Barrowclough, is more sympathetic and timid — and prone to manipulation by his charges.

Each episode begins with a narration by the judge (voiced by Barker):

"Norman Stanley Fletcher, you have pleaded guilty to the charges brought by this court, and it is now my duty to pass sentence. You are an habitual criminal, who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard, and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner. We therefore feel constrained to commit you to the maximum term allowed for these offences — you will go to prison for five years."

The prison exterior in the title sequence and some episodes is Maidstone Prison, which was also featured in the BBC comedy series Birds of a Feather. In the episode "Pardon Me" Fletcher speaks to Blanco (David Jason) in the prison gardens: this was filmed in the grounds of an old brewery outside Baldock on the A505 to Royston. The barred windows approximated a prison. The property has since been demolished. The 1974 episode "A Day Out", which features a prison work party, was filmed in and around the Welsh village of Penderyn, the prisoners' 'ditch' being excavated by a JCB. The 1979 film was shot entirely at Chelmsford Prison, Essex.

Crimes and punishments

There was a rule among that prisoners did not ask each other their crimes and specific offences were usually not mentioned in the dialogue. However, references were made in some episodes.

  • Fletcher: In the episode "A Day Out", Barrowclough says Fletcher was convicted for Breaking and Entering. In the pilot episode Fletcher recounts how he "should have stuck to what I knows best, house-breaking", but stole a lorry. The brakes failed and he crashed through a series of gardens, finally coming to rest in a tool shed. When asked if he was arrested for wilful destruction of property, to wit "knocking that wall down" he replies, "Oh yeah, an' I asked for six other fences [offences] to be taken into consideration. Get it? Get it?" indicating it may all be a joke. (5 years)
  • Godber: Breaking and Entering, as mentioned by Mackay in the first episode, "New Faces, Old Hands" (2 years)
  • Blanco: Murder. He was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, although in the episode "Pardon Me" he was pardoned. He then admitted that he did kill his wife's lover (the actual murderer of his spouse), a crime for which he was not convicted.
  • Lukewarm: Crime is not mentioned, but he once jokingly relieved Mr Barraclough of his wristwatch whilst shaking his hand, suggesting skills at Pickpocketing. Length of sentence unknown but he was paroled three weeks before Fletcher.
  • Hislop: Robbery; mentioned by Mackay in the opening episode of the series (3 years)
  • McLaren: Crime is not mentioned, but by way of character maybe GBH (3 years)
  • Keegan: Murder — poisoning his wife, as he admits in the Christmas special "The Desperate Hours"
  • Jarvis: Football Hooliganism, as implied by Mackay in the final episode, "Final Stretch" (5 more years)
  • Harris: According to Fletcher, Harris mugged an old woman but it went wrong when he found she had a brick in her handbag and pinned Harris down.
  • Rawley: by his own description in the episode "Poetic Justice", Rawley was indicted for "party to criminal conspiracy, forgery of legal documents under the Forgery Act of 1913–1948, and accepting an illicit payment as an officer of the crown". Fletcher calls them bribery and corruption. His original sentence was three years, but it was overturned on appeal. He left the show after two episodes.
  • Warren: Robbery. In the episode "Men without Women", Warren states he once robbed a jewellers and Fletcher states "yeah and now you are doing time for it".


Ronnie Barker as Fletcher

The programme's scriptwriters appear, uncredited, outside Fletch and Godber's cell in the episode "No Peace for the Wicked".

Episode list

Each episode 30 minutes except where stated.


Title Airdate Description
"Prisoner and Escort" 1 April 1973 Norman Stanley Fletcher, a career criminal, and his escorts — soft-hearted Mr Barrowclough and authoritarian Mr Mackay — make the journey on New Years Eve from London up to Slade Prison in Cumberland.

Series 1 (1974)

Title Airdate Description
"New Faces, Old Hands" 5 September 1974 It's Lennie Godber's first time in prison and Fletcher is going to show him the ropes.
"The Hustler" 12 September 1974 Fletch is planning a rule-breaking gambling enterprise that soon runs into trouble at the hands of Ives and Mr. Mackay.
"A Night In" 19 September 1974 Set entirely in Fletch and Godber's cell, this episode sees the two ponder life in prison.
"A Day Out" 26 September 1974 Fletch, Godber, Ives and some other prisoners go out on a work party, but, after Ives gets stung by a bee, Fletch is able to use the excuse of it being poisonous to escape for a pint at the local pub.
"Ways and Means" 3 October 1974 New prisoner McLaren proves troublesome, and Fletch decides to help him out but ends up on the roof.
"Men Without Women" 10 October 1974 Fletch fancies himself as a bit of an agony aunt and is called upon by his fellow inmates to help out, before his daughter, Ingrid informs him that his own marriage is in trouble.

Series 2 (1975)

Title Airdate Description
"Just Desserts" 24 October 1975 Fletch is appalled when someone steals his beloved tin of pineapple chunks and is determined to catch the culprit. Meanwhile, Godber tries to steal another tin for him.
"Heartbreak Hotel" 31 October 1975 Godber attacks another prisoner after receiving a Dear John letter from his girlfriend, Denise. At the same time, Fletch starts questioning his daughter, Ingrid over her personal life.
"Disturbing the Peace" 7 November 1975 The prisoners are overjoyed when Mackay leaves on a promotion course, until they meet his replacement, Mr Wainwright, whom Fletcher remembers from a previous stretch in Brixton.
"No Peace for the Wicked" 14 November 1975 With everyone watching a football match, Fletch attempts to snatch a few precious minutes of peace and quiet, only to suffer constant interruptions. Meanwhile, Mr. Mackay shows the supposedly empty cell-block to members of the Home Office.
"Happy Release" 21 November 1975 Mackay is appalled to discover that Fletch has been severely injured and in the hospital wing, and Blanco devises a plan for revenge on Norris, who had stolen his possessions some time before Fletch arrived.
"The Harder They Fall" 28 November 1975 Fletch, under Genial Harry Grout's orders, tries to rig a boxing match so that Godber, who is favourite to win, loses, only to discover he is taking orders from one of Grouty's rivals.

Christmas specials

Title Airdate Duration Description
"No Way Out" 24 December 1975 45 Mins A planned escape causes all kinds of trouble just before Christmas.
"The Desperate Hours" 24 December 1976 40 Mins Fletcher, Godber, Barrowclough and the governor's secretary are held hostage by a mad prisoner with a home made gun.

Series 3 (1977)

Title Airdate Description
"A Storm in a Teacup" 18 February 1977 After a capsule containing pills that Harris stole end up in Fletch's tea, Grouty recruits Fletch to locate them.
"Poetic Justice" 25 February 1977 Fletch is incensed to discover that he is getting a new cell-mate. To make matters worse, it turns out that the cell-mate is the judge that sentenced him.
"Rough Justice" 4 March 1977 After the judge's watch is stolen, everyone is convinced that Harris is the culprit, and so a kangaroo court is set up in an effort to convict him of the crime.
"Pardon Me" 11 March 1977 Blanco refuses parole after serving a life sentence for a murder he's always claimed he never committed, so Fletch sets up an appeal committee to get him pardoned.
"A Test of Character" 18 March 1977 Fletch is determined to help Godber pass his History O-level, so he has Warren steal the papers, only to discover that Godber doesn't want them. Meanwhile, a debate flares up over a claim of Warren's that, at a certain scale, the nearest star from the Sun would be in Johannesburg.
"Final Stretch" 25 March 1977 With his parole meeting less than a week away, Godber arranges a fight with Jarvis, a football hooligan, which Fletch must try and talk him out of. Meanwhile, Fletch is suspicious of his daughter's holiday plans.

Going Straight

In 1978, a follow-up series to Porridge was made, entitled Going Straight. This featured Fletcher having been paroled and attempting to remain on the straight and narrow. It also featured Richard Beckinsale returning as Godber, in a relationship with Fletch's daughter, Ingrid (whom he married in the final episode), and Nicholas Lyndhurst as Fletcher's dim son, Raymond. The episodes regularly saw Fletcher offered temptations to commit crime and followed his reluctance to find work. The series lasted six episodes, and generally was not as well received as its predecessor, although it won BAFTAs for Best Situation Comedy and Best Light Entertainment Performance (jointly with The Two Ronnies) for Ronnie Barker. Following the sudden death of Beckinsale days before the BAFTA awards ceremony, Ronnie Barker decided not to proceed with a second series. A visibly upset Barker told the audience at the ceremony that the loss of Beckinsale meant he could not celebrate the award.

The film

Life Beyond the Box

In 2003, a mockumentary was produced detailing how Fletch's life had panned out in the 25 years since his release. The majority of the programme featured the surviving cast members, in character, with Ronnie Barker featuring in the last few minutes as Fletcher.

Porridge: The Stage Show

In late 2009, a stage production of Porridge will tour the United Kingdom. Written by the original creators and writers of the show, Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais, the show features Shaun Williamson as Fletcher.[2]


The series is repeated often on BBC Two and is a regular feature on the UKTV channel G.O.L.D. However in the G.O.L.D. re-runs certain edits have been made to cut out racist/homophobic references which were included in the original 1970s transmissions, as these references are seen is offensive.

DVD releases

DVD Title Year Release Date
Region 2 Region 4
Complete Series 1 1974 1 October 2001 27 February 2003
Complete Series 2 1975 30 September 2002 9 March 2004
Complete Series 3 1977 29 September 2003 8 July 2004
Complete Specials 1975–1976 4 October 2004 10 November 2004
Complete Series 1974–1977 19 October 2009 5 March 2008
Porridge: The Movie 1979 14 April 2003 13 May 2002

Essential viewing for prisoners

Porridge was immensely popular with British prisoners. Erwin James, an ex-prisoner who writes a bi-weekly column for The Guardian newspaper, stated that:

What fans could never know, however, unless they had been subjected to a stint of Her Majesty's Pleasure, was that the conflict between Fletcher and Officer Mackay was about the most authentic depiction ever of the true relationship that exists between prisoners and prison officers in British jails up and down the country. I'm not sure how, but writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais [...] grasped the notion that it is the minor victories against the naturally oppressive prison system that makes prison life bearable.

He also noted:

When I was inside, Porridge was a staple of our TV diet. In one high-security prison, a video orderly would be dispatched to tape the programme each week. If they missed it, they were in trouble.

Contributions to the English language

The script allowed the prisoners to swear without offending viewers by using the word "naff" in place of ruder words ("Naff off!", "Darn your own naffing socks", "Doing next to naff all"), thereby popularising a word that had been recorded at least as early as 1966.[3] Ronnie Barker did not claim to have invented it, and in a television interview in 2003 it was explained to him on camera what the word meant, as he hadn't a clue.

A genuine neologism was "nerk", which was used in place of the more offensive "berk" (rhyming slang, short for "Berkshire hunt"). Another term was "scrote" (presumably derived from scrotum), meaning a nasty, unpleasant person.

Novelisations and audio

Novelisations of the three series of Porridge and the film were issued by BBC Books, as well as an adaptation of Going Straight.

BBC Enterprises released an LP record featuring two Porridge episodes, "A Night In" and "Heartbreak Hotel" in 1977.(REB 270)

Two volumes of audio cassette releases (comprising of four episodes each) were issued in the mid-1990s. They were later rereleased on CD.

See also


  1. ^ Five-star was a grading of British petrol, five stars indicating the most potent.
  2. ^ Calibre Productions: Porridge
  3. ^ naff. a, Oxford English Dictionary, Draft Revision June 2003

External links


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