Barney Fife was a character created by actor Don Knotts
in his role as Sheriff Andy Taylor's deputy in the mythical town of Mayberry, North Carolina
. The show was entitled The Andy Griffith Show
. Knotts worked on the series from 1960-65 when he left the show to pursue a film career. He returned for annual 'homecoming' shows until the series came to an end in 1968, reprising the role he had made famous. Knotts returned to his role as Barney Fife in the made-for-tv film Return to Mayberry
, which aired in 1986 and included many of the original cast members.
Barney Fife was a combination of nervous energy coupled with a tendency to over react to whatever situation presented itself. He became the archetype for every over zealous small town cop in America, those officers often being referred to themselves as Barney Fife. Knotts' characterization was a much rounder presentation than he is usually given credit for. His dedication to police work, his often fractious relationship with his girlfriend Thelma, Sheriff Taylor, and the townspeople themselves provided fertile ground for a well developed character. Barney Fife presented himself as supremely confident, capable, and knowledgeable...until trouble invariably came to call. Barney then reverted to his true self, uncertain, bumbling, and badly in need of rescuing by his lifelong friend Andy.
Barney was both a friend and an irritant to the townsfolk in Mayberry. Everyone knew his shortcomings, everyone was careful not to hurt his tender ego. He may have been a pain, but he was their pain.
Barney Fife was always either dressed in a crisp police uniform or his trademark salt-and-pepper suit and fedora. He didn't have a relaxed bone in his tiny body, and when he was relaxed, you knew it was a facade. He was wound much too tightly to ever be relaxed. Knotts' use of physical comedy in the role was brilliant, utilizing Barney's twitching, staccato movements to convey the character's underlying inabilities.
Both Barney and Andy had long running relationships with two local gals. Andy kept time with Helen Crump, a local school marm and teacher of his young son Opie Taylor. Andy and Helen were a long time tying the knot, perhaps due to Andy being a widower which made him reluctant to test the marital waters again, though he and Helen finally married at the end of the show's long run. Andy was raising a young son as a single father, with the capable help of his Aunt Bee Taylor.
Barney, on the other hand, failed to commit due to his underlying desire to keep his options open. He fancied himself as a man about town, a veritable chick magnet, a man too sexy for his badge. He and Thelma kept time with one another, never progressing beyond dating. He sometimes went on a date with another female, but it usually was a single event.
Barney had to be constantly watched over, and kept in check by Andy. Barney wasn't allowed to have a loaded revolver, but was entrusted with a single bullet which he kept in his shirt pocket in case of emergency. Somehow, the bullet always managed to find its way into the revolver, which Barney then discharged at the worst possible moment. Andy would then take the crestfallen Barney's revolver away from him for safety's sake.
Fife loved to be seen on patrol, behind the wheel of the town's lone patrol car. He'd spout police code for various crimes in an attempt to look official. He'd often speak of having to nip it, nip it, nip it in the bud, his way of dealing with crime or other misbehavior.
Knotts and Griffith remained friends following Knotts' departure from the show, and sometimes worked together.
Knotts had created a kind of proto-Fife while working on the Steve Allen Show. Knotts' character on the show embodied the nervous energy, frantic reactions, and physical comedy that Barney Fife later embodied. His efforts were greeted with enthusiastic acceptance.
Don Knotts' idea for the role of Barney Fife came when he heard Andy Griffith was working on a pilot TV show where Griffith would play a small town sheriff. Knotts had worked with Griffith before in the play No Time For Sergeants. He approached Griffith with the idea of Barney Fife, a natural foil to Griffith's wise young sheriff. When he was accepted, TV history was made.
Don Knotts was born in Morgantown, West Virginia in 1924. He had a career both before and after his role of Barney Fife, but he will always be remembered for his creation of the small town deputy sheriff. Knotts accomplished what most actors long for and very few accomplish. He created a character universally known and loved by a nation. Barney Fife was loved not in spite of his shortcomings, but because of them. He managed to be utterly human in his search to be the perfect lawman, a humanity based on imperfection. His work as the bumbling deputy earned him 5 Emmy Awards.