' is one of the classic British 70s sitcoms
, an accolade it shares with 'Open All Hours
'. 'The Good Life
', 'Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em
' and 'Fawlty Towers
'. The show was written by Dick Clement
and Ian La Frenais
, and, as with their earlier 'Dad's Army
', it is frequently repeated. Ronnie Barker
played Norman Stanley Fletcher, known to all and sundry as 'Fletch', a habitual thief sentenced to five years' imprisonment in the fictional Slade
Prison; Richard Beckinsale
was his youthful cellmate, Godber; whilst the most memorable supporting character, sadistic ex-Army prison warden
MacKay, was played by Fulton MacKay
. Another warden, the weak Christian liberal Barraclough, was plaed by Brian Wilde
Despite being inevitably compromised - the inmates never swore (except to say 'nark off'), there was no homosexual rape or masturbation (although both were implied), and drug use was restricted to tobacco - 'Porridge' was slightly darker and had a much more realistic tone than most of its kin. Characters were beaten up, the cast were thieves and murderers convicted criminals, and the series' catchphrase was 'don't let the bastards grind you down'. There were twenty episodes, including two Christmas specials.
As with 'Open all Hours', the show itself was an expansion of a single episode of Barker's 1973 series 'Seven of One', a set of seven one-off playlets. Also in common with Open all Hours, it introduced the public to David Jason, who made a strong impression playing an aged inmate who had murdered his wife's lover.
In 1979 there was a feature film - unlike most other attempts to turn British sitcoms into films, it was decent enough, essentially an extended edition of the television series with a plot vaguely similar to the old Peter Sellers film 'Two-Way Stretch' (from which the character of MacKay was clearly derived). A televisual sequel, 'Going Straight' in 1978, was a critical and commercial disappointment and lasted for a single series of six episodes. As with 'The Good Life', the series had an unusual amount of continuity, in that the pilot marked the beginning of the story, rather than being merely another episode. Godber was not introduced until episode three, and in the final episode won parole (going on to appear with Barker again in 'Going Straight').
Sadly, Richard Beckinsale died after 'Porridge', 'The Lovers' and 'Rising Damp' had made him a popular figure; his daughters Samantha and Kate have subsequently become successful television and film actresses (Samantha, in particular, has a striking resemblence to her father).
'Porridge' ran from 1974 to 1978, and, as with 'Steptoe and Son', an Americanised version was created. Entitled 'On the Rocks', it ran from 1975 to 1976.