Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Porridge (1974-77)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Porridge (1974-77)
BBC1, 5/9/1974-25/3/1977
18 x 30 min episodes in 3 series, plus 2 specials, colour
ProducerSydney Lotterby
ScriptDick Clement
 Ian La Frenais

Cast: Ronnie Barker (Norman Stanley Fletcher); Richard Beckinsale (Lennie Godber); Fulton MacKay (Mr Mackay); Brian Wilde (Mr Barrowclough); Peter Vaughan (Harry Grout); David Jason (Blanco)

Show full cast and credits

Career criminal Norman Fletcher ('Fletch') is doing 'porridge' at Slade Prison. Inside he tries to avoid trouble while scoring 'little victories' over the authorities and dispensing wise words to the other prisoners, especially his young cellmate Godber.

Show full synopsis

Porridge remains one of the definitive British sitcoms - still vital and funny enough to get primetime re-runs 25 years after its first transmission. Most successful sitcoms portray a world in which characters are thrown together in situations they cannot escape - Porridge proves this in the most literal sense; there really is no way out for Fletch (Ronnie Barker) and his mates.

The series's triumph is in making a depressing premise funny, while never losing sight of the grim reality beneath the laughs. Each episode begins with the judge's sentencing of Fletch -"you will go to prison or five years" -followed by a montage of doors locking, a cacophony of confinement in place of the customary jaunty theme tune.

Although it is used as a stage for comedy, the prison's deprivations are not disguised - Slade Prison is violent, intimidating and degrading. The humour comes from Fletch's approach to this world. Unusually in a British sitcom, Fletch is not a fool; although he is occasionally outdone, we respect him for his sharp wits and his refusal to "let the nerks grind you down". His philosophy is based on 'little victories'. He tries to avoid official punishment or involvement with the jail barons, surviving through constant pieces of subtle subversion, like acquiring a tin of pineapple chunks or getting a cushy job in the library.

Felon he may be, but Fletch has a humanity and a code of honour, unlike the institution that contains him. Porridge is striking in its contempt for authority and the system. The warders, authoritarian Mackay (Fulton Mackay), and liberal Barrowclough (Brian Wilde) are individually decent but compromised by the system. The Governor is merely self-serving; real power is held by gang boss Harry Grout (Peter Vaughan) who maintains a luxury cell and special privileges. In contrast, Fletch's cohorts are the underdogs of society; either black, gay, illiterate or just young and vulnerable, like cell-mate Lenny Godber (Richard Beckinsale).

Porridge has remained a firm audience favourite without dating. Perhaps this is because of its prison setting, in a place where each day really is like the last, and the same debates about human nature rage on. Its success also reflects the acting, especially Barker and Beckinsale, and most of all the scripts, by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, creators of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? (BBC, 1973-74) and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (ITV, 1983-86).

Phil Wickham

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete episode: 'An Evening In' (30:44)
H.M.P. (1976)
Open All Hours (1973-85)
Barker, Ronnie (1929-2005)
Beckinsale, Richard (1947-1979)
Clement, Dick (1937-) and La Frenais, Ian (1936-)
Jason, Sir David (1940-)
La Frenais, Ian (1936-) and Clement, Dick (1937-)
Vaughan, Peter (1923-)
Race and the Sitcom