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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.
Named for the then slang for being imprisoned (Doing Porridge) Porridge is a prison comedy that aired on The BBC between 1973 and 1977 with three seasons, two Christmas specials and a film. Set in the fictional Slade Prison it starred Ronnie Barker as Fletcher, a career criminal, and Richard Beckinsale as Godber, a naive new boy. The plot centered around the prisoners attempts get things past the prison wardens (the stern Mr Mackay and the soft Mr Barrowclough mostly), avoid trouble with the Prison Governor (who thinks he runs the place) and avoid the wrath of Harry Grout (an East End gang boss who really does).
For reference and interest, the prisoners and their crimes are:
- Fletcher - Probably breaking and entering, although a speech that may have been a joke claims it was the theft of a lorry. (five years)
- Godber - Breaking and entering. (two years)
- Blanco - Wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, although in the episode "Pardon Me" he claimed he did kill his wife's lover, a crime for which he was not convicted. (sentence unknown, had served 17 years by the time he was released)
- Harry Grout - Crime and sentence unknown but required extradition from Italy.
- Heslop - Robbery (three years)
- McClaren - Crime unknown (three years)
- Keegan - Murder (sentence unknown)
- Jarvis - Football hooliganism.(more than five years)
- Harris - Mugged an old lady but it went wrong when he found she had a brick in her handbag and successfully pinned Harris down. (sentence unknown)
- Rawley - Three charges: "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" (three years, quashed at appeal, the judge who sent Fletcher down.)
- "Lukewarm" - Crime and sentence unknown but shown to be able to steal a man's watch off his wrist.
- Bernard 'Horrible' Ives - Fraud. sentence unknown. Universally loathed.
Came seventh in Britains Best Sitcom. The sequel, Going Straight, depicting Fletcher's life after his release, was also popular (though less so) and won a BAFTA but was limited to one series by actor Richard Beckinsale's very untimely death. In 2003, a Mockumentary, Norman Stanley Fletcher: Life Beyond The Box, gave a complete history of Fletch's life before and after the series, ending with him running a pub in Muswell Hill. This was Ronnie Barker's final TV appearance. Inspired a short-lived American TV sitcom, On The Rocks.
Tropes used in Porridge include:
- And a Diet Coke: Fletcher is offered cocoa, which he accepts, and then sugar. He refuses the biscuits, citing watching his weight, as he dumps at least four heaping spoonfuls of sugar in his already-sweet cocoa.
- Bottle Episode: A Night In may be the ultimate example. It consists almost entirely of two men talking in a darkened room.
- The Butcher: Parodied with "The Butcher of Eastgate". He fiddled his VAT.
- Crime-Time TV: Of the convict verity.
- The Danza: Mr. Mackay is played by Fulton Mackay.
- Dawson Casting: Inverted by having the then thirty-five year old David Jason play the extremely elderly Blanco Webb.
- Decision Darts: Fletcher mentions that in his previous prison they used to run roulette by bribing a warden to turn a blind eye, blindfolding the "croupier" and spinning him around when he threw a dart at a dartboard covered with a list of numbers. Until the spinning is a little too vigorous and the warden "turned a blind eye to everything after that."
- Gosh Dang It to Heck: The prisoners use the words "Naff" or "Naffing", depending on context, for viewer-friendly swearing.
- Also possibly a case of Getting Crap Past the Radar, since "naff" was originally, in gay slang, an acronym of "not available for fucking".
- How Many Fingers?:
[Godber bangs his head on the goalpost]
Mackay: [holds up one finger] How many fingers am I holding up?
Godber: You can't fool me, sir. Five.
- It Tastes Like Feet
- L Is for Dyslexia: "Bunny" Warren claims to be in prison because he could not read the sign: "Warning, Burglar Alarm".
- As we see he gets Fletcher to read him letters from his wife, it's implied that he's illiterate.
- Luxury Prison Suite: We see Harry Grout only three times, each time in his large, well furnished cell. Apparently when he was extradited he paid for himself and the policeman to be bumped up to first class.
- Military Moonshiner: Or prisoner moonshiner in this case.
- Moral Dissonance: Blanco, a kindly older prisoner who insisted for years that he was innocent of murdering his wife, later telling Fletcher it was his wife's lover who had actually done it. As he's now paroled, Fletcher tells him not to go looking for revenge, but Blanco replies that he's long dead, and he should know.
"I was the one what killed him".
- The Movie: aka Doing Time in the U.S. Made in 1979, featuring the same cast and writers but with no BBC involvement. Not as well-received as the series, though not as bad as some TV spinoffs. This was Richard Beckinsale's last performance before his untimely death.
- No Theme Tune: The opening is the top-of-the-page quote (voiced by Barker as the judge) over a locking-the-prisoners-up montage. There is a closing theme tune.
- Odd Couple: Both Fletcher (cynical old timer) and Godber (naive young criminal), and Mackay (strict and nasty as they come) and Barrowclough (soft as ice cream in a Californian heatwave.)
- The Old Convict: Fletcher to some extent, but Blanco plays this more straight. He's completed a replica of Muffin the Mule in the prison workshop: "You know, him what's on television." (Muffin the Mule was broadcast from 1946 to 1957. The Porridge episode was broadcast in 1975.)
- Opening Narration: See the top of the page.
- Pet Homosexual: "Lukewarm"
- Scary Black Man: Jock McLaren
- Scary Minority Suspect: Ditto
- Second Episode Introduction: Godber and all other prisoners except Fletcher himself do not appear in the pilot.
- Shout-Out: Harry Grout, who bears something of a resemblance to a certain Mr Bridger, is apparently doing time for some sort of job in Italy...
- Trans Atlantic Equivalent: ABC's short lived On The Rocks.
- Unusual Euphemism: Retasked the existing word 'naff' as an expletive, as in "naff off". Also created 'nerk' (presumably in place of 'berk') and possibly 'scrote'.
- Vetinari Job Security: When Mr Mackay is promoted a stricter, crueler screw from a prison Fletcher had been in earlier in his life replaces him and bullies both the criminals and Mr Barrowclough. The prisoners get rid of him by orchestrating a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Mr Barrowclough and welcome back Mckay with a rendition of "For he's a jolly good fellow."
- Violent Glaswegian: Jock McLaren, again.
- To be clear he eats lightbulbs
Tropes used in Going Straight include:
- Expository Theme Song: "I'm going straight, along the straight and narrow, and I don't mean straight back to crime..."
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: All the episodes begin "Going..."
- Noodle Incident: The hotelier who gives Fletch a job has never regretted giving prisoners a second chance "except on two unfortunate occasions".
- Spinoff Sendoff
Tropes used in Norman Stanley Fletcher: Life Beyond The Box include:
- Character Outlives Actor: Ingrid (Fletch's daughter, who married Godber in Going Straight) gets a phone call from her husband that he can't make it back for the documentary. Richard Beckinsdale died shortly after Going Straight completed filming.
- Distant Finale: Quite literally.