Monday, September 06, 2010

TV tie-ins: Porridge

Norman Stanley Fletcher first appeared in an episode of Seven of One, a series of one-off comedies all featuring Ronnie Barker. Barker had an undeveloped idea for a show with a prison setting and himself as a Sergeant Bilko type of wheeler-dealer; writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais came up with a far more biting storyline in 'Prisoner and Escort' which aired in 1973 and had the lowest ratings of the whole series.

However, producer Jimmy Gilbert, Barker and head of BBC Comedy Duncan Wood felt that it, of all the seven shows, had the most potential. Clement and La Frenais were not so confident until they were introduced to ex-convict Jonathan Marshall, author of How to Survive in the Nick. Over a meal, Marshall gave them the key to the series: "little victories". For Norman Fletcher it was the only way he could survive the dehumanizing world of prison: to beat the system in however small a way.

There's a very good article on the history of the show over at Television Heaven. The whole series is available on DVD at a knockdown price over on Amazon.

Porridge by Jonathan Marshall. BBC 0563-12898-4, 1975.
--, 2nd imp., 1975; 3rd imp., 1975; 4th imp., 1976; 5th imp., 1977.
Seven episodes in the life of the wily old lag Norman Fletcher and his mates doing time in a remote Cumberland prison. Contains: "Prisoner and Escort"; "New Faces, Old Hands"; "The Hustler"; "An Evening In" (A Night In); "A Day Out"; "Ways and Means"; "Men Without Women".
Another Stretch of Porridge by Paul Victor. BBC 0563-17085-9, 1976.
--, 2nd imp., 1976; 3rd imp., 1977; 4th imp., 1977.
Further adventures of Norman Fletcher and his fellow inmates of the remote Cumberland nick where the main object in life is screw-baiting, and Mr MacKay-baiting in particular. Contains: "Just Deserts"; "Heartbreak Hotel"; "Disturbing the Peace"; "No Peace For the Wicked"; "Happy Release"; "The Harder They Fall"; "A Christmas Tunnel" (No Way Out).
A Further Stir of Porridge by Paul Victor. BBC 0563-17214-2, 1977.
Seven more rounds of sparring, as Norman Fletcher and his fellow cons of Slade nick continue their struggle against authority in the shape of Messrs MacKay and Barrowclough. Contains: "The Desperate Hours"; "A Storm in a Teacup"; "Poetic Justice"; "Rough Justice"; "Pardon Me"; "A Test of Character"; "Final Stretch".
Going Straight by Paul Victor. BBC 0563-17487-0, 1978.
Norman Stanley Fletcher - Fletch to his mates - has been released on parole from Slade Prison. After travelling south in the unexpected and unwelcome company of Mackay, he arrives home intent on going straight - well, almost. But life - in the persons of his daughter Ingrid and his old cellmate Lennie Godber, now planning to get married, and of his probation officer Mrs Chapman - seems determined to thwart him. Even a job as a hotel night porter is not as simple as it might seem.

Porridge: The Inside Story by Paul Ableman. Pan 0330-25923-7, 1979.
It's Britain's favourite con, TV's legendary lag, Fletch, the man who's ticking off the days in Slade Nick and dreaming about freedom in Muswell Hill!
__Porridge: The Inside Story. The hair-raising and hilarious tale of how Grouty, the Godfather of Slade Nick, masterminds a prison break cunningly concealed in a celebrity soccer match... and how it meant that poor old Fletch and Godber had to break back inside again... all under the hawklike gaze of MacKay, Hammer of the Criminal Classes...
This last was based on the 1979 movie. IMDB.

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