Originally sentenced in 1973 to a one-off stretch under the alias Prisoner and Escort, in a series showcasing the inimitable character acting skills of veteran star Ronnie Barker, entitled Seven of One, co-creators Ian La Frenais' and Dick Clement's inspired comedic concept was granted an extended term of servitude by the BBC in 1974, under its more notorious moniker of Porridge.
Porridge cell-mated millions of appreciative viewers with the brilliant comic creation of Barker's whilly old lag, Norman Stanley Fletcher, a middle-aged habitual offender vainly trying to bide his time, serve his term, and score a few points against the rigid prison system in the process.
The majority of Fletcher's 'little victories' were achieved at the expense of arch nemesis Mr. Mackay, embodied in a superbly regimented and unbendingly authoritarian form by Scots actor Fulton Mackay. Aiding, abetting, (and occasionally hindering) these twin titans of comic incarceration, was a supporting cast of incomparable talent amongst which such characters as Brian Glover's brain-dead Mr. "I read a book once-green it was" Heslop, Fletcher's young and naïve cell mate Lenny Godber, (the talented and much missed Richard Beckinsale), weak-willed Warder Mr. Barrowclough (Brian Wilde), and perhaps most portentously of all, Barker's protégé and co-star from another hugely successful Seven of One spin-off: Open All Hours, David Jason.
Sadly for us, Fletcher's term of imprisonment ended in 1977. We revisited him in 1978 to witness his life on the outside in Going Straight, however, the loss of confinement had also signalled the loss of the original concept's magic. A feature film version allowed us one final hark back to Fletcher's glory days behind the high Victorian walls of Her Majesty's Prison Slade in 1979, before the unwelcome combination of Beckinsale's untimely death and Barker's opting for early retirement, ended the series chances of continuing forever.
Porridge may be no more, but rest assured, Norman Stanley Fletcher will continue to serve an indefinite and on-going sentence at his admirers pleasure.
Published on January 21st, 2019. Written by SRH (1999) "I'm only in prison because of my beliefs. I believed the night watchman was asleep." for Television Heaven.