This hugely enjoyable ITV sitcom from the prolific writing team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais came about when BBC producer Jimmy Gilbert commissioned from them a single 30-minute episode for the Ronnie Barker series Seven of One. The title of the BBC/Barker show was called 'Prisoner and Escort' and was later developed into a series that has now become one of British TV's all-time greats; Porridge. The idea behind 'Prisoner and Escort' was based on life in a prison, but when Clement and La Frenais originally wrote it they found themselves moving in a different direction from the one planned. In their book "Porridge: The Inside Story" (Richard Webber, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais published by Headline in 2001) the authors explained; "We started writing the piece for Ronnie and found we couldn't stop; it went beyond just one episode and before we knew it we'd written an entire series.'
Rather than being about a man on his way to prison, Thick as Thieves was about a man who had just been released. George Dobbs, a small time felon who has a history of housebreaking, is released from prison a day earlier than expected. At least it's a day earlier than his wife, Annie, expected because on his return home George is greeted on the doorstep by his best friend, Stan, who is topless, covered (around the face) with shaving foam, and sporting George's best pyjama trousers. It soon becomes apparent that during the three years that George has been away 'doing time' Stan has been playing away 'doing his missus!' However, rather than punch each others lights out the two men agree to a truce while they try to come to terms with the uneasy situation that they find themselves in, which is not helped by Annie who declares affections for both of them. "Before long we'd written fifty pages on this situation" said Ian La Frenais. "As we knew we had an entire series here, we put it aside." However, they only put it aside long enough to rewrite the 'Prisoner and Escort' episode for Six of One before selling Thick as Thieves to London Weekend Television.
Although the writers had envisaged Ronnie Barker as the ex-prisoner, his contract to the BBC precluded him from the LWT series. Instead, Clement and La Frenais personally chose two actors to play the key roles of Stan and George: John Thaw and Bob Hoskins, respectively. Thaw was already an established TV star having landed the lead role in Red Cap some ten years before but Hoskins was still relatively unknown having only played a number of bit parts. Thaw also had another series in the pipeline with The Sweeney beckoning him (in fact the pilot aired the exact same week as Thick as Thieves debuted) but Hoskins had to wait another five years before winning international acclaim as East End villain Harold Shand in the internationally acclaimed movie 'The Long Good Friday.'
Although the writers planned to send the two protagonists back 'inside' in the second series, only eight episodes of Thick as Thieves were made. By the time series one had reached its end the BBC had decided to develop 'Prisoner and Escort' into a full series and Porridge aired just seven weeks later.
Published on February 6th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus (7 October 2003) for Television Heaven.