First Episode of Porridge
The 5th of September 1974 AD
Ronnie Barker’s career had multiple highlights – working with John Cleese and Ronnie Corbett on The Frost Show; carrying his partnership with Corbett into The Two Ronnies; and Open All Hours. But the show which allowed him to exercise his comedic and dramatic gifts to their fullest was Porridge.
The first episode of the series was actually the second time Ronnie Barker played habitual criminal Norman Stanley Fletcher – the first a pilot in a series – Seven of One - that also saw his first outing as Doncaster shopkeeper Arkwright. The confined space of fictional Slade Prison in Cumbria was perfect for Barker’s intimate style, and the prisoner’s plight gave him occasional rein to use his straight acting abilities; but it was Barker’s masterly comic timing of the wonderful lines provided by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (also responsible for The Likely Lads) that made it a classic.
He was of course supported by an exceptionally strong cast – Fulton Mackay , Brian Wilde, Richard Beckinsale who sadly died so young, and (not in the series nearly often enough) the brilliant Brian Glover, to name but four.
There is a perfection about the series, surely partly due to it only running for three tightly scripted and inventive series and two Christmas specials – 21 polished episodes, plus a feature film. It never had the time to go stale, or repeat itself. Ironically it has since been endlessly repeated, a pension policy for the likes of Christopher Biggins and doubtless even David Jason , who played Lukewarm and Blanco respectively.
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