Sunday, 12 February 2012

Illustrated Retrospace: Norman Stanley Fletcher's Stir Of Porridge

This Radio Times Cover from September
1974 displays a photofit of Ronnie Barker
as Fletcher and also wrongly credits
Porridge as starting on Wednesday!
One of my all-time favourite sit-com's has to be Porridge.

Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement's comedic look at life behind bars in HM prison Slade kicked off as a pilot entitled Prisoner and Escort in 1973 as part of Ronnie Barker's series Seven Of One.

In Prisoner and Escort Ronnie Barker took on the role of lovable lag Norman Stanley Fletcher sentenced to five years at Her Majesty's pleasure. Fletcher is seen making his way to Slade Prison accompanied by Prison Officers Mr MacKay and Mr Barrowclough.
The first full series of Porridge began with the
episode New Faces, Old Hands - Radio Times, September 1974
A recent reissue of two classic episodes on audio by Vintage Beeb prompted me to dig out some memorabilia from the series.
All three series of Porridge were novelised by BBC Books
during the 1970s, these two examples represent the
first two series.
Prison can seem an unlikely place to set a comedy series, however La Frenais and Clement's mix of dramatic storytelling sprinkled with dashes of comedy proved a winner when actors Ronnie Barker (as lovable lag Fletcher), Richard Beckinsale (as cell-mate Godber), Fulton Mackay (as stern Prison Offer Mr MacKay)  and Brian Wilde (as the gentle Mr Barrowclough) were added to the mix.
February 1978 saw Fletcher's third and final appearance
on the front of Radio Times as he leaves Slade Prison
in Going Straight
Porridge ran for three seasons on BBC1 between 1974 and 1977 and even spawned a spin off series about life after prison for Fletcher in Going Straight in 1978.
Porridge regulars Fulton Mackay and Tony Osoba featured
in the first episode of Going Straight. Richard Beckinsale
would join Ronnie Barker for subsequent episodes.
Going Straight launched on BBC1 in February 1978 accompanied by a Radio Times cover and feature artwork by celebrated cartoonist Bill Tidy. There was also a BBC single of the series theme tune recorded by Ronnie Barker and a novelisation.
The first episode of Going Straight was accompanied by a feature
in Radio Times written by former old lag Frank Norman about
coming out of prison.The article was accompanied with a cartoon
by Bill Tidy who used to feature regularly on TV's Quick On The Draw.
I always associate Porridge with Thursday night television during the 1970s, a great evening that usually began with Tomorrows World followed by Top Of The Pops and ultimately a classic sitcom before been packed off to bed! Several stirs of this classic sit-com certainly brought much laughter in my home as a child and even now I love revisiting these classic shows on DVD!
Going Straight was published
by BBC books in 1978
It's fascinating to find that Porridge's popularity saw several spin off book releases in the 1970s. Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement penned four novels for BBC books while Ronnie Barker also lent his name to Fletcher's book of cockney rhyming slang. In the last 15 years author Richard Webber also compiled several books on the series looking at the stars, quotes and scripts.
Robin Bootell provided this superb illustration
for Pan Books edition of Fletcher's Cockney
Rhyming Slang
by Ronnie Barker in 1979
Both Porridge and Going Straight have continued to be repeated on television over the years and releases on video and DVD have guaranteed its longevity. The series even transferred to a film in 1979 and was completed just before Richard Beckinsale died. There was a further adaptation in 2009 when Calibre Productions enlisted the series writers to adapt Porridge for the stage.
Porridge reappeared on the stage in 2009, written by
Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais and starring Shaun
Williamson from EastEnders as Fletcher.
The above is a flyer, ticket and my review from The
South Wales Argus.
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