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Series / Porridge

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"Norman Stanley Fletcher, you have pleaded guilty to the charges brought by this court and it is now my duty to pass sentence. You are an habitual criminal who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner. We therefore feel constrained to commit you to the maximum term allowed for these offences — you will go to prison for five years."

Named after the then-slang for being imprisoned ("doing porridge"note ), Porridge is a prison comedy that aired on The BBC between 1973 and 1977 with three seasons, two Christmas specials and a film. It was written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who also wrote The Likely Lads and its sequel Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.

Set in the fictional Slade Prison, Porridge starred Ronnie Barker as Fletcher, a cynical and streetwise career criminal, and Richard Beckinsale as Godber, a naive first-time inmate. The plot centred around the prisoners' attempts to negotiate everyday life in prison and make it more bearable with "little victories" over the guards (primarily the stern Mr Mackay and the soft Mr Barrowclough), avoid trouble with the Prison Governor (who thinks he runs the place) and avoid the wrath of Harry Grout (an East End gang boss who really does).


For reference and interest, the prisoners and their crimes are:

  • Fletcher - Probably breaking and entering, although a speech that may have been a joke claims it was the theft of a lorry (five years).
  • Godber - Breaking and entering (two years).
  • Blanco - Wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, although in the episode "Pardon Me" he claimed he did kill his wife's lover, a crime for which he was not convicted (sentence unknown, had served 17 years by the time he was released).
  • "Genial" Harry Grout - Crime and sentence unknown but required extradition from Italy.
  • Heslop - Robbery (three years).
  • McClaren - Crime unknown (three years).
  • Harris - Mugged an old lady but it went wrong when he found she had a brick in her handbag and successfully pinned Harris down (sentence unknown).
  • Rawley - Three charges: "Party to criminal conspiracy, forgery of legal documents under the Forgery Act of 1913 - 1948, and accepting an illicit payment as an officer of the crown" (three years, quashed at appeal. The judge who sent Fletcher down).
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  • "Lukewarm" - Crime and sentence unknown but shown to be able to steal a man's watch off his wrist with a handshake.
  • Bernard 'Horrible' Ives - Fraud (sentence unknown). Universally loathed.

Came seventh in Britain's Best Sitcom. The sequel, Going Straight, depicting Fletcher's life after his release, was also popular (though less so) and won a BAFTA but was limited to one series by actor Richard Beckinsale's very untimely death. In 2003, a Mockumentary, Norman Stanley Fletcher: Life Beyond The Box, gave a complete history of Fletch's life before and after the series, ending with him running a pub in Muswell Hill. This was Ronnie Barker's final TV appearance.

Inspired a short-lived American TV sitcom, On The Rocks. In 2016, a one-off special, simply titled Porridge, starred Kevin Bishop as Fletcher's grandson Nigel, who finds himself in prison for computer hacking and has similarly savvy gifts as his grandfather. A six-episode series followed in 2017.

Tropes used in Porridge include:

  • And a Diet Coke: Fletcher is offered cocoa, which he accepts, and then sugar. He refuses the biscuits, citing watching his weight, as he dumps at least four heaping spoonfuls of sugar in his already-sweet cocoa.
  • Artistic License – Law: The opening narration in which Fletcher receives the maximum possible sentence after pleading guilty doesn't reflect the reality of UK sentencing guidelines - one of the incentives to plead guilty is a mandatory sentence reduction of at least 10% and possibly up to 33% depending on the exact circumstances. Exact Words may be in play though, as "maximum term allowed" could suggest that the mandatory reduction is being applied.
  • Batman Gambit: Fletcher once wrote to his wife from prison, advising her to start growing vegetables and urging her to dig over the garden as soon as possible. The next day a dozen policemen showed up at Fletch's house with shovels.
    McLaren: Typical. Did they find the stuff?
    Fletcher: Course they didn’t, it was in the bottom drawer of the wardrobe. Just my way of getting the garden turned over, see. Why let Isobel do it when you’ve got twelve great big nosey coppers with spades?
  • Bottle Episode: A Night In may be the ultimate example. It consists almost entirely of two men talking in a darkened room.
  • The Boxing Episode: When Godber takes up boxing, culminating in a Double Knockout.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick : According to Fletcher, the prison football team has a good mix of "youth, experience, flair and brutality".
  • British Brevity: 21 episodes. The show came to an end at the height of its popularity, at Barker's request.
  • The Butcher: Parodied with "The Butcher of Eastgate". He fiddled his VAT.
  • Cacophony Cover Up: When Harry Grout is forced into organizing the digging of an escape tunnel for another prisoner, the noise of the tunneling is covered up by a choir singing Christmas carols.
  • Canon Foreigner: Warder Mr Beale and cons Oakes and Rudge only appear in the movie.
  • Chronic Villainy: Fletcher is described as an "habitual criminal" in the opening narration, and has spent a large portion of his adult life in prison. Explored more in the sequel, as Fletcher attempts to "go straight".
  • Criminal Procedural: Of the convict variety.
  • Cross-Referenced Titles: Episodes 3 and 4 are "A Night In" and "A Day Out".
  • Decision Darts: Fletcher mentions that in his previous prison they used to run roulette by bribing a warden to turn a blind eye, blindfolding the "croupier" and spinning him around when he threw a dart at a dartboard covered with a list of numbers. Until the spinning was a little too vigorous and the warden "turned a blind eye to everything after that".
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Grouty mentions an inmate who put four prison guards in hospital because someone knocked over his jigsaw puzzle.
  • The Ditz: Heslop. Warren too, to a lesser extent.
    Warren: "Objection!"
    Rawley: "... Well go on, Warren. What is your objection?"
    Warren: "... I don't know."
  • The Dreaded: Mackay has this reputation to an extent, his much much worse replacement is a much better example. However London Gangster Harry Grout is the true winner, simply 'cause everyone knows that angering him could lead to you losing your life.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Mackay, he even was a sergeant in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders regiment, before he because a prison officer. He likewise still acts like he is.
  • Double Knockout: During their boxing match, Godber and Nesbitt knock each other out with the first punch, having both been bribed to lose. It works out well for Fletcher, though, as he was the only person in the prison to bet on a draw.
  • Exact Words: An exchange between Mackay and Fletcher:
    Mackay: "Alright Fletcher, just don't let me catch you thieving!"
    Fletcher: "I won't."
    Mackay: "You won't what?"
    Fletcher: "I won't let you catch me Mr Mackay!"
  • Expy: Harry Grout something of a resemblance to a certain Mr. Bridger, is apparently doing time for some sort of job in Italy...
  • Fakeout Escape: This is the resolution of one episode, where boss-prisoner Grouty is strong-armed by contacts outside the prison into organising an escape tunnel for a stupid but well-connected inmate. The tunnel progresses and the noise is masked by a choir singing Christmas carols. Grouty is pessimistic about pulling it off, while crafty convict Fletch frets that if a prisoner escapes so close to Christmas, privileges will be withdrawn to everyone and Dec 25th will become just another grim, grey, day inside. Fletch eventually comes up with a face-saving solution allowing Grouty to keep his cred with the London gangs who are pressuring him; allow the warders to discover the tunnel. They will be so pleased at finding it that they will not be looking for the escapee being smuggled out by other means, ie hidden in a garbage truck.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Genial Harry Grout, a high up London Crime boss. He is always charming, polite and never even raises his voice. If you do a job especially well for him, he'll pay back the favour and he's in a good mood, he might even be willing to bribe others. But fail him, anger him or just simply annoy him and he'll have one of his many heavies break your arms or beat you to blood.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: As nice as Blanco is, there is still the fact his wife's lover killed her, he killed the lover and then he got sent down for the murder of his wife.
  • From the Latin "Intro Ducere": Fletch drops this into his conversations from time to time.
  • Genre Savvy: Mackay has his moments, but Fletcher is generally still one or two steps ahead.
  • Going in Circles: Fletcher does this in the pilot episode. After getting Barrowclough drunk in the abandoned cottage they've taken shelter in, Fletcher sees a chance to escape. He spends the night running across the moors until he comes across another cottage. It's the very same cottage.
    Barrowclough: Fletcher what are you doing here?
    Fletcher: That's what I'd like to know!
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: The prisoners use the words "naff" or "naffing", depending on context, for viewer-friendly swearing.
  • Hates Everyone Equally: Mackay
    Mackay: I want you to know that I treat you all with equal contempt.
  • Hellhole Prison: Averted here. As prisons go, Slade isn't that bad.
  • Holier Than Thou: Mr Banyard, a former dentist who was arrested over a possibly lethal accident involving some patients and some laughing gas, takes this attitude when Fletcher is investigating the theft of a tin of pineapple chunks from his cell, making the point that he's not a career criminal like everyone else and is therefore above suspicion. Fletch calls him out on this, pointing out that one way or another he's still a convict, and that regardless of what he thinks of his own crime, "for the ladies in question it was no laughing matter, was it?"
  • How Many Fingers?:
    [Godber bangs his head on a goalpost]
    Mackay: [holds up one finger] How many fingers am I holding up?
    Godber: You can't fool me, sir. Five.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One!: In "A Day Out":
    Godber: You talk with your mouth full. You whistle out of tune. You snore. You spit.
    Fletcher: How dare you! I do not whistle out of tune!
  • Insane Troll Logic: One of Fletcher’s skills acquired over his years in prison, how to give an answer that is seemingly satisfactory but on later examination is either nonsensical or raises more fridge logic than it settles...
    Q: What became of the soil that was excavated from the tunnel?
    A: We dug another tunnel and put it all down there.
  • It Tastes Like Feet: Basically all the food is described like this.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Why Fletch of course!
  • Kangaroo Court: In "Rough Justice" Fletch puts Harris on trial for stealing from his fellow inmates. While the judge (an actual judge, convicted of corruption) tries to maintain some degree of fairness, he's hampered by everyone else's disregard for proper procedure and firm conviction that Harris must be guilty because he's Harris. (Including the defence counsel.) It turns out they're right, and he returns the watch when MacLaren threatens to "extract" a confession.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: 'Genial' Harry Grout dishes this out to unpleasant inmate Harris.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Harry Grout. Peter Vaughan was told not to play it like he was in a comedy. Whenever he appears the threats hanging over Fletcher's head get a lot more serious and the show dips into more Black Comedy.
  • London Gangster: Genial Harry Grout, an East London crime boss, serving time for an unspecified big job that required him being extradited from Italy. Grouty pretty much runs the whole prison: rigging sports matches, organising escapes of other high up criminals who can afford to get out and being completely in control of the entire prison drug trade. Likewise you really don't want to get on his bad side. His only rival in the prison, is another London crime boss, the two compete through betting on prison sports matches then rigging them in their favour.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: We see Harry Grout only three times, each time in his large, well-furnished cell. Apparently when he was extradited he paid for himself and the policeman to be bumped up to first class.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Fletch argues this is the moral choice. Since everyone in prison is out for what they can get, manipulating people is better than getting what you want with your fists. His teaching McLaren to do this gave the latter some character growth.
  • Master Poisoner: Riggs, who now works in the prison kitchens.
  • Military Moonshiner: Or prisoner moonshiner in this case.
  • Moral Dissonance: Blanco, a kindly older prisoner who insisted for years that he was innocent of murdering his wife, later telling Fletcher it was his wife's lover who had actually done it. As he's now paroled pardoned, Fletcher tells him not to go looking for revenge, but Blanco replies that the lover is long dead, and he should know.
    "It were me that killed him".
  • The Movie: aka Doing Time in the U.S. Made in 1979, featuring the same cast and writers but with no BBC involvement. Not as well-received as the series, though not as bad as some TV spin-offs. This was Richard Beckinsale's last performance before his untimely death.
  • Mugging the Monster: Fletcher claims that Harris is in prison for attempting to mug an old lady, but unfortunately for Harris she had a brick in her handbag and kept him pinned down until the police arrived.
  • Never Learned to Read: "Bunny" Warren claims to be in prison because he could not read the sign: "Warning, Burglar Alarm". He also gets Fletcher to read him letters from his wife.
  • No Theme Tune: The opening is the top-of-the-page quote (voiced by Barker as the judge) over a locking-the-prisoners-up montage. There is a closing theme tune.
  • Odd Couple: Both Fletcher (cynical old timer) and Godber (naive young criminal), and Mackay (strict and nasty as they come) and Barrowclough (soft as ice cream in a Californian heatwave.)
  • The Old Convict: Fletcher to some extent, but Blanco plays this more straight. He's completed a replica of Muffin the Mule in the prison workshop: "You know, him what's on television". (Muffin the Mule was broadcast from 1946 to 1957. The Porridge episode was broadcast in 1975.)
  • Opening Narration: See the top of the page.
  • Pet Homosexual: "Lukewarm".
  • Playing Gertrude: The then thirty-five year old David Jason played the extremely elderly Blanco Webb.
  • Prison: The setting, though unlike most examples its a comedy, there is very little violence or focus on the more dangerous inmates. Instead the focus is on more average people dealing with being imprisoned, and winning the occasional little victory.
  • Rule #1: According to Mr. Mackay, there are only two rules in Slade Prison. Rule number 1: Do not write on the walls. And rule number 2: Obey all the rules. Though strangely in the same scene he also mentions a rule against more than three prisoners congregating in a cell.
  • Scary Black Man: Jock McLaren (though he's more of a scary Scot who happens to be black).
  • Scary Minority Suspect: Ditto.
  • Second Episode Introduction: Godber, and all other prisoners except Fletcher himself, does not appear in the pilot.
  • Status Quo Is God: Averted. Fletch is sentenced to five years; as the original series had run for four, the sequel Going Straight focused on Fletch's release back into society.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Football hooligan Jarvis, who tells a derogatory, sexual joke to prison heavy Crusher about the latter's wife. Needless to say, Crusher is not amused and reacts violently.
  • Tragic Villain: Reg Urwin from the Christmas Special "Desperate Hours" he's perfectly happy to hold Fletcher, Godber, Mr Barrowclough and the Governor's secretary at gunpoint and contemplates homicide a few times. However all he wants is to get out of Prison and be free again as he's clearly not coping with his incarceration and is also clearly mentally unwell. Its revealed he was recommended for psychiatric treatment three times before this event, but never got any. He admits if he doesn't get out he'll kill himself, having already attempting suicide once before. When Fletcher disarms him, he outright breaks down to tears. Fletcher and Godber even pass up a chance of a pardon for stopping him, so that Reg can surrender on his own and finally get some much needed help.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: ABC's short lived On The Rocks.
  • Treasure Map: Blanco has a map showing where his ill-gotten gains are buried, though it turns out to be a fake. Another inmate, Norris, gets caught trying to dig it up under a football pitch.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Retasked the existing word 'naff' as an expletive, as in "naff off". Also created 'nerk' (presumably in place of 'berk') and possibly 'scrote'.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: In the pilot episode, Fletcher urinates in the prison van's fuel tank. The van breaks down soon afterwards. It doesn't go unnoticed by Mackay:
    Mackay: It appears the petrol tank had more in it after our journey than before. Only what was in the tank was certainly not five star!
  • Vetinari Job Security: When Mr Mackay is promoted, a stricter and crueler screw from a prison Fletcher had been in earlier in his life replaces him and bullies both the criminals and Mr Barrowclough. The prisoners get rid of him by orchestrating an achivement for Mr Barrowclough and welcome back Mackay with a rendition of "For he's a jolly good fellow".
  • Violent Glaswegian: Jock McLaren, again.
  • Wardens Are Evil: Averted, the Warden of Slade Prison is a all around genial, cheerful and friendly man, who firmly believes in treating the prisoners correctly and rehabilitation. While the inmates aren't above taking advantage of his occasional naivete he never the less even strikes up a reasonably friendly relationship with Fletcher.
  • We Meet Again: Fletcher and Mr Wainwright. Fletcher and Judge Rawley.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back: As mentioned above, Mr Mackay's overly-cruel replacement had the prisoners getting nostalgic.
  • What Are You in For?:
    Fletcher: Got caught.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Heslop, Fletcher's original cellmate, disappeared after the first series.
  • Worthy Opponent: Fletcher and Mackay, make no mistake both of them will never miss a chance to get one over or humiliate the other, but there is a clear unspoken level of respect between the two. It says something that when they meet up after Fletcher is released, while starting off hostile they are soon cheerfully drinking together and reminiscing about their past. They even part on mostly friendly terms.

Tropes used in Going Straight include:

  • Expository Theme Song: "I'm going straight, along the straight and narrow, and I don't mean straight back to crime..."
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: All the episodes begin "Going..."
  • Noodle Incident: The hotelier who gives Fletch a job has never regretted giving prisoners a second chance "except on... two unfortunate occasions".
  • Reformed, but Rejected: Played With, but ultimately averted. Fletcher's efforts to go straight are sincere, but, doomed to a life of low paying menial work and surrounded by temptation, he almost becomes this but decides to stay on the straight. The 2016 special confirms that he never went back to prison and happily enjoyed retirement until his death.
  • Spinoff Sendoff: In the first episode Fletcher says goodbye to McLaren (the only one of his friends from Porridge still in Slade) before he gets out and catches the train to London. Then Mr Mackay turns out to be on the same train.

Tropes used in Norman Stanley Fletcher: Life Beyond The Box include:

  • Character Outlives Actor: Ingrid (Fletch's daughter, who married Godber in Going Straight) gets a phone call from her husband to say that he can't make it back for the documentary. Richard Beckinsale died shortly after Going Straight completed filming.
  • Distant Finale: Quite literally.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Featuring McLaren, Warren, Lukewarm, Ives, Grouty and (right at the end) Fletcher himself.

Tropes used in the 2016 Porridge special include:

  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Fletch's reaction to having to share his cell with Joe Lotterby.
    Fletch: Can you confirm that you're none of the following: a) a hypochondriac, b) a religious freak, c) a homicidal psycho, or d) a Millwall supporter.
  • Brick Joke: Throughout the episode, Fletch tries to get a pineapple tin, only for it to be taken away from him. At the end, Officer Meekie leaves the cell with a pineapple tin again, only for Fletch to reveal to Lotterby that he succeeded in smuggling a second tin under his pillow.
  • Call-Back: Loads, since Fletch is Fletcher's grandson through his son Raymond, making him Ingrid's nephew. Lotterby mentions that he briefly served time with Fletcher 40 years ago in Slade, and learns that he passed away five years ago, in 2011.
    Lotterby: Eh, "little victories", that's what your granddad used to say, and by God, you need them inside.
  • Contrasting Sequel Main Character:
    • Nigel Fletcher, compared to his grandfather Norman Fletcher. While inheriting his quick wit and a good portion of his savvy, Nigel is young and still learning about being incarcerated, compared to his grandfather (a habitual criminal and Experienced Protagonist). Likewise, unlike his grandfather (who was Book Dumb but very Street Smart and a cunning manipulator), Nigel is highly intelligent, being an accomplished cybercriminal, managing to build a device to remotely hack into the system from inside his cell and even quoting The Other Wiki from memory. He is nevertheless a fast learner though.
    • Joe Lotterby, compared to Leonard Godber, who was young, idealistic and naive, having never been to prison before. Lotterby is a cynical (but cheerful and harmless) The Old Convict, who knows several tricks about being imprisoned, but is still quite Book Dumb, especially compared to the more academically interested Godber.
  • Continuity Nod: Ingrid and Godber are still married, and he had made the arrangements for Fletcher to run a "real pub, you know for geezers".
  • Dead Guy Junior: Fletch's middle name is Norman, after his grandfather.
  • Generation Xerox: Nigel Norman Fletcher, or Fletch, as he preferred to be called, has similarly savvy gifts as his grandfather for gaming the prison system to make life a little easier for him and his fellow inmates. He even manages to give the V-sign to Meekie, just like his granddad did with Mackay.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Fletch is a gifted computer hacker convicted of cyberfraud. Naturally, his reputation precedes him and he's forced into employing his valuable skills into cleaning up Weeksy's record so he can be paroled early. Officer Braithwaite regularly asks him for computer advice and even the prison governor comes to him when the prison's systems go berserk courtesy of Fletch accessing Meekie's computer and triggering the fire alarms through it because the system was still being run in Windows XP.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Fletch easily bonds with his new elderly cellmate Lotterby, especially since he knew his grandfather. He then reveals to Lotterby that while he was snooping in the prison records, he gave him an Age Lift so that he'll be released three years sooner.
  • The Internet Is for Porn: While working the graveyard shift, Braithwaite is about to click on a pinup site when Fletch triggers the fire alarms from Meekie's computer.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: Wakeley Prison is a high tech 21st century minimum security prison, with a Foosball and pool table in the common area, a clean gym, and televisions in the cells. The cells slightly resemble dorm rooms with a bunk bed, table, some shelves and a bulletin board.
    • Officer Meekie is suspicious how Fletch managed to get himself a single cell within a month of arriving at Wakeley.
    • In exchange for fixing Wakeley's computer systems, Governor Hallwood has Braithwaite install a new television in Fletch's cell.
    • Aziz is seen listening to an mp3 player while eating breakfast with Shel and Fletch.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Governor Hallwood's password is Porridge. The look on her face when Fletch realizes it indicates that she's a bit embarrassed by this.
  • Playful Hacker: What Fletch sees himself as, arguing (unconvincingly) that everything he has done amounts to a series of victimless crimes and that he’s donated a lot of money to charity (just not his own money). The law however sees him as a dangerous The Cracker.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute:
    • Mr Meekie to Mr MacKay, both being overly suspicious, harsh Scottish prison officers who have their eyes fixed upon Fletcher. Although Meekie isn’t as sharp or as experienced as MacKay.
    • Mr Braithwaite to Mr Barraclough, fitting the softer, more caring prison officer dynamic in contrast to MacKay and Meekie’s harsher one. Although Braithwaite is noticeably less naive and more cunning than Barraclough ever was.
  • What Are You in For?:
    • Everyone knows that Fletch is a hacker and that he's banned from all electronics. Another inmate, Aziz, says that he stole more money than all the other inmates at Wakeley combined.
    • Shel is convicted of drug possession, despite him claiming that he bought the drugs for his wife. He did sleep through the fire alarms because he had smoked some very strong weed.
    • Lotterby is convicted for involuntary manslaughter, for accidentally backing his gang's heist van into another member.
    • Weeksy is a member of a Manchester crime family, and is impressed that the clan is notorious enough to have a page on The Other Wiki.


Example of: