Porridge - Series One Review

In an attempt to 'Hancock-ise' Ronnie Barker, seven one-off sitcoms were commissioned in 1973 to each star Barker in different guises. The series Seven of One, featured a funny episode entitled Prisoner and Escort, and this detailed the journey of a newly convicted criminal to a remote prison in Cumbria. The criminal in question was Norman Stanley Fletcher and this one off show was to spawn three series and a full length feature film.

The first series of this show was renamed Porride and has been released on DVD for the first time and contains the first six episodes that were shown in 1974.

Porridge told of Fletcher and his exploits in prison, be it showing the ropes to young and naïve soul of Godber (the late Richard Beckinsale) or dodging the punishment of ruthless Scottish warden Mr. Mackay (Fulton Mackay). Because of its talented writing duo of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, Porridge maintained a funny framework whilst containing an undercurrent of social commentary of Britain in the seventies. This combination ensured that Porridge was to be regarded as one of the classic BBC sitcoms of the twentieth century.

New Faces, Old Hands
Fletcher, Heslop (Brian Glover in a nice cameo) and Godber are all new inmates at Slade Prison and the episode is essentially the usual setting up of characters that all first episodes serve to be. The ruthless presence of Mackay is established, as is Fletcher's oddball roommate Evans, whose propensity for eating razor blades is found to be unnerving. The episode is quite funny but feels like understandably like a first chapter of a book. Also, some of the characters' traits seem slightly different to their later evolution. Even so, this episode is a suitable introduction.

The Hustler
After being endlessly conned by the sneaky Ives, Fletcher embarks on a crusade to hold a secret card game right under the warden's noses. This episode is probably the least humourous of the six and shows the series to still be in its development stages.

A Night In
Arguably the finest Porridge episode with some classic lines and fantastic development, A Night In places Godber and Fletcher in the situation of having to share the same cell and their bonding or lack of it is the essence of the series. A classic episode.

A Day Out
After the limited locations of the previous episode, the writers turn the tables with Fletcher and Godber being assigned to digging a sewer trench within the prison exteriors and fantasising about the myth of prison nurses and being shocked with the results. Although it is nice to have a change of location in Porridge, the series works better with the confines of the prison. This is mainly due to the low quality film stock used for exterior locations.

Ways And Means
Fletcher and McLaren aim to regain the trust of the Governor and plan an absurd scheme to stage a rooftop protest! Although there are some funny situations in this episode, the lack of Godber is a huge minus.

Men Without Women
Quite a clever and witty episode. Fletcher offers his services to his fellow inmates in the form of writing letters to their respective spouses reminding them not to stray, whilst secretly convincing the warden's that his own wife is having an affair in order to gain some compassionate leave. Some funny one-liners ensure that the episode marks a nice end to the first series.

On the whole, the first series of Porridge is a nice reminder of a classic sitcom. The episodes feature some good laugh-out-loud moments and of course have lost some charm over the years. Even so, any fan of mainstream British comedy must see this series at least once.

Presented in original transmission 4:3, the picture has been remastered with more vivid colour tones but suffers from occasional glare. Also, with exterior shots, the choice of film over video dates the series considerably and the murky colours suffer with excessive grain throughout. On the whole, it's probably safe to say that the versions shown on television exhibit a better quality.

Presented in original transmission mono, the sound is perfectly acceptable and the bass tones have been improved, which is particularly evident on the opening theme.

Interview With Ronnie Barker: An excellent fifteen minute interview with star Ronnie Barker featuring highlights from the show and various anecodtes from Barker with regards to the appeal of Porridge and insights into the characters. Presented in 4:3, the interview appears to have been shot in 16:9 mode but stretched to 4:3, which is annoying, but actually doesn't detract too much.

Actors Profiles: A limited amount of information presented in text form detailing brief summaries concerning the major actors of Porridge

Porridge is deservedly considered a sitcom classic and fans will no doubt be in favour of the DVD release, and even though a casual observer may think twice about owning it, the RRP of £12.99 is quite enticing anyhow.

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