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Prisoner and Escort

Mackay: All right Fletcher, just don't let me catch you thieving!
Fletch: I won't, Mr Mackay.
Mackay: You won't what?
Fletch: I won't let you catch me, Mr Mackay!
 

Porridge originated from an idea used in a 1973 series, in which Barker starred, called Seven of One. Each of its seven 30-minute episodes saw him playing a new character in a different setting.

In the second instalment, "Prisoner and Escort", a prisoner called Fletcher (played by Barker) was being escorted from London to Slade prison by warder Mr Barrowclough (Brian Wilde).

After a long train journey, Fletch asks to relieve himself at the tiny station where the prison minibus is waiting to take them to the prison. He relieves himself into the petrol tank, and when the van stops in the middle of the moors, Mackay strides off to the prison for help. Fletch encourages Barrowclough to spend the night in an abandoned cottage. Here, Fletch escapes and spends the night running around the moors. He eventually discovers a second empty property and hides within it. Fletch finds that he is not alone, and prepares to attack his companion. Only then does it become obvious that the other resident is Barrowclough, and that the cottage is indeed the same one from which he had set off. Back at the prison, Mackay tells Fletch that the petrol tank was fuller that when last checked, and that it was 'definitely not 5-star'. Thus started the humorous conflict between Mackay and Fletch.

A year later, when the BBC were looking for a premise for a sitcom in which Barker could star, this episode was chosen. (The first Seven of One programme was also developed into a series: Open All Hours.)  The central character of Porridge is Norman Stanley Fletcher, described by his sentencing judge (whose voice was also provided by Ronnie Barker) as "an habitual criminal". Fletch's cellmate is Lennie Godber, a na´ve inmate serving his first prison sentence, whom Fletch takes under his wing. Mr Mackay is a tough warder whose bark often turns out to be worse than his bite, and with whom Fletch often comes into conflict. Mackay's subordinate, Mr Barrowclough, is more sympathetic and timid — and therefore prone to manipulation by his charges.

Each episode begins with a narration by the judge:

"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."

The prison exterior shown in the title sequence (and some episodes) is that of Maidstone Prison, which was also featured in the BBC comedy series Birds of a Feather.  In stark contrast to his character in the series, Fulton Mackay (Warden Mackay) has a rose named after him.  In papers released in 2005 due to the thirty years rule it was revealed that the Home Office had continually refused the BBC permission to film in a real prison as they said that the BBC had managed to evoke prison life without the need to.  The BBC production team had planned to film Porridge in a real prison however before filming began the Home Office refused. The BBC improvised. They used the Main Gate House, of former St Albans Prison, Victoria Street, St Albans, Hertfordshire as the main gate of "Slade Prison". Slade Prison's metal walkways and communal area were filmed in a large metal tank at Elstree Studios. The huge tank was previously used for underwater filming however the BBC converted it into the two floor 'prison' seen in the programme. External scenes at "Slade" (e.g. the rooftop strike, exercise ground) were filmed at various London psychiatric hospitals. Most other interior scenes (e.g. Fletcher's cell) were filmed at BBC Studios.  Ronnie Barker originally suggested Paul Henry for the role of Godber but was overruled by the producers, who preferred Richard Beckinsale.

 

Norman Stanley Fletcher - Ronnie Barker

Mr Mackay - Fulton Mackay

Lennie Godber - Richard Beckinsale

Mr Barrowclough - Brian Wilde

'Genial' Harry Grout - Peter Vaughan

'Bunny' Warren - Sam Kelly

Jim MacClaren - Tony Osoba

Lukewarm - Christopher Biggins

Blanco Webb - David Jason

'Horrible' Ives - Ken Jones

Harris - Ronald Lacey

Geoffrey Venables - 'The Governor' - Michael Barrington

Ingrid Fletcher - Patricia Brake

The Honourable Mr Justice Stephen Rawley - Maurice Denham

Cyril Heslop - Brian Glover

Evans - Ray Dunbobbin

Reg Urwin 'with a U' - Dudley Sutton

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