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  • Interviews - Ronnie Barker

Porridge - Series One

BBC/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 175 mins . PG . PAL


There would appear to be a bit of a flood of ‘70s British half-hour comedies being released on DVD of late, and here’s another one, Porridge. Of course not all of them are any good, but this one is not half bad, due to the comic genius of Ronnie Barker (of The Two Ronniesfame) as much as anything else.

The show itself ran from 1974 to 1977 encompassing three series and a couple of specials. This DVD contains the first six half-hour episodes that comprised Series One. It takes its title from a slang term for doing time in prison (Stir, and Bird were originally touted as titles), and was written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. It stars Barker as Norman Stanley Fletcher (“Fletch”), a five-year guest of Her Majesty at Slade Prison.

Fletch is an easy character to like, even if he has been a naughty boy (or he wouldn’t be in prison now would he?). He is almost a professional criminal, and one who knows how to play the system, work the screws and just how far he can push. His cheek is something that other prisoners would not get away with, but it’s his charisma that lets him get away with murder (though not literally).

Other regulars include fellow prisoner, the first-timer Leonard Godber (Richard Beckinsale), and ‘screws’ such as Mr Mackay (Fulton Mackay) and Mr Barrowclough (Brian Wilde).

The first episode, and to a lesser extent the second, spend time establishing the characters and the setting, but still contain many amusing moments. From here the laughs are more regular, though a little dated at times, and not very P.C. at others.

The show should provide many chuckles, and the occasional belly laugh, mostly from Fletcher. Ronnie Barker’s timing and delivery are wonderful, and his subtle eye movements and body language remind me a lot of Rowan Atkinson. No doubt the show is probably quite removed from real prison life, but that’s the beauty of television.


Well this is most impressive for a show that's almost 30 years old. It is a full frame picture as was standard for ‘70s television shows, and therefore it's not 16:9 enhanced. Porridge is a combination of studio taping and outdoor filming, and the two are instantly distinguishable. The scenes filmed outdoors have wildly varying colours, are quite soft, contain plenty of grain and are a lot darker and dirtier than the studio scenes. As most of Porridge is filmed indoors, it’s not really a problem.

The studio footage is very good by comparison, with strong and solid colouring and there are no problems with bleeding or noise, and no grain. Shadow detail is great, and there are almost no marks and specks. The image is sharp until the camera has to move to follow the action, and the image becomes a little softer and there is evidence of flaring and cometing.

The layer change is placed at the 13:14 of Episode Four and is rather jarring. I would have thought it was easy enough to place the layer change between episodes.


As far as audio goes, well there is just Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, but it scrubs up rather well actually. The basics such as clarity and audio synch are just fine, but of course there is no sound from any speakers other than the left and right fronts.

The only low-level sounds are courtesy of the music, and sound just fine. This is a very basic audio track, but it presents no problem.


There are a couple of extras included and they're a nice touch. Artists’ Profiles gives us text-only biographies of the show’s four main actors. They make quite informative and interesting reading. The Ronnie Barker Interview runs almost 16 minutes and includes snippets from the show (that look decidedly poorer than the actual episodes). It gives no indication of when it was recorded, but looks pristine. Barker explains the origins of the series, his favourite moments, the cast, the spin-off show Going Straight, and Richard Beckinsale’s death of heart attack at just 31 years of age. It is a full frame presentation but appears ‘squished’, like watching a widescreen picture in widescreen mode on a standard television.


If you are not familiar with the show, but know you like Ronnie Barker, then you’re in luck - you’ll like this. The cast is good, the comedy is fluid and Fletcher is a very funny, likable character. The show owes much of its charm to Barker’s comic genius and it is a shame he all but retired in 1987.

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      And I quote...
    "Looking very good for its age, there are plenty of laughs to be found in Porridge – Series One, thanks largely to Ronnie Barker’s comedic brilliance…"
    - Terry Kemp
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