Porridge: Top Ten Episodes

Did you know that Porridge, one of Britain's most influential and outstanding comedies of all time, first made its television debut almost 40 years ago, on 5th September 1974? We've compiled ten glorious episodes that make it abundantly clear why Porridge was voted seventh in the BBC poll for Britain's Best Sitcom...

Banged up

10) Enter: Norman Stanley Fletcher

It would be a crime not to mention the first time old lag Fletch was introduced to the world, in the pilot episode of what was to become Porridge. Filmed as one of six Ronnie Barker pilots that sprung from 'The Two Ronnies' show, it was called Prisoner and Escort and entailed the journey of habitual criminal Norman Stanley Fletcher to a remote prison in Cumbria. En route to incarceration, he finds the prospect of spending the next five years studying woodwork and botany in the halls of HM Prison Slade provokes only one thought - escape.

9) Men Without Women

Porridge was always firing on all cylinders when it came to Fletcher dishing out ropey advice to all the gullible nerks who need counsel, and this episode is a real gem, after the old lag becomes an 'agony aunt' and ends up writing letters home for some of his fellow inmates. Meanwhile his daughter Ingrid brings bad news on visiting day, meaning that Fletch has to make a trip home to sort out his domestic problems.

8) No Way Out

In 1975 this Christmas special reveals how the inmates of HMP Slade deal with the festive season and wouldn't you know it, they are planning an escape. Fletch, meanwhile, is certain that the plan will fail and that retribution for it will be extremely unpleasant, so he plans to spend some time in the infirmary. The doctor, however, likes to keep the place empty. In one of Porridge's classic scenes Fletch tries to drop Mackay in it but in the process wins himself the stay in hospital he was looking for all along.

7) A Quiet Night In

This classic episode from the first series was filmed entirely inside Fletch and Godber's cell, and it memorably featured wise old Fletch giving terrible advice to the naive young virile Lennie Godber - Richard Beckinsale - on how to control his sexual urges and keep his mind from carnal thoughts. As terrible as this advice was, perhaps it was fortunate for everyone in Slade that the it worked!

6) Ways and Means

Despite trying to hold onto his 'cushy' job Fletch finds himself reassigned to making fishing nets. With help from McLaren, Fletch works out a plan to worms their way back into the Governor's "good books" by staging McLaren's roof top protest that Fletcher heroically solves. His descent however, proves not quite so heroic!

5) The Harder They Fall

Godber takes up boxing and wins a place in the prison championship to represent his wing, so Fletcher sees a chance for a bit of a flutter. Then Harry Grout - the one man in whom Fletcher has met his match - takes an interest and asks Fletch to fix the fight by asking Godber to take a dive. Unfortunately Godber has already agreed to do this for a rival of Grouty's. As you would expect, Fletch comes out on top by betting on a draw because he knew neither of them wanted to win.

4) A Day Out

In this memorable slice of life behind bars, Fletcher and Godber temporarily swap their cell for the great outdoors when they are chosen to form part of an outside working party, digging drainage ditches for the local council. When iron screw Mr McKay leaves his rather wet colleague Mr Barrowclough in charge, it looks like the prisoners won't have to work too hard and Fletcher manages to wangle a trip to the local pub!

3) Happy Release

In this great episode from the second series we find Fletcher enjoying yet another stay in hospital but has to stay in the ward with the unpleasant Norris. Norris is due to be released and Fletch cons him into buying a treasure map with the possessions he took off old lag Blanco Webb, played by an unrecognisable David Jason. The episode winds up with Norris hilariously digging for treasure in the middle of Leeds United's football pitch.

2) No Peace For The Wicked

It's Saturday afternoon and everyone is supposed to be wrapped up in their respective activities. Fletch wants to take advantage of this and have a nice quiet afternoon in his cell on his own. His plans are thwarted by a hilarious succession of cons disturbing him. Fletch's patience is tested to the limit but he goes too far when the prison chaplain pays him a visit. Ironically, the punishment served on him is just what he wanted. Solitary confinement! And the top slot goes too....

1) Pardon Me

It was a tough call, but sneaking in at the top spot is this corker of an episode, one that really highlighted the chemistry Barker and Jason had together and which would be used to great success in Open All Hours. Old man Blanco has been released on parole but rejects it to protest his innocence in the murder of his wife. Fletch and his fellow fellons form an appeal committee to win Blanco a pardon from the home office. They eventually win this only to find that Blanco admits he didn't kill his wife but he did kill his wife's lover. Comedy gold!