Comedy Connections (2003) s01e01 Episode Script


1 When Porridge first hit our screens in the mid-'70s, it pulled in audiences of 20 million and was hailed as a British sitcom classic.
Our map of Comedy Connections takes us on a 40-year journey to see how writers, director and actors created a series where the "sit" and "com" were in perfect harmony.
People say Porridge was the best thing I did.
I think they're right.
The reason it has endured well is it doesn't date.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven - EIGHT.
Huh! Would you Adam and Eve it? "Go to jail"! At the time, none of us thought this would be going 25 years later! It was just impossible to believe.
All right, Fletcher.
Just don't let me catch you thieving! I won't.
You won't what? I won't let you catch me, Mr Mackay! The recipe of Porridge's success is easy to see with hindsight.
Two of TV's best writers gave great material to a talented director, who brought the best out of a gifted cast.
How could it fail? Especially when, at the heart of Porridge, in the part of Norman Stanley Fletcher, was a comic giant - Ronnie Barker.
To achieve that success, it needed Ronnie Barker, and the reason why is because you needed an actor of consummate skill in acting and a total knowledge of comedy.
That's from me.
Bit mundane after cigars - but I knitted them! Did you? Aren't they nice! Lovely! I'll wear the other one when I get the bandage off, 'cause They're mittens! Eh? Oh, yeah - look at that! Oh, yeah! So how did it all begin? In the early '60s, the BBC gave two friends - trainee TV director Dick Clement and insurance salesman Ian La Frenais - the opportunity to write a comedy series called The Likely Lads.
Two teas, love.
One with, one without.
Sugar's on the table.
Steady! Some's gone into the cups(!) Audiences appreciated The Likely Lads' grip on real life and its lack of sitcom sofas.
But sofas became part of the furniture in the follow-up success, Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? It was an interesting time in TV - people willing to try new things.
So we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
Meanwhile, Ronnie Barker had been playing second fiddle to Jimmy Edwards in More Faces Of Jim.
Then he emerged from the shadow, appearing in The Frost Report with Ronnie Corbett and a pre-Monty Python John Cleese.
You stand before this court charged with arson, manslaughter, robbery with violence, rape, treason and three separate cases of murder.
What have you to say for yourself? I'm terribly sorry! The success of The Frost Report marked Barker as a talent to watch and he was given his own show.
Hark At Barker saw the start of a long association with David Jason.
But it was the collaboration with Ronnie Corbett that launched the BBC on a hunt for a suitable starring vehicle.
Seven Of One was designed to be pilots for possible series.
It WAS to be Six Of One, so I could then do Half A Dozen Of The Other.
But some wise executive added another script which put paid to that as a title.
I commissioned some writers I'd been working with.
Two from - 'cause there were seven programmes - so I got two from Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, 'cause I'd done Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? with them.
The first of the two pilots by Clement and La Frenais introduced the public to Fletcher and to prison officers Mackay and Barrowclough.
I suggested one episode could be a prison episode but mine was much more jokey - a sort of Bilko in prison.
I talked to Dick and Ian and they wanted to do something deeper.
A Happy New Year to you, Fletcher.
Oh, yes - very witty, very droll(!) Prisoner And Escort had a guy who wanted to escape, so we knew that the character, mixed with Ronnie's kind of attitude, was someone up to something, So that was the core comic thing.
Don't come it with me! I wouldn't, Mr Mackay, or you'd wait till Hemel Hempstead and chuck me out the window.
He wouldn't do that! I suppose not.
He couldn't spell Hemel Hempstead - he'd wait till we got to Rugby.
CLEMENT: It's fair to say that the fact that it had great performances by Brian Wilde and Fulton Mackay gave you a head start.
One had already established the bones of a different relationship between Fletcher and each of those two prison officers.
He'd bring back the birch, him.
What's he on about? Mr Mackay runs group activities.
Oh, yeah? Like rock-breaking and compulsory potholing.
This is where another essential ingredient was added - the director Sydney Lotterby, whose record included Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em and The Liver Birds.
His skill at getting performances from artistes is demonstrated by Frankie Howerd in Up Pompeii.
There, there, there, there! Oh! Oh, there, there, there, there! Oh! Ever so there, there, there! One for the road.
Oh! Oh, there, there, there, there! LOTTERBY: The thing about comedy - about ALL television - is that the actor and the director - we are both, in fact, interpreters.
The person who's got all the business, of course, is the writer.
The creative team of writers, director and star that would make Porridge was now in place.
They also did a second Seven Of One pilot - I'll Fly You For A Quid - about a Welsh family of gamblers.
That's all going at 13-2, plus his original stake, that's 1, carry5that's 7, that's My God! £848.
42! Approximately.
Less tax.
No - I've allowed for that! It was make-your-mind-up time, as they said in the '70s.
How different the history of TV comedy might have been if the BBC had followed Barker's instincts.
It wasn't my favourite episode.
The Welsh one, I thought would make the best series but I was talked round.
The BBC agreed to a series based on Prisoner And Escort but it would be 18 months before it started recording, and Clement and La Frenais tested the waters at ITV with a series called Thick As Thieves.
It starred Bob Hoskins as an ex-con who returns home to find best mate John Thaw has moved in with his wife.
Cut yourself shaving? Every time you raised your voice! There's TCP in there.
No, we keep it in the bathroom.
Oh, DO we?! ITV were It didn't quite work.
There's something about ITV, they didn't do that stuff as The BBC always did the half-hour comedies better than ITV, but this SHOULD have worked.
We liked it.
We were high on Thick As Thieves then.
Confronted by the reality of six Porridge half-hours, getting laughs from incarceration looked like being hard labour, though the setting had one big advantage.
The best situation comedy has always been in a confined environment, and there's nothing more confined than prison, so all those were valid reasons, but we had to overcome the real horror of it, because prison is a deeply depressing place.
The breakthrough came when they met former jailbird Jonathan Marshall who'd written a book about his time inside.
This gave Clement and La Frenais the key to their character and how he could handle the daily, grinding tedium.
Fletcher would survive on little victories.
I get a bit depressed at times We both remember that key phrase, that it was the kind of minutiae of everyday existence, the way that people like Fletcher, who are survivalists, look for an edge, or victory over "the man".
You see yourself as working-class, do you? Yeah.
At least, I used to until I went up to Glasgow once - now I see myself as MIDDLE-class.
Those victories were won against the man who embodied the system.
Bringing the character of Prison Officer Mackay to life was his namesake, actor Fulton Mackay.
Mr Mackay's battles with Fletcher gave the series most of its conflict and plenty of big laughs.
Do everything by numbers? I refuse to rise to your bait, Fletcher.
And it is naive of you to assume that I would.
Even with your old lady - numbers? IN SCOTTISH ACCENT: I'm about to make passionate love to you.
Stand by your bed! Wait for it, wait for it! Two, three - knickers down! Before entering Slade Prison, Fulton Mackay had played a host of straighter roles, including one where the Doctor arrived a little too late.
Fulton Mackay was in the running to play Doctor Who when Jon Pertwee hung up his hat.
But the prison gates opened as the TARDIS door shut.
On his release from Slade, Mackay was to play Local Hero's beach bum and appear with the Muppets as the lighthouse-keeper in Fraggle Rock.
Fulton's whole body language, everything he did, the way he moved and his little twitches - you can't WRITE that.
That's when an actor takes over a role and says, "This is now mine.
"This is my suit of clothes and I'm wearing it.
" Fantastic! Never turn your back on them! I've always thought the way to encourage trust was to SHOW trust.
Mackay's cohort, Barrowclough, was a whole boxful of soft centres and a gift for Brian Wilde who had worked with Barker in the 1964 film The Bargee.
Then he played Foggy in Last Of The Summer Wine.
I'm all right.
It's just that I get these murderous tempers! No, on the whole, you really shouldn't say anything to me that you couldn't safely say to John Wayne.
Meanwhile, back in the clink, cast members were still being recruited.
An important piece of the jigsaw - finding Fletcher's cellmate.
We wanted to create a character who had never been to prison before.
That way, the audience could learn aboutthe routine things that prison life involves.
So cast as Fletcher's cellmate - step forward Lennie Godber, played by Richard Beckinsale.
You WAS expecting me? They informed you? They informed me.
Only temporary.
You're too right, only temporary! Single cell, this is - it's mine.
It's not MY fault.
I'm just saying.
Richard Beckinsale first starred on TV as Geoffrey Scrimshaw, the boyfriend of Paula Wilcox, in two series of The Lovers.
He then played student Alan Moore in the bedsit sitcom Rising Damp and took on Leonard Rossiter.
Shake hands.
Get him out of here! Why? It's morbid.
I have to study anatomy, or how can I set bones? If they make you a doctor, I'll write to the Medical Council! It's someone to talk to, and it's musical.
# Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones # That's not funny! Godber started prison life working in the kitchens but rose rapidly to be Fletcher's sidekick and perfect bottom-bunk occupant.
How different it might have been if the BBC followed Barker's instinct.
I didn't know his work.
Indeed, I'd suggested a guy called Paul Henry as Godber to the director.
He's a chap I'd worked with a year before.
But the director said no.
He thought that Richard had such warmth and charm andinnocence.
Keep your nose clean, do your porridge.
I'm only here due to tragic circumstances.
What? I got caught.
He and Ronnie hit it off immediately and there was a father-son thing which worked extremely well.
And Lennie was enormously sympathetic.
You stop that! What! That! Drawing attention to other people's peculiarities.
I was saying to Jackie, too many youngsters poke fun at people 'cause they got short legs or long legs.
Who's Jackie? Jackie - him in the hobby shop.
Little fat poof with the ears like jug handles.
LA FRENAIS: Fletcher became the reluctant mentor of this guy who he didn't want in his cell but was put in his cell and who also didn't know anything.
So the audience got a sense of the rules, what you do or don't do.
It's the one place where you can get freedom.
Dreams is your escape.
No locked doors, no barriers.
Dreams is freedom.
Freedom? Yeah.
No locked doors, is there? Hey, yeah.
Hey, yeah - you're right, Fletch! The Porridge team now had to find a cast of supporting characters to ensure this prison worked.
Out came the form book and the names selected were Sam Kelly as Bunny Warren I'd read books if I could read.
'Never knew what his real first name was.
' And he was in for burglary because he couldn't read the sign that said "Burglar Alarm"! Christopher Biggins as Lukewarm Reading a book? Oh, don't YOU start! Go on knitting your balaclava - there might be another war.
BIGGINS: Lukewarm was the iron hoof, in the Cockney slang - the poof.
This character - an extension of myself - was always knitting.
Tony Osoba as Mad Dog McLaren Never knew my father, ma that didn't want me, orphanage, and I'm black with a Scots accent.
What d'you want - happy-go-lucky(?) It could be worse, son.
Could it? No, I don't suppose it could, really.
OSABA: The scripts were just easy - easy to learn, easy to do.
You felt, "This just works beautifully.
" And playing Fletcher's daughter, Ingrid, with a voice that could strip paint, Patricia Brake .
Are you wearing a bra? I don't need to.
What d'you mean? Haven't for ages.
My breasts are firm and pliant.
Please, Ingrid! This isn't St Tropez - it's Slade bleedin' Prison! There's 600 men in here who'd go berserk at the sight of a shin, never mind unfettered knockers! I knew it was special in rehearsal.
If something makes YOU laugh that you're in, you know it's good.
Paul Henry might've missed the boat as Godber, but national acclaim came his way as Benny in Crossroads.
A casting idea of Barker's that did pay dividends was a young actor who played characters much older than he was.
As the geriatric lifer Blanco Webb, shuffle forward David Jason.
We all know you didn't kill your old lady, so some other bloke did and you've paid the penance for it, but I don't want you going out harbouring any thoughts of revenge.
I know him what did it.
It were the wife's lover.
But I shan't look for him.
He died years ago.
That's all right, then.
That I do know.
I killed him.
I had no idea who David was.
Ronnie said, "I know who can do this part.
" So I looked at David Jason and thought, "He's so young! "He can't do this.
" He said, "HE can do it.
" David Jason had a glorious comedy future ahead of him.
He had form and most of it was linked to Ronnie Barker.
As well as appearing in Porridge, he appeared with Ronnie in Hark At Barker as a 100-year-old gardener and as a hitman in The Odd Job, hired by a suicidal Barker to bump him off.
Leave it to me.
When you're least expecting it Y-Yes, that sounds reasonable.
Think nowt of it.
Well, I suppose The relationship continued when Jason appeared again with Barker as Granville in Open All Hours.
Porridge, meanwhile, went from strength to strength.
Its smooth running meant everyone got time off for good behaviour.
It was an incredibly smooth process.
It doesn't happen that way.
It was too easy.
Nothing went wrong.
We'd record the programmes What time? Eight o'clock.
We'd be in the bar by 9.
Mr Mackay is a strict Glasgow Presbyterian, you know.
Sex is only allowed up there when Rangers beat Celtic! 'I found Fletcher a very appealing character to play.
He was crooked,' always looking for a swindle and trying to trick the authorities, but he respected fairness, I think.
A cheeky character - he made me laugh.
30 - slop-out, supper, 7.
45 - lights out.
Any questions? Any point? None whatsoever.
Clement and La Frenais' writing was always very, very funny.
Very little alteration required.
I would add the odd gag, but it was practically the finished article on the first read-through.
Their scripts are always so good there's not much to do, which is great for a director.
And if you've got good actors, all you do is let them get on with it, make sure you don't get in the way.
And as you'd expect from a prison comedy, Clement and La Frenais liked to give themselves a stretch.
The episode, A Night In, was set entirely in one cell.
Dear God, thank you for getting me through another day.
Thank you for the letter from Denise and the liquorice allsorts.
Please look after Denise, and the same applies to me mam, dad - wherever he is - Auntie Vi, Uncle Donald, Uncle Les and Auntie Here! Is this a prayer or a dedication on the Jimmy Young Show?! It was a great challenge to have just two people talking in a cell.
It was lit very dark - it was at night.
It was just very atmospheric and very good and it was the first BAFTA it won, so that's a reason why it was my favourite too! Despite its huge audiences, Porridge came to an abrupt stop after a mere 21 episodes, bringing to an end if not Her Majesty's, then everybody else's pleasure.
We only did three series.
That was my fault.
I didn't want to get stuck with being identified as Fletcher.
I've seen actors stay too long in one character.
Harry H Corbett as Steptoe - it happened to him.
After Porridge, Barker returned to another of the Seven Of One pilots, corner shop sitcom Open All Hours.
He teamed up once again with Sydney Lott and his protege David Jason.
David Jason was, as always, a delight to work with.
His timing and sense of comedy are superb, and a riot off camera.
I've never laughed so much as I did with David.
Who's it for? 11.
You wrote 111.
I've started st-stuttering in writing now! Even though Ronnie Barker wanted to move on, that didn't cut much ice with the BBC, and in their efforts to revive Fletcher, they resorted to drink.
The BBC invited us to a thank-you lunch which went on till 5 o'clock, and after the seventh or second - I lost count - large brandy, we walked out having agreed to do a sequel called Going Straight.
# I'm going straight, I am Straight as an arrow I'd agreed to do one series of Going Straight, but it didn't seem to please the public.
They missed the threat and discipline of prison.
When I decided to work, I worked out all my qualifications.
Know what they boiled down to? One driving licence.
45 years on this earth, that's all I got! One driving licence.
Even that's got two endorsements.
Fletcher was always a winner inside.
When he went outside, for Going Straight, he was a bit of a loser.
They're all right.
They don't go in this room.
They will do when they're personalised.
All you need's a family photo.
That's all you need.
Just a little ornament, like that.
Perhaps a Going Straight marked the first sitcom role for Nicholas Lyndhurst as Fletcher's gormless son Raymond.
The series had an impeccable pedigree.
All the collaborators from Porridge were involved again, but despite a plot which saw Godber marrying Fletcher's daughter, it showed the public thought Fletcher belonged behind bars.
I think the reason it didn't work was the public wanted more Porridge and it wasn't the same.
But there was more.
In 1979, Porridge followed in the footsteps of many '70s sitcoms, making the transition to the big screen, although it never measured up to the original.
For the American market, they had to reintroduce characters that were already well-known in this country.
So, in a way, for me, 20 minutes of the film waswasted, because they had to reintroduce Mr Mackay and Mr Barrowclough, which was a shame, really.
Luckily, there was more to life after Porridge than repeat fees, though they're still coming in.
Sam Kelly made a good impression, appearing in The Two Ronnies, and starred as Hans Geering in 'Allo 'Allo.
CUCKOO! CUCKOO! Tony Osoba kept Charlotte Coleman in line in Educating Marmalade.
Patricia Brake recreated June Whitfield's part of Eth in the TV version of The Glums before become really glum, after appearing in the doomed Eldorado.
Christopher Biggins became successful in panto, playing Christopher Biggins.
What about the stars of Porridge? Richard Beckinsale never fulfilled his glorious early promise.
In 1979, he died during the filming of the sitcom Bloomers, at the age of 31.
His daughters Kate and Samantha carry on the Beckinsale acting tradition.
For he's a jolly good fellow For he's a jolly good fellow Fulton Mackay continued to deliver meticulous performances up to his death in 1987.
But it's for his creation of Mackay, the scourge of Slade, that he's most fondly remembered.
For he's a jolly good fellow For he's a jolly good fellow Sydney Lotterby retired from TV in January 2003, after an association with the BBC that lasted over 60 years.
He rounded off his career directing As Time Goes By, which ran for 10 years.
Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais moved to Hollywood after Porridge - something that suits them.
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and The Commitments were written in LA.
But for them, Porridge remains an enduring highlight.
Now and again, everything goes, "Click, click, click".
I don't think it's happened since! It was just extraordinary.
And what of Ronnie Barker? Playing Fletcher made him king of comedy, a title he held on to until his last series Clarence in 1988, when he decided to retire.
In the last couple of years, I've appeared in films, just for fun.
But I'm still definitely retired again now.
You see a difference in Fletcher.
Sending him home has made him realise what he's been missing.
He's been on a mug's game all these years.
He's had the cockiness knocked out of him.
We've seen the last of him.
You can't beat the system, Mr Barrowclough.
Oh, sorry.