‘Doing porridge’ is British slang for serving a prison sentence, partly due to the fact that porridge was once the traditional breakfast in UK prisons.
Voted number seven in the 2004 BBC poll of the 100 greatest British sitcoms, this mid-70′s series, Porridge, starring Ronnie Barker and Richard Beckinsale, tells the story of one, Norman Stanley Fletcher, a prisoner at the fictional HMP Slade Prison in Cumberland. Fletcher’s sole purpose in life, at this juncture, is to make his daily life in prison more bearable by beating the system in any way possible. Described by his sentencing judge as “an habitual criminal”, Fletcher takes his cellmate under his wing, showing the ‘first timer’ the ropes.
The creative partnership behind Porridge was Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who were also responsible for Lovejoy and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. Interestingly, Clement and La Frenais also wrote, with Roddy Doyle, The Commitments, the story of Jimmy Rabbitte who aspires to manage the world’s greatest band, with only one music in mind: soul.
From a production standpoint, scenes within the prisoners cells and prison offices were filmed at the BBC’s London studios. The prison exterior in the title sequence and some of the episodes were shot at Maidstone Prison, which was also featured in the BBC comedy series Birds of a Feather. The BBC was forced to look around for locations shooting because the Home Office refused permission for any production filming in or outside a real prison.
Following Porridge, Barker went on to the classic Open All Hours, written by Roy Clarke (Last of the Summer Wine, Keeping Up Appearances), which finished 8th in the above mentioned pole of the greatest British sitcoms.