Porridge review – send for the sitcom police!

The original Porridge creators return with a weak, watery throwback to the Ronnie Barker classic. This isn’t a sequel, it’s a forgery … bang ’em up this instant

The other day I had a craving for a childhood favourite – semolina pudding. So I bought some semolina and made one. It was … OK, I suppose, not quite the heaven on a spoon I remembered. The next generation weren’t impressed. Tastes change. There’s plenty left in the packet, but I won’t be using it up any time soon.

It’s similar with Porridge (BBC1), only they are persevering with the rest of the packet. After last year’s single-episode sequel – written by original Porridge creators Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais and with Kevin Bishop playing Nigel Norman Fletcher, Norman Stanley Fletcher’s grandson, doing five years for hacking – they’ve done another six shows.

In the first episode, New Fletcher is writing letters for less educated inmates in exchange for sweets, soap and smokes – pretty much as his grandad did in an episode called Men Without Women. He tells fellow inmate Barry that he, too, went out with a Joanne once. “She left me for a lady contortionist at the Cirque du Soleil – talk about getting your knickers in a twist!”

Kevin Bishop with Mark Bonnar as Officer Meekie in Porridge.
Kevin Bishop with Mark Bonnar as Officer Meekie in Porridge. Photograph: BBC Studios

It’s a line that could have come straight from the original (if Cirque du Soleil had been around in 1974). They all are – unsurprisingly, I guess, given who wrote them – and the studio audience chortles dutifully.

Bishop eerily mimics Ronnie Barker’s mannerisms and expressions. And what about Mark Bonnar’s officious Officer Meekie? The spitting image of Fulton MacKay’s officious Officer Mackay ... though there’s no shared DNA there. It’s not really a sequel, then, but a copy. (Quick, bang ’em up for forgery!) A continuation, after a little break of 40 years.

But it isn’t a good idea. What might once have been a sharp one-liner now looks and sounds like a throwback, nostalgic at best, but more likely just lame. The audience laughter doesn’t help. Tastes do change. Ronnie Barker’s boots are very big and hard to fill. This will tarnish the memory of the original. Don’t let it; ignore it. Some things are best left as that – a memory.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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