GOING STRAIGHT. (1978) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.©

going straight

GOING STRAIGHT. (1978) WRITTEN BY DICK CLEMENT AND IAN LA FRENAIS. STARRING RONNIE BARKER, RICHARD BECKINSALE, PATRICIA BRAKE, NICHOLAS LYNDHURST, TONY OSOBA, MILTON JOHNS, NIGEL HAWTHORNE, PETE POSTLETHWAITE AND FULTON MACKAY.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Aw, I absolutely loved this follow-up to PORRIDGE, the hit sitcom that sees Ronnie Barker as habitual criminal Norman Stanley Fletcher, aka Fletch, being incarcerated in Slade Prison for his continued recidivism. He can’t say he wasn’t warned, lol.

GOING STRAIGHT sees Fletch leaving prison at last, and with a new determination to go straight for a change as well, brought about by the realisation that he’s already spent far too much of his adult life behind bars. He says goodbye to McLaren, the last of their gang on the inside, gets ‘checked out’ by Milton Johns and heads outside to civilian life.

Episode One sees him sharing the train home with his old nemesis from Slade Prison, Mr. MacKay, the tough-as-old-boots Scotsman whose aggressive adherence to rules and regulations has caused him to clash with Fletch on more than one occasion.

Fletch has an opportunity to get revenge on Mr. Mackay when a couple of criminals board the train looking for a ‘patsy,’ but he doesn’t go through with it. Deep down, I think the two men have always had a grudging respect and admiration for each other, and I for one am in floods of tears when they shake hands as equals, as men and friends, and go their separate ways at the end.

In Episode Two, we see Fletch having trouble adjusting to civilian life. His wife has upped and left him for a man named Reg, and his lovely blonde daughter Ingrid has more or less shacked up, in the family home, with a certain lorry-driving Lenny Godber, Fletch’s best mate from Slade Prison and his protegé as well.

Fletch took Lenny under his wing in Slade and helped him to adjust to prison life, while always having an eye to getting out, of course, and now here’s Lenny Godber indecently mauling Ingrid in front of Fletch’s very eyes. It’s very hard for poor Fletch to stomach, much as he will always have a soft spot for Lenny.

Shouldn’t he perhaps get a job, to help him re-adjust to society and life in Civvy Street? No flaming way! Not when he can ‘borrow’ Lenny’s articulated lorry so he can drive to the Essex countryside in the hopes of pulling a ‘Shawshank Redemption’ and digging up some moolah he buried there in another lifetime… Fletch complicates everything unnecessarily while kidding himself he’s actually in search of a simple solution, doesn’t he…?

Episode Three sees Fletch regain some of his faith in human nature when he helps a young runaway to get back onto the straight and narrow, and in Episode Four he actually- hallelujah!- gets a real job as night porter in the Hotel Dolphin, courtesy of his parole officer. He looks so smart in the suit he wears to work, and he takes such a real pride in the work he does there that it’s lovely to see. We’re all genuinely rooting for him to do well and not to slip back into crime.

Ingrid is so incredibly proud of him and Godber is too, and when Fletch brings home his very first pay packet in a small brown envelope, it’s a real day for celebration. That, and also a day for getting back from Fletch what he owes everyone. Even his lanky, grotty teenage son Raymond has his hand out for the share of Fletch’s earnings which is owed to him. Welcome to the real world, Fletch…!

Episode Five sees Fletch nearly losing his precious job over an imagined jewellery scam involving a young Nigel Hawthorne (YES, MINISTER), and in Episode Six he battles his old demons as he tries to earn money dishonestly to pay for Ingrid’s wedding to Godber.

Angry that his estranged wife and her fancy man are shelling out for a lavish reception while Fletch himself hasn’t a bean to contribute, he takes a job as lookout and getaway driver in a bank job. This could be the start of the slippery slope for Norman Stanley Fletcher. Will he take the easy money and risk prison, or will he turn his back on crime forever and live happily ever after with Ingrid and Godber? Our prayers are with you, Fletch…!

If poor tragic Richard Beckinsale had lived, there might have been another series or two made of this much-loved and superbly-written sitcom. As it is, these six episodes are extremely precious in more ways than one, and I look forward to learning them by heart myself in the years to come.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

PORRIDGE. (1974-1977) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Porridge-619612

PORRIDGE. (1974-1977) WRITTEN BY DICK CLEMENT AND IAN LA FRENAIS (WRITERS OF AUF WIEDERSEHEN PET, THE LIKELY LADS, LOVEJOY). STARRING RONNIE BARKER, RICHARD BECKINSALE, BRIAN WILDE AND FULTON MACKAY.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Norman Stanley Fletcher, you have pleaded guilty to the charges brought by this court, and it is now my duty to pass sentence… You are an habitual criminal who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner. We therefore feel constrained to commit you to the maximum term allowed for these offences. You will go to prison for five years.’

‘Ronnie Barker will be remembered for Fletcher in PORRIDGE long after everything else he was in has faded from memory.’ DAILY EXPRESS.

This comedy series set in an English prison is just so good, I’m genuinely gutted that I can never again watch it for the first time with new, excited eyes. I’ll be re-watching it, however, hopefully many times, and I’ll remember it till my dying day as possibly the best, funniest and also the most warm-hearted and true-to-life sitcom I’ve ever seen. Gorblimey, I’m tearing up here. Whatever would Fletch say…?

Norman Stanley Fletcher, better known as Fletch, is a petty criminal whom the Beak is sick and tired of having up in front of him, charged with yet another offence involving thieving or fraud. This time, Fletch is hit with a good stiff sentence… five years in Her Majesty’s Slade Prison, a fictional nick up North somewhere, Cumberland I think, surrounded by moors and suchlike, so escape won’t exactly be an easy option.

Fletch is a hard-as-nails, tough-as-old-boots old lag from the big smoke. Muswell Hill in London, to be precise. Every sentence ends with ‘intcha?,’ as in, aren’t you? and ‘an’ all,’ as in, as well, too, also.

He’s perpetually chewing gum, he doesn’t react with any surprise to the things he hears and sees in the nick because he’s seen and heard it all before, and he’s got his own rather skewed sense of morality. It’s okay, for example, for Fletch to nick a tin of pineapple chunks from the kitchen, but the lag who in turn steals the tin from Fletch is the lowest of the low, innit?

This time round, Fletch has a new young cellmate called Lenny Godber, played by the dreamily handsome Richard Beckinsale who was tragically dead of heart failure by the age of thirty-one.

Fletch, rather grudgingly at first, takes Lenny under his wing, but the two soon find themselves to be friends for life, partly cemented by the confidences they exchange in the wonderful two-handed episode in Series One called ‘A NIGHT IN.’

As well as being drop-dead gorgeous, Lenny is surprisingly thoughtful, insightful and sensitive for a house-breaker serving his first sentence. He’s got an unusually wide vocabulary for a con and a philosophical turn of mind, and he uses the prison’s training programmes and courses of study to better himself.

When Fletch kindly arranges to steal the History O Level Exam papers for a nervous Lenny, Lenny has no trouble deciding that he wants to pass the exam the honest way. Which is just as well because Fletch’s man Warren, dope that he is, has only gone and nicked the wrong bleedin’ paper, ‘asn’t he? Much good the Biology papers will be in this instance.

Fletch doesn’t understand Lenny’s constant quest for self-improvement. He personally just wants to do his time in peace and quiet, if anyone will ever let him. He particularly just wants to lie on his top bunk with the Page Three Stunna of the day and have himself a nice time, nudge nudge, wink wink. Let’s just hope the visiting party from the Home Office have the manners to knock before they enter his bloomin’ cell, lol.

Mister Mackay, or ‘Scotland the Brave,’ is Fletcher’s nemesis, a screw who’s firm but fair. In his own words, he holds all the lags in equal contempt…! Getting one over on Mr. Mackay, whose exaggerated accent and gestures are almost criminally funny, is probably the thing that brings Fletch the most pleasure in life inside.

You see, the little victories Fletch manages to wring from Mackay in particular and the prison system in general are what makes life behind bars bearable. Look out for Fletch’s hilarious description of how the terminally regimented Mr. Mackay has sex with his wife. Bellows: ‘Stand by your bed…! One, two, three… knickers down… NOW…!’

Mr. Mackay has a foil, of course (for every bad cop there’s a good cop), in the form of the nervous, rather jittery but undoubtedly kind-hearted Mr. Barrowclough. He’s a progressive thinker who believes that the men in his care are there to be rehabilitated and treated as human beings rather than lowlives for whom there’s no hope. Mr. Mackay thinks Barrowclough is for the birds because of such forward-thinking and modern ideas.

Of course, Barrowclough’s lovely good nature means that he can be easily taken advantage by Fletch and the other lags, but it’s nice to see as well that not every screw thinks that the prisoners are irredeemable scum who should all be locked up and the key thrown away for ever.

Poor Mr. Barrowclough has a miserable home life courtesy of his domineering wife Alice, so much so that he often wishes, as he tells Fletch, ‘that I were in here wi’ you lot…!’ Fletch’s skills as a marriage guidance counsellor are in great demand, not just with Mr. Barrowclough but also with the other lags, so much so that everyone’s in shock when it transpires that Fletch’s own wife has left him for another man… or has she…?

Other characters include: Ingrid (Patricia Brake), Fletch’s sexy blonde daughter who comes in on visiting days with ‘unfettered knockers,’ much to the other prisoners’ interest; and Mr. Geoffrey Venables, the posh prison governor whose ivory tower existence away from the crims of Slade Prison renders him ineffectual at dealing with most crises; after all, when Jim McLaren (Tony Osoba), the black angry Scottish bloke, is up on the prison roof after a scrap at the footy match, it’s down to Fletch to talk him down. McLaren, an orphan, was found as a baby ‘up a side-alley wrapped in the Glasgow Herald.’ Just like a bag of chips, the poor lad. No wonder he couldn’t go straight.

Then there’s the ‘genial’ Harry Grout (Peter Vaughan), the most powerful prisoner in Slade prison and the least genial bloke you’re likely to meet. He even gives Fletch the willies. He never goes anywhere without his muscle man for back-up and, if Grouty wants a favour, you’d damn well better do it, or else you might just get your face re-arranged… and all for free an’ all…!

Alun Armstrong (THIS IS PERSONAL: THE HUNT FOR THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER, DAVID COPPERFIELD, BLEAK HOUSE) has a cameo as a Geordie con called Spraggon, a former illiterate who’s now writing his first book. Maybe a tin of snout will release his Muse? Dudley Sutton from LOVEJOY plays Reg Urwin, a prison trustee who wants a helicopter out of Slade and ten grand in used notes. Hang on a minute, Reg, and we’ll see what we can do…!

Christopher Biggins plays the cuddly kitchen trustee Lukewarm, surely the first openly gay character on British television? David Jason (OPEN ALL HOURS, ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES, A TOUCH OF FROST), brilliantly made up as an auld fella, plays crafty old Blanco, Lukewarm’s cellmate, who’s been inside seventeen years for topping his wife.

He swears he’s innocent, however, does old Blanco, and so Fletch and the lads set up a campaign to prove said innocence. Shame they’re wasting their time. He may not have offed the wife, but he’s definitely guilty of summat, all right, the cunning old lag…!

The box-set I own has all three series of the show on it, plus two cracking little Christmas specials and an hour-long documentary, presented by Johnny Vaughan, about how great the show is and why it just might be Britain’s Best Ever Sitcom. I have no problem with any of that, lol.

I’ll leave you with Fletch’s invaluable three-pronged piece of advice for any new inmates to Slade Prison, with which, by the way, Mr. Mackay doesn’t altogether agree: One, bide your time; Two, keep your nose clean and your head down; and Three… (altogether now!)… DON’T LET THE BASTARDS GRIND YOU DOWN…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com