'Porridge' to be censured at film festival for portraying sanitised version of prison life

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The Independent Culture

One of Britain's most popular sitcoms, Porridge, is to be accused of a crime of its own - aiding and abetting inhuman jail conditions and prison overcrowding.

The knockabout banter of Fletch (Ronnie Barker), Godber (Richard Beckinsale) and Mr Mackay (Fulton Mackay) is in the dock for lulling a generation into having a complacent outlook on British jails and killing the debate on prison reform.

The charge will be laid at a season of prison films due to be shown at the National Film Theatre next February. Sean O'Sullivan, co-ordinator of the festival hosted by the actor Tim Roth, said the Seventies sitcom deceived viewers with its sanitised view of prison life.

"One of our main targets is Porridge - that's one of the main ways that people get their ideas about prison," he said. "In Porridge nobody gets seriously hurt or damaged. It's just a game between the screws and cons to put one over on each other." Mr O'Sullivan, a criminologist at the University of Central England, said the sitcom, written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, "in no way puts across the damage that prison can do to people. Porridge came out in the Seventies when you had rooftop protests, occupations and riots in prisons," he said. "The protests and riots are there in Porridge but in such a sanitised, British way."

Another of the festival organisers, Frances Crook, the director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, described Porridge as "anodyne and soporific".

But Christopher Biggins, the actor who played Lukewarm, said: "I'm sure the public is aware that prison life is not like Slade prison. If not, they are doolally."

Leading article, page 14

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