‘Oh What Happened to You…’

So, you agree then?

‘Porridge’ is the finest TV sitcom of all time. Good to clear that up.

Forty odd years since they were made, whenever I re-watch those marvellous episodes, I’m still amazed how they created such wonderful stories, full of great lines and wonderful characters in just twenty-seven minutes of airtime.

Of course, mainly responsible for that is the outstanding writing talent of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. These two are writers par excellence, responsible for some of the best-loved British sitcoms of all time. Along with ‘Porridge’ and its follow up ‘Going Straight’ you also have ‘The Likely Lads’ and its follow up ‘Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads’,  ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’, ‘Lovejoy’ with Ian McShane and Dudley Sutton, ‘Thick as Thieves’ starring John Thaw and Bob Hoskins and ‘Spender’ with Jimmy Nail. 

Dick Clement also produced and directed the TV show ‘Not Only…But Also’ starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore and film wise they also gave us, ‘Hannibal Brooks’ with Oliver Reed, ‘Otley’ with Tom Courtney, the classic early 70s ‘Villain’ starring ‘Richard Burton, plus the big screen versions of ‘The Likely Lads’ and ‘Porridge’ – Buck Tarbrush anyone? – writing the screenplay for Roddy Doyle’s ‘The Commitments’ and  ‘Still Crazy’, which starred Bill Nighy, Billy Connolly and their old mate Jimmy Nail. On stage they adapted ‘Billy Liar’ staring Michael Crawford and Dick directed ‘Anyone For Denis’ starring John Well’s as Denis Thatcher.

Busy boys then…

Ian La Frenais was born in Northumberland in 1936 and Dick Clement in Westcliff -on-Sea in 1937. After both having a stint of National Service, Dick began working at the BBC, developing scripts and sketches and Ian at Tyne Tees writing songs for a satirical show.

They met in the early 1960s, via a mutual friend at the London School of Economics with La Frenais out of work at the time. They began their career together a year or two later with ‘The Likely Lads’ starring Rodney Bewes and James Bolam as Bob and Terry, which began as a sketch for a pub cabaret before being written up as a play and then finally a TV series between 1964 -66. Their next big was show was ‘Porridge ‘ which made household names of Ronnie Barker, Richard Beckinsale and Fulton McKay. The same thing happened with ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ which began in 1983 starring Tim Healy, Jimmy Nail, Timothy Spall, and Kevin Whatley.

By the time, ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ hit big,  Dick and Ian had moved to California, where they wrote an American version of ‘Porridge’ called “On The Rocks’ and the feature film ‘Prisoner of Zenda’ starring Peter Sellers. They were later writers for the 1996 HBO series ‘Tracey Takes On’ starring Tracey Ullman, which became a multi Emmy winning show.

Clement and La Frenais were awarded an OBE in the Queen’s 2007 Birthday Honours list.

As for their later work, I can’t comment on the 2017 revival of ‘Porridge’ as I wouldn’t watch it in protest at the thought of Dick and Ian messing around with such a classic, but I hear it wasn’t that good.

Fair play to them though, being still ‘at it’, both well into their 80s.

Last year BC – Before Covid – I bumped into La Frenais outside Bar Italia.

All I could muster was a brief ‘thank you.’ 

And I meant every word of it!

The Mumper of SE5



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