Porridge the perfect sitcom says prison classic remake star Kevin Bishop
Seventies prison sitcom Porridge remains much loved so there's a certain responsibility when it comes to crafting a reboot. Comedian and actor Kevin Bishop tells Georgia Humphreys about playing the grandson of Ronnie Barker's character Norman Stanley Fletcher
How does it feel to be part of the Porridge reboot?
Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais have brought Porridge back to life again with a brilliant script and it is a genuine honour to be involved in a show that is iconic in so many ways. Ronnie Barker's character was one of the most loved in BBC history and the thought of stepping into his grandson's shoes fills me with both thrills and paralytic fear!
Did you have any reservations about doing it?
It's something that I've always really loved and when initially they said 'we're going to remake it' I thought, 'that might not be a good idea' because it's the closest thing to a perfect sitcom that I know. So, I did think it was a bad idea at first and I wasn't really sure even throughout the rehearsal process of the pilot. I was never sure if it was going to be a success or not, because you just don't know until you get in front of that audience.
Are you nervous about how the remake will be received with fans of the original Porridge?
I was very nervous and I still am, if I'm honest, because I think it's something that people hold very close to their hearts, and when you see something so good and you remember it so fondly... that's why I was slightly reticent to jump on board at first because I thought, if it isn't good, as an audience member I would completely slate it. And we've pulled it off I think.
Your character seems to have a sort of general optimism about life. What's your take on him?
The good thing about Porridge as a premise is that it's a perfect sort of sitcom in the sense that the central character is trapped. Nothing lends itself better to that than incarceration. And I think the way Porridge is written... it's done very well by Dick and Ian in that, in every episode, there's a moment where it's not all jokes, and you realise that being in prison is not fun, and what it is is a tragic waste of life.
How similar is your character, Nigel 'Fletch' Fletcher, to the one Ronnie Barker played?
I think something that helps the audience identify with the central character a little bit is, very much like original Porridge with Ronnie Barker, he's the eyes and ears of the audience. He's you if you were in prison; that's how it feels. And I think that that's what I'm trying to do with Fletch in this, you just make him feel like an 'everyman' almost, who's stuck in a place he shouldn't be. I wanted to make him feel like he's stuck out. He wasn't supposed to be there.
Did you base your portrayal on Ronnie's in any way?
I think a lot of it was quite subliminal because I was such a fan of the show. It's very tempting to do an impression of somebody if you can do it, but I think it would have been a mistake if I'd have just done a straight Ronnie Barker playing Fletch impersonation. The wonderful thing about that character – the gift from Ronnie Barker – was that he must have based that on somebody he knew, because it's such a well-layered character. So really, he'd given me that frame to work from.
We've heard you hype up the Porridge cast by doing impersonations of them. Is this true?
It's a tic. A vicious tic. And it was very much a curse until I made a living out of it. I mean, I've upset lots of people. The amount of times it comes back to me because the person wasn't there and says 'oh, I heard you do an impression of me'. And they say 'go on, do it now.' But I find it's actually quite sort of cathartic for us before we go on to be completely destroyed, humiliated and then you go out in front of an audience. I find it really, really helps us.
:: Porridge starts on BBC One on October 6