Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Whatever happened to Norman Stanley Fletcher?


The other day Mr SDS picked up a DVD of the British TV comedy series 'Going Straight' from a charity shop in town.  We decided to watch one episode of it each evening before passing it on to a new home, and we've just finished all six.

I remember when it was first aired, in 1978, and being interested to see this follow-up to the much-loved 'Porridge', which really was a staple of the British sitcom diet in the '70s.  The now ex-con Fletcher, played by Ronnie Barker, was the star of 'Going Straight' which also featured his young cell-mate Lennie Godber.  This, I have to say, was a bonus for a teenage girl who had the hots for Richard Beckinsale...

In this short-lived series (sadly a second was never to be, due to Beckinsale's early death), both Fletcher and Godber have been released from prison and have vowed to stay away from crime, with the unerring support of Fletcher's sweet, toothy daughter Ingrid (played by Patricia Brake).  Ingrid just happens to be going out with Godber too.  Fletcher's gormless son Raymond also makes an appearance, providing an early role for Nicholas Lyndhurst.  Each episode's storyline is surprisingly heartwarming and relatively simple, but what really works about 'Going Straight', just as with 'Porridge', is the dialogue.

Scriptwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais are such masters in the art of writing dialogue which is not only funny but frequently reflective.  Their characterisations are never one-dimensional, but are full of natural and believable human contradictions, conveyed with intelligence and just the right degree of emotion.  They toy with words in puns and double-entendres, with rich vocabulary and playful turns of phrase.  Whilst gentle in tone, nothing is dumbed down and poignancy and pathos sit happily alongside more obvious comedic and farcical moments.  As in other Clement and La Frenais favourites like '(Whatever Happened To) 'The Likely Lads' and 'Auf Wiedersehen, Pet', we feel as if we know the characters through their conversations alone, and we root for them, warts'n'all.

I don't know whether a comedy series like this, 'Porridge', 'The Likely Lads' et al would get commissioned now - they might seem too mild and too wordy... and perhaps a large part of their appeal is that they can't be separated from their respective eras.

Passing references to punk and Margaret Thatcher place 'Going Straight' firmly against its 1978 backdrop and tiny details evoked memories for me that shocked me into realising just how long ago it was.  Ingrid's elasticated belt with little metal clasps (I'd forgotten until now that I had one too), the Probation Officer smoking at her desk and offering Fletcher a Rich Osborne biscuit, the wallpapered kitchen and those net curtains made up of oval-shaped holes...  Looking at the décor and fashions now it really does seem ancient.  Then again, I guess I am too: in 1978 I was going to my first proper gig (Siouxsie & The Banshees) and choosing the subjects I'd be doing for 'O' Levels the following year.


And this was released in '78 too.



12 comments:

  1. On the back of reading your post I've just sat down with a cup of tea and watched Episode 1 on Youtube. And remarkably good it is too. Guess I'll have to make time and watch the rest now .

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    1. Ah I'm glad you did that... yes, you must watch the rest! Get that kettle on!

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  2. I can't deny I had a teenage crush on Patricia Blake! They cast it well...

    I remember one great bit where Fletcher finds a ticket for some shoes he'd put in for the cobbler to mend just before getting arrested. When he comes back Godber asks him if they'd kept them. Fletch says "Oh yes. He said they'd be ready next Thursday". Frankly at the time in the 70s that wasn't to far from much of the truth of customer service.

    Who uses a cobblers any more? I put in some shoes at our local one, a guy started it up a year ago and part of me wanted to support him. £25 for new soles and heels - but the damn things only cost me probably £30 from the outlet store anyway... hmm...

    '78 - probably saw Whitesnake that year as I remember seeing the line up with Duck Dowle still on drums... Yes? maybe that year too I'd gone all prog and metal! LOL... next year I was camped at Knebworth to see Led Zep - glad I did too

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    1. Wow, great memory of that line about the cobblers, indeed I heard it only the other night.

      I think you're right about the demise of cobblers, folk are less 'make do and mend' now - just get a new pair from Primark or eBay...

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  3. 'In 78 everyone born in 45 will be 33' - c/o Stiff Records flyer from 1978.

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    1. What an inspired line - brilliant.

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  4. Ah, memories. I recall liking 'Going Straight' well enough but because it wasn't 'Porridge', which was a big favourite of mine, I don't think I quite got into it. I must try it again. Certainly, the writing and the cast cannot be questioned. I'm with Furtheron re: Patricia Brake. Great tune choice - a well loved Bear favourite from a wonderful musical year. Trying to remember who I saw live in '78...er...TRB, Television, The Only Ones, Stiff Little Fingers and, probably, (ahem) Rush!

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    1. I enjoyed it far more than I even expected, SB. I think that was partly because I'd only ever seen it the once at the time so it wasn't as familiar as most other good '70s sitcoms that I've watched so many times, it was like seeing something old but new. Recommended!

      Yeah, what a great year. I saw the Banshees in the January, so that was a brilliant start to it for me. I like your selection too - apart from Rush, hmm....!

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  5. We didn't get either of these of shows on the PBS rerun circuit...so I'll have to do some snooping around.

    My sister was born in 78 and that's all that needs to be said about that.

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    1. I hope you get to see them some time - Porridge in particular is a classic.

      So '78 was the year you got a cute little baby sister for a present, awww....

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  6. It's the quality of the writing and character development that prevent shows like Porridge and Auf Weidersehen Pet from ever becoming dated. I watch them over and over and glory in the wordplay in the same way as I would with a great song lyric, whether it's one of Fletch's many pontifications or Oz's simple, '..ah, bollocks man' - genius. I did re-watch 'Going Straight' a few years back and enjoyed it, one wonders how good it might have become. Such a tragedy that Beckinsale died so young.
    1978? The Clash, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Bob Dylan, SLF, Stranglers and, erm, Rush too! What was I thinking? Sadly I never saw ATV, though this single was, and is, in my collection.

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    1. Oh yes, I agree, there's something timeless about the writing and characters, no matter when and what the settings. I hadn't remembered until recently checking either that Clement & La Frenais did the TV adaptation of The Rotters Club, which I also really enjoyed (and actually preferred to the original book).

      As with SB's, I'm liking your '78 gig list, except for Rush and (sorry to say this!) Dylan - he was never going to float my boat!

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