On March 23rd I was one of the few lucky people to be invited to watch the final episode of the NEW Porridge series currently being filmed. It was a fascinating experience, and a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Note: this will contain NO SPOILERS as to the plot of the episode / other episodes in the series, and is a log of the events of filming only. (top image copyright BBC)
As with most BBC Sitcoms these days, filming took place in MediaCityUK, Salford, near Manchester. It was a nine-hour round trip for me, so an early start and a very late drive home afterwards. MediaCity is a fascinating place. The Studios being central to the complex, with CBeebies, Blue Peter close by and ITV Studios (with Coronation Street) just a few metres over the river.
(MediaCityUK ‘ The Studios’ (where filming took place) is the large curved building in the centre)
Porridge was filming in Studio 3, and the warm-up man was Ted Robbins (Phoenix Nights, The Slammer etc). I’m sure I speak for everyone in the studio audience that night when I say that Ted really made the experience. His constant patter, jokes and tales often had us all in tears. He was a real joy to watch – it’s something of travesty that the TV audience will see nothing of his joyous routines.
First, I’ll deal with the sets: The studio was huge – far bigger than the ones I remember attending at Teddington (London) many years ago. The largest sets were positioned directly infront of the studio audience. The main cell was the furthest right and led directly into the main recreation area. Fans of Ted Robbins may remember his CBBC show ‘The Slammer.’ Ted confirmed during the night that the main staircase used in Porridge was the same one used in The Slammer. Funny how things come full circle! The sets show a modern prison – very grey, green, white and clean. Not like the grimy, Victorian-esque cells that we know from the old series. It did appear to be the identical set used in the Pilot episode late last year. Also used for filming on this night was a wash room, a telephone room, the Governor’s office and a board room.
(shows the layout of the sets within the studio)
The cast; I won’t go into too much detail as I don’t want to reveal any spoilers. But there are a good few additions to the cast that weren’t in the pilot. One in particular which has a (sort of) link to the original Porridge. The cast has expanded, that is for sure. Whether it is good that there are more characters, we will have to wait and see. For me, Mark Bonnar (Officer Meekie) stood out above the others – his mannerisms and speech virtually identical to that of Fulton Mackay in the original. Ricky Grover (Scuds) also stood out – not because of his huge stature – but because of his joking around, and generally making everyone else laugh. I really did get the impression that the whole cast got on very well, and they all came across as one big family.
The Filming Process; I’ve seen many shows filmed over the years, and this is the first one I’ve ever seen where every single scene was filmed twice. Usually, they’ll have to film some scenes twice or do retakes because of missed lines or similar. But every scene was shot twice. I understand the importance of getting everything right, but in some cases there were improvised gems that I know won’t get shown. Another thing that tends to happen during ‘take 2’ is that the audience don’t laugh as much. There was one moment in particular that we all laughed out loud at, but on the second take it barely got a giggle.
When the series hits our screens later in the year, I will reveal full details and go into more in-depth reviews.
Of particular note on the evening of filming was the attendance of the original writers – Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais. I had guessed they may attend, and I was pleased to see them lurking in the wings throughout filming. After the final scene the whole cast and crew welcomed them onto the floor and they said a few words of thanks. I managed to speak to them both afterwards and they both seemed very pleased with series and how it had worked out. For me, it was a genuine honour to meet them – something I’ve been wanted to do for many years.
Well, there you go. I was very lucky to be selected for being in the audience, and I’m pleased that although only small, my laugh will contribute to the new series. It’ll never be the ORIGINAL Porridge – but it’s the closest I’ll ever get. It was a joyous evening, and IF a second series does get commissioned, I would recommend to anyone to go and be a part of it.