Kevin Bishop took drastic measures to avoid a Porridge backlash!

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Actor Kevin Bishop’s reaction when his – initially one-off – Porridge remake was first broadcast shows just how nervous he was at having a crack at one of Great Britain’s all-time classic sitcoms.

“I left the country,” he reveals. “I went on holiday with my wife and kids as I was so terrified of the backlash.”

 Porridge: Fletch (centre) is banged up in Wakeley Prison with Parfitt (Harry Peacock, left) and Scudds (Ricky Grover, right)

BBC
Porridge: Fletch (centre) is banged up in Wakeley Prison with Parfitt (Harry Peacock, left) and Scudds (Ricky Grover, right)

Hiding out in Spain, Kevin did pluck up the courage to take a peek when he saw it on the telly in an expats’ bar.

“I remember watching it from a distance, in disguise, through a bar window,” he says. “No one was watching or listening to it, except me. I could just about hear it over the George Michael impersonator singing next to the TV.”

Viewers back home, though, must have been impressed as, unlike the other comedy revivals given a one-off reboot in last year’s BBC Landmark Sitcom Season, Porridge was not immediately sent back into retirement – a fate that befell Are You Being Served? and Young Hyacinth.

Instead, it’s following in the footsteps of Still Open All Hours with its own full-length series about young Fletch (Kevin), grandson of Ronnie Barker’s iconic character, who’s locked up for cyber crimes 40 years after his grandad was also incarcerated.

“We’re all really chuffed by the response,” says Kevin, “and I hope there’s more life in the beast as we’ve all got ideas for much funnier stuff we can do with the show.

 Porridge: Ronnie, Fulton MacKay and Richard (l-r) starred in the original series between 1974 and 1977

Rex
Porridge: Ronnie, Fulton MacKay and Richard (l-r) starred in the original series between 1974 and 1977

“I feel that any sitcom – whether it’s a classic or brand new – needs two series just to settle in. So it would be a shame if we don’t do more. But who knows what the BBC have got planned for it? We’ll be the last to know.”

Apart from viewers’ reactions, what’s most thrilled Kevin is the approval of the show’s writers, Dick Clement, 80, and Ian La Frenais, 81.

After all, they created the original series for Ronnie Barker and Richard Beckinsale, who played Fletch’s cellmate Lennie Godber.

“Dick and Ian have paid me some lovely compliments,” says the 37 year old. “They’re the original creators and they’ve been very supportive from the beginning.

When I first met them with the BBC to discuss doing this, I was very, very nervous. But we clicked from the get-go. You don’t feel like you’re talking to a pair of octogenarians. It’s more like having a chat with a couple of mates.

 Officer Meekie (Mark Bonnar) and Governor Hallwood (Pippa Haywood) preside over prison life

BBC
Officer Meekie (Mark Bonnar) and Governor Hallwood (Pippa Haywood) preside over prison life

“If you suggest or add a line, they’ll sit there and look at each other for a minute, then if they like it they’ll turn round and say: ‘Yes, that’s Porridge.’ That’s a nice feeling. If I’m honest, I didn’t think that doing Porridge again was a particularly good idea – so that’s quite a buzz.”

Although Kevin never met the late Ronnie or Richard, he does have a lovely memory of the other Ronnie.

“In one of my first professional gigs as an eight-year-old child, I was a tap dancer in the chorus of the pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk, and Ronnie Corbett was playing Jack,” remembers Kevin.

“He was just hilarious. He did a dance to Swan Lake in his red underpants and, to this day, it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. I was so lucky that I got to work with him.”

Not that Kevin’s career especially impresses his wife Casta and his two young daughters.

“My kids are brutal critics,” he reveals. “They’re not really interested in the stuff I do. They wish I was in Horrible Histories or something else that is more accessible to them.

“The one thing of mine that they do like is [1996 film] Muppet Treasure Island. They don’t like any of the other stuff I do, though. They think it’s rubbish.”

Classic Porridge clips

The one person who Kevin knows would have loved watching him in the new Porridge is his late grandfather.

“I used to sit with my grandad in his armchair and we would watch Porridge,” recalls Kevin.

“He would laugh like a drain the whole way through. It’s bittersweet for me because sadly my grandfather died a long time ago and he would have loved this. He would have been so proud.”

Whatever the future of Porridge, Kevin has already got another very starry project on the horizon, appearing on stage next year as Lord Darlington alongside Jennifer Saunders in Oscar Wilde’s play Lady Windermere’s Fan, directed by Kevin And Perry star Kathy Burke.

“Kathy phoned me when I was putting my tent up at an outdoor music festival,” he says.

“She was like: ‘Is now a good time to talk, mate? I know you’ve got kids and that.’ I said yeah, and she replied: ‘Oh well, I saw a photograph of you with a moustache and I thought: ‘Kevin could really play a good lord, know what I mean?’ And when Kathy Burke phones you up and offers you a part, you don’t turn it down.’”

Or tell her to naff off, as Fletch would say.

NEW! Porridge 9.30pm Friday BBC1

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