Yesterday, film and television lost a great character actor and a very personal man: Lionel Jeffries passed away at the age of 83. Many will not remember his performances: after all, his film roles are concentrated into the period from the mid 50s to late 70s. One of my favourites comes from 1960, and was made on the usual small budget, in black and white, and must have been seen more than once by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais when they were creating Porridge.
In Two Way Stretch, Jeffries played Chief Prison Officer Sydney “Sour” Crout – “the most twisted screw who ever walked down a prison corridor” – and was surely the template for the Fulton Mackay character in Porridge. Except that Jeffries’ part was much nastier, a man who believed that prisoners should not be allowed rehabilitation classes, but given hard labour instead. Nor would he take any back chat, memorably barking at one prisoner “Silence when you’re talking to me!”.
Anyone who enjoyed Porridge should check out this film, and see the parallels between the two. Everyone else should see it anyway: it’s one of many fine performances, and shows that it would be wrong to think of Jeffries merely on the basis of his appearance in the later Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which is the extent of so many obituaries today.