The master has just died...of a Porterhouse Blue. That is, of a stroke brought on by overindulgence. Long tradition insists that the masters of Porterhouse College name their successors, and that is to be the last man named by a dying master. Porterhouse, a very traditional college in the Cambridge mode of English privileged education, depends on all of its complacent traditions.
"You know my view," says the Dean of Porterhouse, "if a little learning is a dangerous thing, just think what harm a lot of it can do."
The college is so traditional, in fact, that its rights and privileges haven't changed in centuries. The deans and tutors seem just as ancient. However, the dying master did not name a successor. With no successor, the Prime Minister steps in and chooses a new one...Sir Godber Evans (Ian Richardson), a weak but sly fox of a politician with a wife, Lady Mary (Barbara Jeffords), who is as strong-willed and zealous as an executioner's axe. Sir Godber, however, is about to come up against two bastions of self-satisfied tradition, the Dean (Paul Rogers) and the Senior Tutor (John Woodnutt). But not even in Sir Godber's worst dreamings could he envisage the real defender of Porterhouse tradition...Skullion (David Jason), the head porter, a man who has been a fixture at Porterhouse for 45 years, who knows all the secrets and who keeps lists. Skullion is not a man to be trifled with.
Sir Godber and Lady Mary are determined to haul Porterhouse into the Twentieth Century. Finding that the college is in debt by a million pounds -- it maintains a fine cellar and chef for the High Table -- doesn't seem upsetting to those who have the long view. Take the college Feast, a magnificent affair with cooked, stuffed swans with all their feathers replaced, with the great ox cooked on a spit, whose dripping, roasted corpse is festively paraded about the dining hall to the cheers of all.
"Don't you find this a little indulgent? Particularly in the present economic circumstances." says Sir Godber.
"Oh, we never bother with 'present economic circumstances'." says the Dean.
Chimes in the Senior Tutor, "We find that they tend to go away after fifty years or so."
As Sir Godber and his wife set out to bring women into the college, bring financial order to the budget and bring contraceptive vending machines to the student restrooms, The Dean, the Senior Tutor and the other Fellows plot...and Skullion is just about to have a fit. He knows a gentleman when he sees one, and Sir Godber is not doing what a gentleman does. He embarks on a campaign to see that Porterhouse traditions will be protected and that he'll be able to keep his job. In this vicious, amusing satire on class snobbery and England's Oxbridge ways, no one is spared and a few even die. In fact, one of the funniest turns of the knife depends at the conclusion on another episode of a Porterhouse Blue.
The program was adapted from the novel by Tom Sharpe, an author who specializes in novels which skewer class pretensions. If you like Evelyn Waugh, you'll probably find Porterhouse Blue a rip. David Jason and Ian Richardson are in great form. And only Britain could come up with such a collection of fine actors able to play the aging protectors of tradition and fine wines. I remember years ago seeing Our Man in Havana and being impressed by Paul Rogers, a man I'd never heard of before, playing a key role amidst the star power of Alec Guinness, Ernie Kovacs, Noel Coward and Ralph Richardson. At 70, Rogers plays the Dean of Porterhouse with great, self-serving style and sly humor. He is one of the many actors in Porterhouse Blue who are, as they say, spot on.