Barney Fife
Don Knotts as Barney Fife
Don Knotts as Barney Fife
First appearance
Last appearance
Portrayed byDon Knotts
In-universe information
Full nameBernard P. Fife
NicknameBarn
OccupationDeputy sheriff
Significant others
Relatives

Bernard "Barney" Fife[nb 1] is a fictional character in the American television program The Andy Griffith Show, portrayed by comic actor Don Knotts. Barney Fife is a deputy sheriff in the slow-paced, sleepy southern community of Mayberry, North Carolina. He appeared in the first five seasons (1960–65) as a main character, and, after leaving the show towards the end of season five, made a few guest appearances in the following three color seasons (1965–68). He also appeared in the first episode of the spin-off series Mayberry R.F.D. (1968–1971), and in the 1986 reunion television film Return to Mayberry. Additionally, Barney appeared in the Joey Bishop Show episode "Joey's Hideaway Cabin", and, unnamed, in the first episode of The New Andy Griffith Show.

In 1999, TV Guide ranked him ninth on its 50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time list.[1]

Production history

According to Andy Griffith, the character of Barney Fife was suggested by Don Knotts himself. At the same time The Steve Allen Show was ending, Knotts was looking for work. When he saw the episode of The Danny Thomas Show featuring Andy Taylor, he called Griffith suggesting that his sheriff character might reasonably need a deputy. Griffith liked the idea and suggested that he call Executive Producer Sheldon Leonard. Griffith later recalled that Don Knotts' contribution was the show's saving grace because he was uncomfortable with the original concept to have Andy Taylor being the comic lead. In an interview with The Archive of American Television, Griffith admitted, "The second episode was called 'Manhunt' and I knew by that episode that Don should be the comic and I should play straight for him. That made all the difference."

Fife appeared on The Andy Griffith Show from the show's beginning in 1960 until 1965, when Knotts left the show to pursue a career in feature films. It is explained that Fife had left Mayberry to take a job as a detective in Raleigh, North Carolina. Knotts reprised the character in guest appearances each season until The Andy Griffith Show left the air in 1968. Barney also appeared in the inaugural Mayberry R.F.D. episode, in which Andy and Helen Crump marry. In 1971, the character, whose name is not explicitly mentioned, appears in the premiere episode of The New Andy Griffith Show, visiting the mid-sized city of Greenwood to catch up with Mayor Andy Sawyer, who looks exactly like Andy Taylor and shares some of Taylor's earlier mannerisms and friendships with Fife, Goober Pyle and Emmett Clark. Fifteen years would pass before the character was again reprised in the reunion film Return to Mayberry in 1986. By then, Fife had moved back and become the town's acting sheriff.

Character overview

Personality

Barney Fife is outwardly smug and self-important, covering up his insecurities and low self-confidence with a display of bravado. He presents himself as an expert on such diverse subjects as firearms, martial arts, women, singing, wilderness survival, psychology and American history. He frequently tries to impress others with his knowledge or skill in areas where his expertise is actually quite limited. He wishes to be perceived as "a man of the world", but he is actually quite naïve, and his fear of appearing ignorant leaves him easily duped. This gullibility is evident when, for example, he is conned into buying a lemon from a crafty old widow ("Barney's First Car"). Although he believes himself a skilled singer, he has a tin ear, as highlighted in "Barney and the Choir" and "The Song Festers", although at other times, when he's not trying to show off, he has a pleasant singing voice, performing duets with Andy and his guitar. His attempts to impress others sometimes cause him to accidentally reveal both personal and police secrets, often with dire consequences. An emotional powder-keg, Barney often overreacts to challenging situations with panic, despair or bug-eyed fear.

Townspeople locked in Mayberry jail.
Andy returns from business in Raleigh to find Barney has locked all of Mayberry's citizens in the town jail.
Andy Griffith and Don Knotts
Barney panics when he and Andy need to deal with a goat who has eaten dynamite.

As a law enforcement officer, Barney is overly officious and insistent on doing things "by the book" to the point of absurdity. In one case when Andy was briefly summoned away, as acting sheriff, Barney proceeded to book and lock up everyone in town for various minor infractions ("Andy Saves Barney's Morale"). However in at least one case, he is commended for his apparent overzealousness, after he tickets the state governor's car for being parked illegally ("Barney and the Governor"). Barney tends to be alarmist, and overreacts to potential dangers. In a case where he believed an ex-convict was coming back to Mayberry to attack Sheriff Taylor, he deputized two inept civilians and attempted to provide 24-hour protection for the sheriff, although there was in fact no threat and the bodyguards did little except interfere with each other ("High Noon in Mayberry").

Barney is often frustrated with the primitive technological tools available to the Mayberry sheriff's department. He sometimes attempts to modernize the department by acquiring equipment of little use in sleepy Mayberry, such as an intercom system for the jailhouse ("The Great Filling Station Robbery"), and a search-and-rescue dog ("Barney's Bloodhound"). On occasion, Barney believes his experience as a long time deputy qualifies him to be a sheriff. In one episode, he runs against Andy, only to later withdraw. In another episode, he is offered the position of sheriff in the nearby town of Greendale, only to learn from Andy the difference between serving as sheriff versus deputy. In Return to Mayberry, Barney finally holds the position of "acting sheriff" of Mayberry and runs for the office proper; but, at the end, encourages the town to vote for Andy who has returned to Mayberry.

Andy comes to the rescue when Barney gets his gun stuck on his finger.
Andy comes to the rescue when Barney gets his gun stuck on his finger.

One frequent source of comedy is Barney's incompetence with firearms. After numerous negligent discharges (usually with a Smith & Wesson or Colt .38 caliber revolver), Andy restricts Barney to carrying his gun unloaded, with only one bullet in his shirt pocket, "in case of an emergency". However, Barney tends to load his gun unnecessarily, and often ends up firing it into the floor, the ceiling, or his own gun holster. The negligent discharge of Barney's gun becomes a running gag, usually followed by Barney sheepishly handing his gun to Andy. Another recurring gag has Barney locking himself or both himself and Andy in one of the jail cells, with the keys just out of reach. Another running gag is Barney being captured by escaped criminals twice. A third gag is that even when Barney is actually competent, the result is a backfire on him; in one episode ("Barney's Sidecar") Barney actually drives a motorcycle/sidecar quite well on patrol; however Mayberry is so small a town that the motorcycle is practically useless for Mayberry law enforcement.

Nonetheless, Barney has rare moments of courage and competence, such as when he saves a member of the state police who has been captured by criminals, and apprehends the criminals by driving to the jail with the crooks and their hostage trapped in their trailer ("Jailbreak"). This is one of the few occasions when Barney actually catches the crooks intentionally rather than by accident. When a vindictive newspaper publisher uses a female employee to trick Barney into giving away "dirt" on Andy to get the latter removed as sheriff (as revenge for getting a speeding citation which he neglected to pay) ("Andy on Trial"), Barney redeems himself and Andy with a speech defending Andy and his record as sheriff. He explains how much of a benefit Andy is to Mayberry; then - in a rare display of candor and a departure from his usual insistence on following the letter of the law - he explains what Andy had been trying to teach him from the moment Barney first became a deputy: that a lawman does better in dealing with people when he goes more by the heart than by the book, thereby allowing Andy to remain sheriff.

Biography

In a few early episodes in the first season, Andy and Barney comment that they are cousins (initially as part of a joke implying that this relationship is responsible for Barney being hired as deputy), but this relationship is rarely mentioned later, and it is sometimes suggested in later episodes that they are not related. Genetics aside, Barney and "Ange" (as he frequently addresses Andy, a derivation from Knotts' real-life nickname for Griffith) are best friends, having grown up together in Mayberry, and graduated from the same class at Mayberry High School in 1948. Barney maintains warm relations with Andy's son Opie and his Aunt Bee.

Although graduating from high school in 1948, both Barney and Andy claim to have served in the military. Andy was stationed in France during "the war" and Barney was a file clerk who never left the United States (he stated that "me and this other fella ran the PX library" on Staten Island). Barney was nevertheless proud of his war record: "I did my part in helping to whip the dreaded Hun", he boasted in the "Quiet Sam" episode.

Andy administered Barney his oath of office as deputy and issued him his gun in August 1953.

Barney is mentioned as residing in a few places during the course of the show, including the Raleigh, North Carolina YMCA and Mrs. Mendelbright's boarding house (where she forbids him from owning either a hot plate or light bulb over 40 watts). In the episode "Sheriff Barney" we learn that Barney lives at 411 Elm Street, but it is unclear if this address refers to Barney's own home or Mrs. Mendelbright's boarding house address.

Barney's main girlfriend is a local girl, Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn), whom he eventually marries in Return to Mayberry, a 1986 NBC movie. He had two other girlfriends: Miss Rosemary followed by Hilda May.[2] Barney also dates other women, in particular, a waitress at the Junction Cafe and Bluebird Diner named Juanita, with whom Barney has phone conversations but who is never seen. She was first mentioned in the episode "Andy Forecloses".

Barney becomes a hero in Raleigh when visiting Andy helps him solve a string of robberies.
Barney becomes a hero in Raleigh when visiting Andy helps him solve a string of robberies.

When Don Knotts left the series in 1965 to pursue film roles, the character Barney Fife was said to have left Mayberry to join the police department in Raleigh. After that, the character remained mostly offscreen for the remainder of the show, although Knotts made five guest appearances as Barney Fife in the last three seasons.

As the series had several writers, there were occasional continuity errors, most frequently in Barney's middle name, which changed each time it was referenced. For example, both Barney and Andy are given different middle names in different episodes. In the episode "Class Reunion", Barney's middle name is Milton, though at other times he is called "Bernard P. Fife". In another episode, where he believes he is the descendant of Nathan Tibbs, a Mayberry Revolutionary hero, he says his name is "Barney Tibbs Fife". Andy jokingly says, "I thought your middle name was Oliver." Another inconsistency is Barney's military service in WW II, which is not easily reconciled with his having graduated high school in 1948 (although in fact World War II for the US officially ended December 31, 1946, by order of President Truman).

The Andy Griffith Show appearances

He is featured in these The Andy Griffith Show episodes:

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

Season 5

Season 6

Season 7

Season 8

Legacy

Calling a police officer or authority figure "Barney Fife" has become an American slang term for gross ineptitude or overzealousness. A notable example occurred during the Scott Peterson case, in which the defendant's mother referred to the local police captain as "Barney Fife".[3]

During oral arguments for the Supreme Court case Herring v. United States regarding evidence exclusion by negligent law enforcement, Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan told the court, "There's not a Barney Fife defense to the violation of the Fourth Amendment."[4]

In popular culture

In the Scream movie franchise, the character Dewey Riley is compared to Barney Fife on multiple occasions.[5]

In the video game series Half-Life Black Mesa security guards were nicknamed "Barneys" after an early character model was said to resemble Don Knotts, and were voiced with a faint Southern accent, similar to the West Virginia-born actor. This later became official in Half-Life: Blue Shift, which featured as the player character a security guard named Barney Calhoun.

At least two cartoons pay homage to Barney Fife: In Freakazoid "Toby Danger" when a out of control giant robot is destroying Las Vegas, Nevada, there is a cameo of a Barney Fife deputy sheriff in a crowd. In The New Scooby-Doo Movies a highway patrol officer on a motorcycle (a cameo of Barney Fife) helps the kids solve a mystery.

In The Sopranos season 6, episode 15, Paulie Gualtieri tells Tony Soprano a story about getting pulled over by a state trooper while driving Tony's father's Cadillac without a license in the 1960s. Mr. Soprano, Sr. tells the young Paulie to smooth things over by telling the trooper he has a cousin who is a trooper named Barney Fife. He gets punched in the head by the trooper for his troubles and Mr. Soprano has to bribe the trooper $100 (said to be an average month's wage at the time) to avoid charges.

Accolades

Knotts' portrayal of Barney Fife earned him five Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, the most in that category.

Notes

  1. ^ Fife's middle name was inconsistent. In the episode "A Plaque for Mayberry", Andy states that Barney's middle name is Oliver. In later episodes Barney refers to himself as Barney "P." Fife and in the episode "Class Reunion" the Mayberry Union High yearbook lists Barney's name as Bernard Milton Fife.

References

  1. ^ TV Guide Guide to TV. Barnes and Noble. 2004. p. 651. ISBN 0-7607-5634-1.
  2. ^ Beck, Ken; Clark, Jim (2000-06-14). The Andy Griffith Show Book. Macmillan. ISBN 9780312262877.
  3. ^ "Scott Peterson's sister speaks out". NBC News. March 3, 2005.
  4. ^ "Prof Tells Court There is No 'Barney Fife' Defense to Search Violations".
  5. ^ "Scream 2 References".