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|Barney Milton Fife|
Barney (left) and Gomer Pyle.
|Portrayed by||Don Knotts|
|Barney Milton Fife|
Barney (left) and Gomer Pyle.
|Portrayed by||Don Knotts|
Bernard "Barney" Milton Fife 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 black and white seasons (1960 – 1965) as a main character, and, after leaving the show at the end of season five, made a few guest appearances in the following three color seasons (1965 – 1968). He also appeared in the first episode of the spin-off series Mayberry R.F.D. (1968 – 1971), and in the 1986 reunion telemovie Return to Mayberry. Additionally, Barney appeared in the Joey Bishop Show episode, "Joey's Hideaway Cabin" and the first episode of The New Andy Griffith Show.
Don Knotts had previously co-starred on "The Steve Allen Show", along with Tom Poston, Pat Harrington, Jr., and Louis Nye—which is where a frantic, twitching "man on the street" character was introduced. He created Deputy Barney Fife in the same fashion, as a hyperkinetic but comically inept counterpart to Mayberry's practical and composed Sheriff Andy Taylor.
Barney 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 Barney Fife had left Mayberry to take a job as a detective in Raleigh. 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. Nearly two decades would pass before the character was again reprised in the reunion film Return to Mayberry in 1986, by which time Fife had moved back and become the town's acting sheriff.
Sometimes considered a blowhard with delusions of grandeur, Barney fancies himself an expert on firearms, women, singing and just about any other topic of conversation brought up while he is around. Conversely, Andy knows that Barney's false bravado is a smokescreen for his insecurities, and low self-confidence. In one episode, Barney brags that he knows about the Emancipation Proclamation. When Andy calls Barney's bluff and asks him to explain it to Opie for his history class, Barney becomes defensive and blurts out that it was a proclamation for emancipation, and leaves irritated.
Barney is often overly analytical and alarmist about benign situations, such as the modest Mayberry crime scene. He takes a minor infraction, blows it out of proportion, and then concocts an elaborate solution (sometimes involving inept civilians, like Otis Campbell or Gomer Pyle) to resolve it. In one early episode, where Andy was briefly summoned away, acting sheriff Barney proceeds to book and lock up nearly everyone in town. Despite his shortcomings, Barney is zealous about law enforcement, regularly spouting off penal codes and ordinances to thugs and jaywalkers alike.
An emotional powderkeg, Barney often overreacts with panic, despair or bug-eyed fear. Barney is smug and self-confident, and is known for engaging in gossip and revealing both personal and police secrets, often with dire consequences. Outwardly "a man of the world," Barney is truly naïve and easily duped. Though constantly warned by Andy, Barney falls for countless scams. This gullibility is evident in many episodes, including "Barney's First Car", where he is conned into buying a lemon from a crafty old widow.
Like Andy, who was stationed in France, Barney served in World War II, although he 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). (It should be noted that both Andy and Barney graduated from Mayberry Union High in June, 1945 and that the war in Europe was over in May 1945. With at least six weeks of basic training, Andy couldn't have been in Europe before August, 1945. Andy couldn't possibly have seen action on a European battlefield.) Barney was nevertheless proud of his war record: "I did my part to lick the dreaded Hun," he boasted on one occasion.
Nonetheless, Barney still has his rare moments of courage and loyalty. Perhaps the greatest example of Barney's courage is in the episode "Jailbreak", in which Barney singlehandedly saves a member of the state police that has been captured, apprehends the criminal and his partner, and drives them to jail. He does it all while Andy is calling for backup.
One major comedic source is Barney's lack of ability with a firearm. After numerous misfires (usually a Colt .38 caliber revolver), Andy restricts Barney to carrying only one bullet in his shirt pocket, "in case of an emergency." But, the bullet always seems to find its way back into the gun, where Barney usually accidentally shoots it. Usually into the floor, or the ceiling. The accidental discharge of Barney's gun becomes a running gag. Another gag has Barney locking himself or together with Andy in one of the jail cells, with the keys just out of reach. Realizing that they can't get out, they shamelessly yell for help.
In the first season, Andy and Barney comment that they are cousins, but this is not mentioned again for the rest of the series. 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 Barney maintains warm relations with Andy's son Opie and his Aunt Bee.
When he's not patrolling the streets of Mayberry, Barney spends his free time dating a local girl named Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn) (whom he eventually marries in Return to Mayberry, a 1986 NBC movie). Thelma Lou is Barney's main girlfriend until his 1965 departure. Barney also dates other women, in particular, an oft-mentioned but never seen Junction Cafe and Bluebird Diner waitress named Juanita. She is first mentioned in the episode "Andy Forecloses".
Barney takes up residence in a few places including the Raleigh YMCA and Mrs. Mendelbright's boarding house (where she forbids him from owning either a "hot plate" cooker or too bright a light bulb). In "Sheriff Barney" we learn that Barney lives at 411 Elm Street; it is unclear if this address refers to Barney's own home or Mrs. Mendelbright's boarding house address. When not on duty, he is usually seen in a fedora and a tweed suit (the "old salt and pepper.") Although the deputy fancies himself a singer, he has a tin ear, as highlighted by several episodes, most notably, "Barney and the Choir" and "The Song Festers".
Some continuity slip-ups can be expected, as the series had several writers. An illustration of this is with the various middle names given for both Barney and Andy. 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." A similar problem exist with Andy's middle name, which was given as Jackson on his own show (when his high school photo was shown), but his newborn son's name was given as Andrew Samuel Taylor Jr. on Mayberry RFD (during a christening).
The following is a list of Andy Griffith Show episodes featuring Barney Fife.
Calling a police officer or authority figure "Barney Fife" has become an American slang term for gross ineptitude or overzealousness. This was done recently in the Scott Peterson case, where the defendant's mother referred to the local police captain as "Barney Fife".