Barney Fife

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Barney Milton Fife
Don Knotts Jim Nabors Andy Griffith Show 1964.JPG
Barney (left) and Gomer Pyle (right).
Portrayed byDon Knotts
OccupationDeputy Sheriff
FamilyAndy Taylor (cousin)
Virgil (cousin)
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Barney Milton Fife
Don Knotts Jim Nabors Andy Griffith Show 1964.JPG
Barney (left) and Gomer Pyle (right).
Portrayed byDon Knotts
OccupationDeputy Sheriff
FamilyAndy Taylor (cousin)
Virgil (cousin)

Bernard "Barney" Milton Fife[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 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.

In 1999 TV Guide ranked him Ninth on its 50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time list.[2]

Production history[edit]

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.

Character overview[edit]

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.

Townspeople locked in Mayberry jail.
Andy returns from business in Raleigh to find Barney has locked most 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.

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). Barney was nevertheless proud of his war record: "I did my part to lick the dreaded Hun," he boasted in the "Quiet Sam" episode.

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.

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

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." However, the bullet always seems to find its way back into the gun, where Barney accidentally shoots it, usually into the floor, the ceiling. or his own gun holster. 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, and is also curtly mentioned several times in subsequent shows. 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. In another episode, Andy finds a document indicating he issued Barney his gun in August, 1953 when he gave Barney his oath of office as his deputy.

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". Not content to focus solely on his own love life, Barney quite often gets involved in Andy's romantic interests. Lydia Crosswaithe was one of the young ladies whom he and Thelma Lou tried to match with Mayberry's sheriff. Unfortunately, Lydia's withdrawn, exceedingly odd personality doomed any hopes that Andy would actually date her.

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 or light bulb over 40 watts). In "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. In an interesting, and surprising parallel with real life, the address 411 Elm Street would be the address of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, Texas from which Lee Harvey Oswald would shoot and kill President Kennedy about a year after "Sheriff Barney" aired (the episode where 411 Elm Street is mentioned as Barney's address.) When not on duty, he is usually seen in a Panama straw hat 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 exists 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).

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

Andy Griffith Show Appearances[edit]

The following is a list of Andy Griffith Show episodes featuring Barney Fife.

Season One[edit]

Season Two[edit]

Season Three[edit]

Season Four[edit]

Season Five[edit]

Season Six[edit]

Season Seven[edit]

Season Eight[edit]

Famous quotes[edit]


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".[4]


  1. ^ In "A Plaque for Mayberry" episode, 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.
  2. ^ TV Guide Guide to TV. Barnes and Noble. 2004. p. 651. ISBN 0-7607-5634-1. 
  3. ^ "10. "Nip it!" Barney Fife, "The Andy Griffith Show"". Don Knotts played... Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 March 2013. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Scott Peterson's sister speaks out". MSNBC. March 3, 2005. 

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