"It's like they say, 'Once burnt, lesson learnt. One mistake, better cake. Once bit, best forget.'"
Barney (Don Knotts)
Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) enjoyed teasing people, but he always seemed to stop before he crossed the line from teasing to humiliating.
That was probably one of the qualities of his character that appealed to me the most. We have probably all known people who kept picking at others long after they should have stopped. If one has been on the receiving end of such abuse, it is hard to forget — or forgive. For that matter, it can be pretty hard to forget or forgive if one has merely witnessed such abuse.
So when you see someone like Andy Taylor who knows where the line is and refuses to cross it, you tend to appreciate his decency — especially if the person who has been teased made an honest mistake in a sincere attempt to carry out a task. It doesn't seem right to me to pile on such a person. Andy Taylor seemed to know that, too.
And that was what was at the heart of the episode of the Andy Griffith Show that premiered on this night in 1961 — "Andy Saves Barney's Morale."
Andy was off to spend the day in a nearby community testifying in court, and Barney (Don Knotts) was left in charge. Andy was only gone for eight hours, but when he returned to Mayberry, he found the village to be strangely quiet, virtually deserted. Andy was pleased — until he went inside the courthouse and found half the town incarcerated in the jail's two cells. Among those in the jail were Andy's Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) and his son Opie (Ron Howard). The mayor of Mayberry had been jailed as well.
In his zeal to show Andy how much he could depend on his deputy, Barney had gone overboard and made all of his arrests based on very flimsy legal logic. But he hadn't been authorized to fill in as justice of the peace in Andy's absence so he hadn't been able to process them. That had to wait until Andy returned.
Now, Barney often went overboard. That was one of the running jokes of the series. And this episode provided plenty of material.
Technically speaking Barney's arrests were justified — but extreme. He arrested Aunt Bee for unlawful assembly and inciting a riot because she had gathered with other ladies in front of the courthouse, where, as Andy observed, the ladies of the community had been gathering to chat for years. When Barney tried to disperse them, Aunt Bee resisted and one of her friends raised her umbrella at Barney.
See, going strictly by the book, Barney was right. But any rational observer knew that the situation was not what the charges implied.
Neither was it justified when Barney charged an elderly man who could hardly speak above a whisper with disturbing the peace for allegedly shouting at his adversary in checkers.
The same logic was at work when Barney charged the mayor with vagrancy and loitering.
And, as a result, Barney was in for more than his fair share of ribbing from the folks in the town. He took it good–naturedly for awhile, but then it crossed that line, and he became noticeably despondent and told Andy he was going to quit the force.
Andy didn't tease him about any of it. He did, however, come up with a brilliant way to put the issue to rest.
He laughed along with the townspeople when they made their jokes, then casually dropped the bombshell on them that he was going to be getting a new deputy. After all, he pointed out, he couldn't have a deputy on the force who was the butt of so many jokes. Such a deputy, he said, has lost the confidence of the people.
That really made an impression on the folks in the town, who all gravitated back to the jail and incarcerated themselves, just as Otis the town drunk had been doing for years, and scolded Andy for not realizing how serious their "crimes" had been.
Otis, by the way, had been one of the people Barney arrested earlier — and he had been charged with a perfectly plausible crime, considering Otis' history — being under the influence of alcohol.
But, as with all the others, Barney had been carried away. The fact was that, when Barney asked Otis to walk a straight line, Otis said, "What line?" not because he was drunk but because he didn't have his glasses with him.
But you didn't need glasses to see the wisdom of Andy's tactic.