Barney Fife

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Barney Fife
Don Knotts Andy Griffith Show Cropped.jpg
Portrayed byDon Knotts
OccupationDeputy Sheriff
FamilySheriff Andy Taylor (friend/cousin) Opie Taylor (friend/cousin once removed) Aunt Bee (friend) Thelma Lou (girlfriend)

Bernard "Barney" P. Milton Oliver 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 at 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 telemovie 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[edit]

Before joining Griffith's show, Don Knotts was a regular on The Steve Allen Show, in which he played several parts. most notably "Mr. Morrison," a nervous man on the street character, upon which Knotts' based the personality of Barney Fife, who himself was a hyperkinetic but comically inept counterpart to Mayberry's practical and composed Sheriff Andy Taylor.

According to Andy Griffith, the character of Barney Fife was suggested by Don Knotts himself. At the same time that 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. 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[edit]

Sometimes considered a blowhard with delusions of grandeur, he 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 elaborate it to Opie for his history class, Barney becomes upset and 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. Andy mentions in the episode "Andy on Trial" that Barney likes to smoke a cigar when he's feeling "sporty".

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": Barney, with help from Andy in tracking them down, saves a member of the state police who has been captured, apprehends the criminal and his partner by driving off with the crooks and their hostage attached in their trailer, and drives them to jail with Andy close behind with his siren wailing. It's one of the rare occasions when Barney actually catches the crooks intentionally and not by accident.

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, even graduating from the same class at Mayberry High School in 1945. 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. He had two other girlfriends; the first Miss Rosemary followed by Hilda May.[2] 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. 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]

He is featured in these Andy Griffith Show episodes:

Season 1[edit]

  • Episode 1: "The New Housekeeper"
  • Episode 2: "The Manhunt"
  • Episode 3: "The Guitar Player"
  • Episode 4: "Ellie Comes to Town"
  • Episode 5: "Irresistible Andy"
  • Episode 6: "Runaway Kid"
  • Episode 7: "Andy the Matchmaker"
  • Episode 10: "Ellie for Council"
  • Episode 11: "Christmas Story"
  • Episode 12: "Stranger in Town"
  • Episode 13: "Mayberry Goes Hollywood"
  • Episode 14: "The Horse Trader"
  • Episode 15: "Those Gossipin' Men"
  • Episode 17: "Alcohol and Old Lace"
  • Episode 18: "Andy the Marriage Counselor"
  • Episode 19: "Mayberry on Record"
  • Episode 20: "Andy Saves Barney's Morale"
  • Episode 21: "Andy and the Gentleman Crook"
  • Episode 22: "Cyrano Andy"
  • Episode 24: "The New Doctor"
  • Episode 25: "A Plaque for Mayberry"
  • Episode 26: "The Inspector"
  • Episode 27: "Ellie Saves a Female"
  • Episode 28: "Andy Forecloses"
  • Episode 29: "Quiet Sam"
  • Episode 30: "Barney Gets His Man"
  • Episode 31: "The Guitar Player Returns"
  • Episode 32: "Bringing Up Opie"

Season 2[edit]

  • Episode 1: "Opie and the Bully"
  • Episode 2: "Barney's Replacement"
  • Episode 3: "Andy and the Woman Speeder"
  • Episode 5: "Barney on the Rebound"
  • Episode 6: "Opie's Hobo Friend"
  • Episode 7: "Crime-Free Mayberry"
  • Episode 8: "The Perfect Female"
  • Episode 10: "The Clubmen"
  • Episode 11: "The Pickle Story"
  • Episode 12: "Sheriff Barney"
  • Episode 13: "The Farmer Takes a Wife"
  • Episode 14: "Keeper of the Flame"
  • Episode 15: "Bailey's Bad Boy"
  • Episode 16: "The Manicurist"
  • Episode 17: "The Jinx"
  • Episode 18: "Jailbreak"
  • Episode 19: "A Medal for Opie"
  • Episode 20: "Barney and the Choir"
  • Episode 21: "Guest of Honor"
  • Episode 22: "The Merchant of Mayberry"
  • Episode 23: "Aunt Bee the Warden"
  • Episode 24: "The County Nurse"
  • Episode 25: "Andy and Barney in the Big City"
  • Episode 27: "Three's a Crowd"
  • Episode 28: "The Bookie Barber"
  • Episode 29: "Andy on Trial"
  • Episode 30: "Cousin Virgil"
  • Episode 31: "Deputy Otis"

Season 3[edit]

  • Episode 1: "Mr. McBeevee"
  • Episode 2: "Andy's Rich Girlfriend"
  • Episode 3: "Andy and the New Mayor"
  • Episode 5: "The Cow Thief"
  • Episode 6: "Barney Mends a Broken Heart"
  • Episode 7: "Lawman Barney"
  • Episode 8: "The Mayberry Band"
  • Episode 11: "Convicts-at-Large"
  • Episode 13: "The Bank Job"
  • Episode 14: "One-Punch Opie"
  • Episode 15: "Barney and the Governor"
  • Episode 16: "Man in a Hurry"
  • Episode 17: "High Noon in Mayberry"
  • Episode 18: "The Loaded Goat"
  • Episode 19: "Class Reunion"
  • Episode 20: "Rafe Hollister Sings"
  • Episode 21: "Opie and the Spoiled Kid"
  • Episode 22: "The Great Filling Station Robbery"
  • Episode 23: "Andy Discovers America"
  • Episode 24: "Aunt Bee's Medicine Man"
  • Episode 26: "Andy's English Valet"
  • Episode 27: "Barney's First Car"
  • Episode 28: "The Rivals"
  • Episode 29: "A Wife for Andy"
  • Episode 30: "Dogs, Dogs, Dogs"
  • Episode 31: "Mountain Wedding"
  • Episode 32: "The Big House"

Season 4[edit]

  • Episode 1: "Opie the Birdman"
  • Episode 2: "The Haunted House"
  • Episode 3: "Ernest T. Bass Joins the Army"
  • Episode 4: "The Sermon for Today"
  • Episode 7: "A Black Day for Mayberry"
  • Episode 8: "Opie's Ill-Gotten Gain"
  • Episode 9: "A Date for Gomer"
  • Episode 10: "Up in Barney's Room"
  • Episode 11: "Citizen's Arrest"
  • Episode 12: "Opie and His Merry Men"
  • Episode 13: "Barney and the Cave Rescue"
  • Episode 14: "Andy and Opie's Pal"
  • Episode 15: "Aunt Bee the Crusader"
  • Episode 16: "Barney's Sidecar"
  • Episode 17: "My Fair Ernest T. Bass"
  • Episode 18: "Prisoner of Love"
  • Episode 19: "Hot Rod Otis"
  • Episode 20: "The Song Festers"
  • Episode 21: "The Shoplifters"
  • Episode 22: "Andy's Vacation"
  • Episode 25: "Divorce, Mountain Style"
  • Episode 26: "A Deal is a Deal"
  • Episode 27: "Fun Girls"
  • Episode 28: "The Return of Malcolm Merriweather"
  • Episode 29: "The Rumor"
  • Episode 30: "Barney and Thelma Lou, Phfftt"
  • Episode 31: "Back to Nature"

Season 5[edit]

  • Episode 1: "Opie Loves Helen"
  • Episode 2: "Barney's Physical"
  • Episode 4: "The Education of Ernest T. Bass"
  • Episode 6: "Barney's Bloodhound"
  • Episode 7: "Man in the Middle"
  • Episode 8: "Barney's Uniform"
  • Episode 9: "Opie's Fortune"
  • Episode 10: "Goodbye, Sheriff Taylor"
  • Episode 11: "The Pageant"
  • Episode 12: "The Darling Baby"
  • Episode 13: "Andy and Helen Have Their Day"
  • Episode 14: "Three Wishes for Opie"
  • Episode 15: "Otis Sues the County"
  • Episode 16: "Barney Fife, Realtor"
  • Episode 18: "The Rehabilitation of Otis"
  • Episode 19: "The Lucky Letter"
  • Episode 20: "Goober and the Art of Love"
  • Episode 21: "Barney Runs for Sheriff"
  • Episode 22: "If I Had a Quarter-Million Dollars"
  • Episode 23: "TV or Not TV"
  • Episode 25: "The Case of the Punch in the Nose"
  • Episode 26: "Opie's Newspaper"
  • Episode 27: "Aunt Bee's Invisible Beau"
  • Episode 28: "The Arrest of the Fun Girls"
  • Episode 29: "The Luck of Newton Monroe"
  • Episode 30: "Opie Flunks Arithmetic"

Season 6[edit]

  • Episode 17: "The Return of Barney Fife"
  • Episode 18: "The Legend of Barney Fife"

Season 7[edit]

  • Episode 18: "A Visit to Barney Fife"
  • Episode 19: "Barney Comes to Mayberry"

Season 8[edit]

  • Episode 21: "Barney Hosts a Summit Meeting"


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]


  1. ^ 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.


  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". MSNBC. March 3, 2005.
  4. ^

External links[edit]