Prisoner (known in the UK and the US as Prisoner: Cell Block H) is an Australian television soap opera, which broadcast on Network Ten (formerly the 0-10 Network) from February 27 (Melbourne) February 26 (Sydney) 1979 to December 1986 (Melbourne), though the series finale would not screen until September 1987 in Sydney, where it aired as a three-hour film that was split into three one-hour episodes at the much-later time-slot of 10:30 p.m., running eight seasons and 692 episodes.

Also known as
  • Prisoners (working title)[1]
  • Prisoner: Cell Block H (UK and United States)
  • Caged Women (Canada)
  • Kvinnofängelset (The Women's Prison; Sweden)
  • Więźniarki (Prisoners; Poland)
  • Celblok H (Cellblock H; Netherlands)
  • As Prisioneiras (Prisoners; Brazil)
GenreSoap opera serial
Created byReg Watson
Written byIan Smith, Anne Lucas, Coral Drouyn
Directed by
Starring(see List of Prisoner cast members)
Theme music composerAllan Caswell
Conductor – William Motzing
Ending theme"On the Inside" (written by Allan Caswell, conducted by William Motzing performed by Lynne Hamilton)
Country of originAustralia
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons8
No. of episodes692 (list of episodes)
Executive producerIan Bradley (from season 2)
ProducersIan Bradley (season 1), Ian Smith
Production locationsMelbourne, Victoria
Camera setupVideo
Running time41–49 minutes
53 minutes (final episode)
Production companyReg Grundy Organisation
Original release
NetworkNetwork Ten
Release27 February 1979 (1979-02-27) –
11 December 1986 (1986-12-11)

Prisoner was the first Australian series to feature a primarily female-dominated cast [citation needed] and carried the slogan "If you think prison is hell for a man, imagine what it would be like for a woman!"[2]

The series, produced by the Grundy Organisation, was conceived by Reg Watson and filmed at the then Network Ten Melbourne Studios at Nunawading and on location.

The series garnered an international cult following, and it was one of Australia's most successful media exports, and was exported to 80 countries, performing particularly well in the United States and Canada (billed as Prisoner: Cell Block H and Caged Women, respectively). It also built a large audience in the United Kingdom and other European countries, especially Sweden.

Sammy Davis Jr. was a major fan and visited the set, and wanted to appear in a role, but had other engagements at the time.[3]

The cult status of the series has seen many adaptations, including the modern 21st century re-imaging series Wentworth on Foxtel.

Background edit

Ian Bradley served as original producer and then executive producer, from series 2, whilst associate producer and screenwriter was Ian Smith, who appeared as an actor in the series as Head of the Department Ted Douglas, prior to becoming famous as the character Harold Bishop in Neighbours; another screenwriter, Anne Lucas, also acted briefly in the series playing prison bookie Faye Quinn.[3]

The series is loosely based on British prison drama series Within These Walls, although it focuses more on the prisoners or inmates, rather than the prison staff led by officious governor Faye Boswell, played by Googie Withers, who was even approached by producers of Prisoner to play the governor.[4]

The series is set in the fictional Wentworth Detention Centre in the fictional suburb of Wentworth in Melbourne, Victoria, and follows the lives of the prisoners and staff within cell block H and, to a lesser extent, others on the outside such as family members, doctors and lawyers. Numerous scenes also took place outside the compound exploring the lives of the inmates and staff outside of the prison; in particular, "Driscoll House", a halfway house where inmates were housed after being released, or neighbouring correction institutions like Barnhurst (a lower-security country prison) and Blackmoor (an aged, yet high-security, prison).

The series gained a positive reception. Initially conceived as a standalone miniseries of 16 episodes, its popularity meant it was developed into an ongoing series. It has since endured worldwide, acquiring cult classic status, particularly for its somewhat outrageous acting and plotlines.

Creation and production edit

Prisoner was created by Reg Watson, who had produced the British soap opera Crossroads from 1964 to 1973 and then the Australian soaps The Young Doctors and Sons and Daughters and post-Prisoner soap opera Neighbours.

Inspired by the British television drama Within These Walls, the show was initially conceived as a 16-episode series, with a pilot episode bearing the working title "Women Behind Bars".[nb 2] Its storylines focused on the lives of the prisoners and, to a lesser extent, the officers and other prison staff. When the initial episodes met an enthusiastic reception, it was felt that Prisoner could be developed into an ongoing soap opera. The early storylines were developed and expanded, with assistance from the Victorian Corrective Services Department.[5]

The show's themes, often radical, included feminism, LGBT matters, and social reform. Prisoner began in early 1979 with the advertising slogan, "If you think prison is hell for a man, imagine what it's like for a woman". The series examined how women dealt with incarceration and separation from their families and friends, and the common phenomenon of released inmates re-offending. Within the prison, major themes were interpersonal relationships, power struggles, friendships and rivalries. The prisoners became a surrogate family, with the self-styled "Queen Bea", Bea Smith and the elderly "Mum" (Jeanette) Brooks (Mary Ward) emerging as central matriarch figures. Several lesbian characters were introduced on the show, including prisoners Franky Doyle (played by Carol Burns) and Judy Bryant (played by Betty Bobbitt), as well as corrupt and sinister officer Joan Ferguson (Maggie Kirkpatrick).[6]

Continuity edit

Characters and story exposition were often 'retconned' in order to expand potential storylines. Initially there was a men's prison "next door" to Wentworth, but it was never mentioned again after the early episodes. Barnhurst was originally a co-ed prison, soon becoming a women's facility. Its security status varied considerably, with it being described as an 'open prison farm' by the end of the run; although it was often described as "low-security", serial murderers Bea Smith and Marie Winter were housed there for long periods. Although Blackmoor Prison was initially described as a brand-new, state-of-the-art maximum-security prison, it was depicted as a Victorian-era workhouse when finally seen. Wentworth was variously described as either new or built during World War II, with aged infrastructure.

During the show's run, several recurring characters were played by multiple actresses and actors.[7][8] Meg Jackson's (later Morris) (Elspeth Ballantyne) son and stepdaughter, Marty Jackson and Tracey Morris, were each played by multiple actors—Ronald Korosy, Andrew McKaige, and Michael Winchester as Marty, and Sue Devine and Michelle Thomas as Tracey.[9][10] In the closing year, Nicki Paull's character Lisa Mullins was taken over by Terrie Waddell.[11][8]

Synopsis edit

Prisoner cast pic from early 1979. Seated: Bea Smith (Val Lehman). Standing, right to left: Karen Travers (Peta Toppano), Franky Doyle (Carol Burns), Doreen Anderson (Colette Mann), Chrissie Latham (Amanda Muggleton), and a background prisoner, later known as Lorna Young (Barbara Jungwirth).

Viewers' introduction to the Wentworth Detention Centre featured the arrival of two new prisoners, Karen Travers (Peta Toppano)[nb 3] and Lynn Warner (Kerry Armstrong). Travers was charged with murdering her husband in a crime of passion after he was found in bed with another woman (her flashback featured a shower scene that was a nod to Alfred Hitchcock's classic Psycho), whilst Warner insisted she was innocent despite her conviction for the abduction and attempted murder of a child. Both women were sent to the prison's maximum-security wing (H Block), where they were horrified by their new surroundings. Karen was confronted with a former lover—prison doctor Greg Miller (Barry Quin)—and was sexually harassed by violent lesbian cellmate Franky Doyle (Carol Burns). Lynn was ostracised by the other prisoners because of her crime (prisoners are known for their intolerance of offenders against children) and terrorised by Bea Smith, who burnt her hand in the laundry's steam press in one of the series' most iconic early scenes.

Other, less-volatile, prisoners included elderly garden-loving Jeanette "Mum" Brooks, who was incarcerated for the euthanasia of her husband who had terminal cancer, teddy-clutching misfit and childlike Doreen Anderson (Colette Mann), alcoholic former cook recidivist Lizzie Birdsworth (Sheila Florance), who apparently poisoned a group of shearers, and seductive prostitute Gladys "Marilyn" Mason (Margaret Laurence), who seduced prison electrician Eddie Cook (Richard Moir). The prison officers (or "screws", as the prisoners call them) included firm-but-fair well-heeled governor Erica Davidson (Patsy King); dour deputy governor Vera Bennett (Fiona Spence), who was always wanting to become Governor and was nicknamed "Vinegar Tits" by Franky; and firm but compassionate senior officer Meg Jackson (later Morris) (Elspeth Ballantyne).

Early episodes featured a high level of violence: Lynn Warner's burning in a steam press; a prisoner hanging herself in her cell; a fatal stabbing; and a flashback sequence triggered by the time Karen Travers stabbed her abusive husband to death in the shower. The series' first major story arc was the turf war between Bea and Franky, in a bid to become the prison's "Top Dog" (unofficial leader), culminating by episode 3 in a riot where Meg was held hostage and her husband—prison social worker Bill Jackson (Don Barker)—was stabbed to death by inmate Chrissie Latham (Amanda Muggleton).

Series extension edit

Prisoner premiered in Australia on 27 February 1979.[nb 4] Its success prompted the producers to extend the series, first from 16 to 20 episodes and then indefinitely. The production schedule increased from one- to two-hour-long episodes per week; Carol Burns left the show after 20 episodes, feeling that she could not continue playing Franky Doyle with the tighter schedule. Her storyline sees her as an escapee from Wentworth with fellow inmate Doreen Anderson, and after being on the run for three weeks, she is shot dead by a policeman.[12]

New story arcs were introduced. Karen Travers appealed against her sentence and was eventually released, allowing her to resume her relationship with Greg Miller and becoming involved in prison reform. As original characters began leaving the series (Mum Brooks, Lynn Warner, Karen and Greg appeared beyond the initial sixteen episodes, but most had left by the end of the 1979 season; Greg left in early 1980), new characters arrived: hulking husband-beater Monica Ferguson (Lesley Baker), career criminal Noeline Bourke (Jude Kuring), troubled murderess Roslyn Coulson (Sigrid Thornton) and imprisoned mother Pat O'Connell (Monica Maughan), in addition to shorter-term inmates with brief storylines. Prostitute Chrissie Latham, a minor character in the early episodes, returned in a more central antagonistic role and a male deputy governor, Jim Fletcher (Gerard Maguire), joined the female-dominated cast.

Final season edit

Ratings had been declining for some time, and when they continued to fall in 1986, Network Ten decided in July not to renew the series. Production ended on 5 September, and the final episode aired in Melbourne on 11 December 1986.[nb 5] The producers had several weeks' notice that the series was ending, enabling them to construct strong concluding storylines (including the ultimate defeat of Joan "the Freak" Ferguson). Prisoner's final episodes dealt with the redemption of the misunderstood Kath Maxwell and concluded the ongoing dynamic between Rita Connors (played by Glenda Linscott) and Joan Ferguson (Maggie Kirkpatrick).

Main cast edit

For extended cast list see article: Prisoner cast list

Actor Character Tenure Notes
Elspeth Ballantyne Meg Jackson/Morris Season 1–8 Ballantyne was the only main cast member to remain for the series duration.
Sheila Florance Lizzie Birdsworth Season 1–6
Val Lehman "Queen" Bea Smith Seasons 1–5 (400 episodes)
Colette Mann Doreen Anderson/Burns Season 1–4, recurring 5-6
Gerard Maguire Deputy Governor; Jim Fletcher Season 1–4
Patsy King Governor Erica Davidson Season 1–5 (returned as a guest in Season 6)
Fiona Spence Vera Benett Season 1–3
Peta Toppano Karen Travers Seasons 1–2 Toppano, along with Kerry Armstrong were the first actors to be seen on screen, during the opening credits.
Barry Quin Dr. Greg Millar Season 1–2
Mary Ward "Mum" Jeanette Brooks
Carol Burns Franky Doyle Season 1 Burns character garnered a cult following, despite appearing only in the first 20 episodes.
Kerry Armstrong Lynn Warner Season 1
Margaret Laurence Marilyn Mason Season 1
Richard Moir Eddie Cook Season 1
Christine Amor Jean Vernon Season 1
Jim Smillie Steve Wilson Season 1
Lesley Baker Monica Ferguson Season 1
Don Barker Bill Jackson Season 1 Appeared only in the first 2 episodes
Monica Maughan Pat O'Connell recurring Season 1, Season 2
Judith McGrath Colleen Powell recurring Season 1–2, main Seasons 3–6
Joy Westmore Joyce Barry recurring 1–5, main Season 6-8
Betty Bobbitt Judy Bryant Seasons 2–7
George Mallaby Paul Reid Season 2
Maggie Kirkpatrick "The Freak" Joan Ferguson Seasons 4–8
Gerda Nicolson (Governor) Ann Reynolds Seasons 5–8
Anne Phelan Myra Desmond recurring Seasons 2–4, main Seasons 6–7
Glenda Linscott Rita Connors Seasons 7–8

Supporting cast edit

Actor Character Tenure
Sigrid Thornton Roslyn Coulson Season 1–2
Amanda Muggleton Chrissie Latham Seasons 1–5
Serge Lazareff David Andrews Season 3
Louise Le Nay Sandy Edwards Seasons 3–4
Olivia Hamnett Kate Petersen Seasons 3–4
Kate Sheil Janet Conway Seasons 3–4
Wayne Jarratt Steve Fawkner Seasons 3–4
Maggie Millar Marie Winter recurring, Seasons 3–4, 6

Broadcast sheet edit

Days and times listed are for Network Ten Melbourne Station ATV-10, days and times may vary in other regions of Australia.

SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
17927 February 1979 (1979-02-27)28 November 1979 (1979-11-28)
28622 January 1980 (1980-01-22)12 November 1980 (1980-11-12)
3814 February 1981 (1981-02-04)11 November 1981 (1981-11-11)
4809 February 1982 (1982-02-09)9 November 1982 (1982-11-09)
5901 February 1983 (1983-02-01)3 November 1983 (1983-11-03)
68917 January 1984 (1984-01-17)8 November 1984 (1984-11-08)
78324 January 1985 (1985-01-24)5 November 1985 (1985-11-05)
81049 January 1986 (1986-01-09)11 December 1986 (1986-12-11)

Spin-offs, remakes and specials edit

Spin-offs edit

Willow B: Women in Prison edit

A pilot for an unproduced American version of Prisoner was produced by Lorimar in 1980, entitled Willow B: Women in Prison. The cast included Ruth Roman, Virginia Capers, Carol Lynley, and Sally Kirkland. The pilot aired on ABC-TV on 29 June 1980.

Wentworth edit

In March 2012, it was announced that Foxtel would produce a contemporary "re-imagining" of Prisoner, Wentworth, set in modern-day Australia. Wentworth recounts the rise of Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack) from her arrival at Wentworth as a remand prisoner to "top dog". The series is filmed at a new, purpose-built prison set in the Melbourne suburb of Clayton.

Wentworth features contemporary versions of vintage characters along with new characters. Characters and cast members include Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack), crime matriarch Jacs Holt (Kris McQuade), Liz Birdsworth (Celia Ireland), Doreen Anderson (Shareena Clanton), Franky Doyle (Nicole da Silva), Sue "Boomer" Jenkins (Katrina Milosevic), social worker Erica Davidson (Leeanna Walsman), officer Will Jackson (Robbie Magasiva), officer Matthew Fletcher (Aaron Jeffery), deputy governor Vera Bennett (Kate Atkinson), and governor Meg Jackson (Catherine McClements), as well as Linda Miles (Jacquie Brennan), Joan Ferguson (Pamela Rabe), Sean Brody (Rick Donald), Greg Miller (David de Lautour), Marie Winter (Susie Porter), Rita Connors (Leah Purcell).

None of the original cast was initially scheduled to return for the first series, but on 29 November 2012 it was confirmed that Anne Charleston (who appeared in the original series) would make a guest appearance, as well as Sigrid Thornton who was in the original series as Ros Coulson, Thornton would play Sonia Stevens.[15] Wentworth premiered in Australia on Foxtel's SoHo channel on 1 May 2013.[16][17][18] As of 2018, the series was still in production, with a sixth season premiering on 19 June 2018, while a seventh season had been announced and due to air in 2019. Season 7 aired in May 2019. While Wentworth was confirmed for a 2021 ending, it won't surpass Prisoner in episodes, but will surpass the show in years on air.[19] During Wentworth 13 actors who appeared in Prisoner also appeared in Wentworth in a guest capacity, including Tina Bursill who appeared in Prisoner as the character of Sonia Stevens she was cast in Wentworth as Eve Wilder[20] and several others.

Spoofs edit

In 1980 Saturday Night Live aired a parody of the series, "Debs Behind Bars". In the sketch, the inmates (including guest host Teri Garr) are spoiled debutantes who complain about "icky" living conditions in prison. During the early 1990s, Seven Network's comedy sketch program Fast Forward parodied Prisoner; Gina Riley (Bea Smith), Jane Turner (Lizzie Birdsworth), Magda Szubanski (Doreen) and Marg Downey as officer (Joan Ferguson) gave scenes from the series a comedic twist.

Other series to have featured Prisoner spoofs included The Paul Hogan Show, Let the Blood Run Free, Naked Video and The Krypton Factor.

Prisoner-inspired shows edit

In 1991, Prisoner was reprised for the American market as Dangerous Women. The US version borrowed heavily from the Australian original for characters and was created and written by Reg Watson, who had also created the original Australian series. In Dangerous Women, the emphasis was outside the prison, focusing on prisoner relationships in a halfway house. It is remembered now mainly for the early appearance of actor Casper Van Dien in the role of Brad Morris.[citation needed] In 1997, Prisoner was revised in a German-language version, Hinter Gittern – Der Frauenknast (Behind Bars). The series ran from 1997 to 2007 for 16 series and 403 episodes.

Talking Prisoner edit

On June 18, 2021, producer Matt Batten created the Talking Prisoner podcast and YouTube channel. Batten's co-host Ken Mulholland served as head cameraman on Prisoner from the series debut until episode 692. Mulholland and Batten interview cast and crew from Prisoner in depth. The podcast however also features interviews with cast and crew from other popular Australian internationally successful series like Sons and Daughters and Neighbours, and also featured interviews from staff at actual prisons including a 2023 interview with a warder from Ireland and a Prison Chaplin from San Quentin. In 2023 Mulholland departed [21] the podcast to focus on his art and it was announced that Tim Burns had joined as the new co-host of the podcast.

The channel can be found on YouTube and the official website "Talking", and is also broadcast on social media sites such as Facebook.[22]

Merchandise edit

There have been several tie-in books and video and DVD releases. Prisoner's theme song ("On the Inside", sung by Lynne Hamilton) reached number four in Australia in 1979 and peaked at number three on the UK Singles Chart in 1989. "On the Inside" was re-released as a digital download and CD single in March 2012. The song was featured as a B-side on punkabilly group The Living End's EP, Second Solution / Prisoner of Society.

Books (tie-in publications) edit

Based on the Series edit

There have been numerous publications on the series, including tie-in paperback novels, including publication's by Pinnacle Books, which in 1980, led by the actors union the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance and represented by cast member Val Lehman (Bea Smith), which saw the cast go on strike due to the content in the United States: soft-core pornography at odds with the series. Six books were published: Prisoner: Cell Block H, The Franky Doyle Story, The Karen Travers Story, The Frustrations of Vera, The Reign of Queen Bea and The Trials of Erica.

Two behind-the-scenes books were published in the UK during the early 1990s. Prisoner: Cell Block H – Behind the Scenes was written by Terry Bourke and published by Angus & Robertson Publishers, who published similar books about soap opera's Neighbours and Home and Away. Bourke documents the show's genesis and development, and the book has many stills and character profiles. Hilary Kingsley's Prisoner Cell Block H – The Inside Story emphasises more on plot and characters.

A limited-edition book, The Inside Story, was published in 2007 as part of the full-series DVD release in Australia. Written by TV journalists Andrew Mercado and Michael Idato, the commemorative book has the series' background, year-by-year storylines, character details and quotes by cast and crew. It was available as part of The Complete Collection DVD set.

Biographies and memoirs of cast members edit

There are also several published autobiographies, biographies and memoirs of cast members:

  • Colette Mann published 2 books, It's a Mann's World in 1990 and Give Me a Break in 2002
  • Betty Bobbitt self-published From the Outside, in 2011, which are her memoirs of her career which included playing the role of Judy Bryant on Prisoner.[23]
  • Sheila Florance biography titled "On the Inside" was published in 2016 by Helen Martineau, which details her career as an actress and performer, including her role as Lizzie Birdsworth on Prisoner.
  • Maggie Kirkpatrick, published her own autobiography in 2019, about her performing career, titled The Gloves Are Off, named after the iconic leather gloves that she occasionally wore as Joan Ferguson on Prisoner.

DVD releases edit

The complete series of Prisoner is available on DVD format in both Australia and the United Kingdom. On Region 4 in Australia, distribution company Shock Records released the series over forty volumes, and a complete collection, comprising these volumes; the UK editions, from FremantleMedia, made the series available over twenty volumes (doubling-up on the Australian sets). In 2016, ViaVision acquired the rights to re-release the series in Australia and made the decision to release the series in their original season formats. See above for a full listing of VHS and DVD sets available. The following is an overview of Prisoner releases in their seasons formats.

DVD title Episodes Discs Release date Runtime
ACB rating
Region 4[24]
The Complete Season One 79 20 2 November 2016 3555 M
The Complete Season Two 86 21 11 January 2017 3949 M
The Complete Season Three 81 21 8 February 2017 3596 M
The Complete Season Four 80 21 8 March 2017 3600 M
The Complete Season Five 90 23 5 April 2017 4001 M
The Complete Season Six 89 22 7 June 2017 4001 M
The Complete Season Seven 83 21 2 August 2017 3735 M
The Complete Season Eight 104 26 6 September 2017 4680 M

Theatre and musicals edit

A stage version of Prisoner, based on the original scripts, was produced in 1989 and toured the United Kingdom. Elspeth Ballantyne (Meg Morris) and Patsy King (Erica Davidson) reprised their characters and Glenda Linscott (Rita Connors) played a new character, Angela Mason. A second tour, with Fiona Spence (Vera Bennett) and Jane Clifton (Margo Gaffney), followed in 1990; Jacqui Gordon (Susie Driscoll) played new character Kath Evans.

A musical version followed, with Maggie Kirkpatrick reprising her role as Joan (the Freak) Ferguson and Lily Savage as an inmate. The musical, a parody of Prisoner's kitschier aspects, toured and had a West End run in 1995 and 1997. Val Lehman (Bea) was critical of the production, questioning why a drag queen would be in a women's prison.[26]

Due to Prisoner's popularity in the UK during the late 1980s, its British fan club organised personal-appearance tours for several actresses including Val Lehman (Bea Smith), Carol Burns (Franky Doyle), Betty Bobbitt (Judy Bryant), Sheila Florance (Lizzie Birdsworth), Amanda Muggleton (Chrissie Latham) and Judy McBurney (Pixie Mason). A TV special, The Great Escape, was produced in 1990. The programme, which featured Val Lehman, Sheila Florance, Amanda Muggleton and Carol Burns on their 1990 UK visit, includes extensive footage of their on-stage interview with TV presenter Anna Soubry in which the cast members discuss their time on the series. Recorded at the Derby Assembly Rooms in Derby,[27] it was briefly available in the UK on VHS video.[28]

Several Prisoner actors have appeared in British stage drama and pantomime, including Val Lehman (The Wizard of Oz, Beatrix Potter and Misery), Peta Toppano, Fiona Spence, Maggie Dence (Bev Baker), Debra Lawrance (Daphne Graham), Linda Hartley (Roach Waters), Ian Smith (Ted Douglas) and Maggie Millar (Marie Winter).

Popular culture references edit

In 1997, a Prisoner clip from its second episode (Franky Doyle and Lynn Warner's fight in the garden) appeared on the BBC sitcom Birds of a Feather, and the series was mentioned several times during Birds of a Feather's seven-and-a-half-year run.[29] The theme song was played briefly in episode three of BBC sitcom One Foot in the Grave.[29] Prisoner has also been referenced in British sitcoms 2point4 Children, Absolutely Fabulous and Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, as well as the soap operas Coronation Street, Brookside and EastEnders.[29]

International broadcast edit

United Kingdom edit

Prisoner began airing on Yorkshire Television on 8 October 1984,[30] with the franchise cutting scenes involving hanging (including the attempted hanging of Sandy Edwards and the hanging of Eve Wilder).[31] Yorkshire also heavily edited the episode 326 fight scene with Joan and Bea. Several other regions also cut scenes deemed inappropriate despite its time slot, well past the 9 p.m. watershed. The series was not simulcast nationally, with some regions (such as Granada in the North-West of England) not starting to show it until 1988, while the Ulster region in Northern Ireland was the final region of the ITV network to start broadcasting the series, in 1989.

When Border, Grampian and Granada TV screened the final episode in the UK, continuity announcer John McKenzie conducted a telephone interview with Maggie Kirkpatrick (Joan "the Freak" Ferguson).[32]

Prisoner was part of Channel 5's schedule when it launched in 1997.[33] The series returned to the UK in September 2023 after 22 years when it was added to the channel's streaming service My5.[34] It was also briefly aired from the beginning on 5Select from 20 December 2023, until 1 January 2024, ceasing broadcast at episode 20. It is also currently airing from the beginning, as of 3 January 2024, on That's TV 2.

United States edit

The series was first aired in the United States on KTLA in Los Angeles on 8 August 1979, initially under the original name, Prisoner.[35] Shown Wednesdays at 8pm, it was the first Australian series broadcast in prime time in the United States.[citation needed] The series, whose first two episodes were screened as a two-hour special, was viewed by a quarter of all television viewers in the Los Angeles market and was in second place for the night, beaten only by ABC's Charlie's Angels.[36]

The series would later be repackaged into a daily half-hour format, as Prisoner: Cell Block H,[37] KYW-TV ran this format under the title The Women of Cell Block H. It was syndicated directly to local stations through Firestone Program Syndication Company[38] during the early 1980s (particularly 1980 to '81). In New York City, where Prisoner: Cell Block H was telecast on WPIX, it was rated higher than late-night staple The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on WNBC and reruns of legendary series M*A*S*H on WNEW-TV, and paved the way for other popular Australian produced shows including miniseries Against the Wind and serial The Sullivans to be sold to international markets.[2]

Under the half-hour format, the original episodes were broadcast in two parts, though some scenes were censored or removed for the US telecast.

KTLA, however, continued to broadcast the series in a weekly hour format, though now Tuesdays at 8 p.m., and under the Prisoner: Cell Block H name.[39] Picked up in at least 38 markets in early 1980,[40] the program would leave the American airwaves by spring 1982, after the few stations that were still carrying the program, such as KOB-TV[41] and WGN-TV,[42] removed Prisoner from their schedules.

During the spring and summer of 1985, the series was screened nationally on USA Network,[25] weekdays at 11 a.m. ET, also in a half-hour format. It is unknown which episodes were televised.[43]

Canada edit

In Canada, Prisoner began on 10 September 1979[44] as Caged Women on Global Television Network, at the time a small television network serving southern and eastern Ontario;[25] the program was seen weekly on Monday nights at 9pm[45]

The show would move to Tuesdays at 9 p.m. in the fall of 1980, continuing with the Caged Women title.[46] The show would be off the schedule by the 1981–1982 television season,[47] but by the fall of 1982, Global would reintroduce the show to the schedule, still as Caged Women, in the half-hour format, weeknights at midnight and 12:30am.[48] The program would be off the schedule by the start of the 1983–1984 season.[49]

Curiously, Global's use of Caged Women would continue even after the show debuted in the United States as Prisoner: Cell Block H, which led to viewers in the communities along the Ontario / Michigan border to watch the same program under two different titles: Caged Women on Global, and Prisoner: Cell Block H on WKBD-TV Detroit.[50]

In Vancouver, Victoria and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Prisoner: Cell Block H was telecast under that title weekdays at 1pm during 1980 and 1981 on KVOS-TV, an independent station in Bellingham, Washington that included the greater Vancouver / Victoria region as part of its viewing area.[51]

Sweden edit

The series was shown in Sweden where it was a cult broadcast on TV4, from 7 September 1994 and entitled Kvinofangelset (The Women's Prison). a fan club organised a regular get together and collected several thousands of signatures from fans to repeat the series in again, which TV4 did so in 2000, After the series ended that year, work began to persuade the network to repeat the series a third time. The network originally screened the series three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) in the late night program slot of 1am, with the final episode airing on 3 February 2000.

During the repeat run from 2000 until October 2004, the network screening was four times a week (Monday to Thursday) at 2:15 am. The episodes were then repeated on weekends with both the Monday and Tuesday episode on Saturday and the Wednesday and Thursday episodes on Sunday.

The second rerun began in May 2014, by station TV4 Guld and again airing Monday through to Thursdays, and screening at 10:00pm, with episode 32 on July 3.

The broadcast schedule was later changed to five nights a week airing at midnight. Season 8 began broadcasting Sjuan in September 2017 at 3:00 pm.

Other countries edit

In New Zealand, Prisoner was first shown on TV2 on Monday 2 March 1981 and aired up to four afternoons a week, Monday to Thursday, at 2:30 p.m. before moving to twice a week, Mondays and Tuesdays, in the same timeslot by October 1985. On Monday 9 February 1987, the series was moved to TV One and continued to air Mondays and Tuesdays at around 2:30 p.m. until Thursday 23 July 1987 when it aired only on Thursdays in that slot. The final episode of Prisoner was broadcast on Friday 16 September 1988 at 2:35 p.m. The series was rerun on Orange and, later, Sky 1.[25]

In South Africa, public television network SABC 1 began airing the series in 1998, screening Thursday nights at 9 p.m. and a repeat showing on Fridays at 10:45;[25] it was cancelled on 2 October 2000, after episode 156.

In Brazil, Prisoner aired as As Prisioneiras around the end of 1980 and early 1981 by TVS (since renamed SBT), Sundays at 10 p.m.[citation needed] The show was dubbed into Brazilian Portuguese locally by TVS and was cancelled after episode 82 had screened.

Australian reruns edit

After Network Ten in Sydney, NSW had played the original run of the series, it returned in syndication for a second complete series rerun during weeknights around 10.30-11.00pm during most of the year of 1990 though due to The Gulf War conflict coverage the reruns were abruptly rescheduled weekday mornings from 4am through to the series finale a few years later. The series was replayed for a third time during the mid 1990s on Channel Ten in Sydney, NSW now screening at weekday afternoons from 1pm and then later at 1.30pm. The series has not been seen since on its original commercial Channel Ten since that period. Network Ten began rerunning Prisoner on 8 May 1995; the series was cancelled, despite promises that it would return after the 1996 Christmas break. BBC UKTV began airing it from the beginning on 30 November 1997, at 12:15am on Tuesday and Thursday and 11:30pm on Saturday and Sunday. A repeat was broadcast at 2pm on Monday. From March 2022, the show is available for streaming at 10play.[52] [citation needed]

Foxtel channel 111 channel began airing the series on 7 March 2011 at 6:30pm AEDT, later moving to 5:30pm AEDT on 10 December 2012. Each episode was repeated the following afternoon, with the final episode on the initial run airing on 11 November 2013. The next day, the channel began a repeat run from episode one at 3:00pm AEDT, later moving to 1:00pm AEST on 7 July 2014. Foxtel held unlimited screening rights to the series until 2019, airing the series 4 times back to back (from 2011 to 2019). Foxtel's final broadcast was on September 11, 2019.

The series' popularity on Foxtel inspired plans for a modern-day remake.[53][54][55]

Believing that Prisoner would resonate with new audiences, in 2010 111 group programming director Darren Chau planned to replay the series against the introduction of digital channel Eleven and Network Ten's plan to move Neighbours to Eleven. The channel ran a promotional campaign highlighting the rerun, with a new version of the theme song by Ella Hooper and a cast reunion.[citation needed]

As of 2023 Prisoner returned to its new home of streaming channel 10Play in Australia and is also available on Pluto TV 24 hours a day with back to back episodes streaming. It seems this much loved cult series classic is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Awards and nominations edit

Organization Category Year Recipient Results Ref.
Logie Awards Best Lead Actress in a Series 1980 Carol Burns Won [56]
Logie Awards Best New Drama Series 1980 Prisoner Won ([56]
Logie Awards Best Lead Actress in a Series 1981 Sheila Florance Won [57]
Logie Awards Best Drama Program 1981 Prisoner Won [57]
Logie Awards Most Popular Show in Victoria 1981 Prisoner Won [citation needed]
Logie Awards Most Popular Actress 1982 Val Lehman Won [58]
Logie Awards Best Lead Actress in a Series 1982 Val Lehman (198 Won [58]
Logie Awards Best Drama Program 1982 Prisoner Won [58]
Logie Awards Best Lead Actress in a Series 1983 Val Lehman Won [59]
Logie Awards Best Supporting Actress in a Series 1983 Sheila Florance Won [59]
Logie Awards Most Popular Show in Victoria 1985 Prisoner Won [citation needed]
Logie Awards Best Supporting Actress in a Series 1981 Colette Mann Nominated
Logie Awards Best Supporting Actor in a Series 1981 Gerard Maguire Nominated
Logie Awards Best Lead Actress in a Series 1982 Betty Bobbitt Nominated
Logie Awards Best Lead Actress in a Series 1984 Maggie Kirkpatrick Nominated
Logie Awards Best Supporting Actress in a Series 1985 Gerda Nicolson Nominated
Logie Awards Best Performance by a Juvenile 1985 Robert Summers Nominated
Logie Awards Most Popular Actress in a Series 1986 Maggie Kirkpatrick Nominated
Penguin Awards Best Sustained Performance by an Actress in a Series 1979 Carol Burns Won
Penguin Awards Special Commendation Outstanding Ensemble Acting 1981 Ensemble cast Val Lehman, Sheila Florance, Colette Mann and Betty Bobbitt Won
Penguin Awards Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series 1984 Anne Phelan Won
Penguin Awards Best Series Actress 1985 Anne Phelan Won
Penguin Awards Best Sustained Performance 1985 Gerda Nicolson Won
Penguin Awards Certificate of Commendation 1985 Maggie Kirkpatrick Won
Penguin Awards Certificate of Commendation 1985 Genevieve Lemon Won
Penguin Awards Certificate of Commendation 1985 Joy Westmore Won
Penguin Awards Best Drama Serial 1986 Prisoner Won
Penguin Awards Best Performance by an Actress in a Series 1986 Glenda Linscott Won
Sammy Awards Best Actress in a Series 1980 Sheila Florance Won

See also edit

Explanatory notes edit

  1. ^ For a complete listing of directors and writers, see
  2. ^ "Women Behind Bars" would later be used in the US as a subtitle to a series of paperback novelisations released by Pinnacle Books (see the "Books" section).
  3. ^ Peta Toppano's first name was spelled in the closing credits as "Peita", her actual spelling. Both "Peta" and "Peita" are used in other television programs, movies, and magazine articles.
  4. ^ 27 February 1979 was when the series debuted on ATV-10 as a two-hour special; the show had its national debut in Sydney on TEN-10 the night before on 26 February, where it was televised as a two-part premiere, with the second part seen on 27 February.
  5. ^ In some areas of Australia, the Prisoner finale did not air until well into 1987. One example is in Sydney, in which TEN-10 did not screen the final two episodes until 29 September 1987, where they aired in a late-night slot at 11:05 p.m.; two years earlier, TEN-10 began airing Prisoner once a week, instead of twice.[13] In some areas of Australia, Prisoner was taken off the air long before the final episode; examples include Perth, where Nine Network station STW-9 cancelled the series after Episode 542.[14] (STW and Seven Network outlet TVW-7 shared Network Ten's programming until the sign-on of NEW-10 in 1988.)

References edit

  1. ^ "A tough role for Lovely Peita". Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  2. ^ a b Bourke, Terry (1990). Prisoner Cell Block H: Behind the Scenes. London: Angus and Robertson (UK).
  3. ^ a b Lane, Richard (1991). Prisoner: Cell Block H. Thames Mandarin. ISBN 0-749309296.
  4. ^ Lane, Richard "Prisoner :Cell Block H" published by London Thames Mandarin
  5. ^ "Prisoner: Eight Years Inside". Aussie Soap Archive. Archived from the original on 11 September 2009. Retrieved 7 December 2006.
  6. ^ Beirne, Rebecca (2008). Lesbians in Television and Text after the Millennium. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 35. ISBN 9780230615014. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  7. ^ Kingsley, Hillary. Prisoner Cell Block H: The Inside Story. Boxtree Ltd (15 November 1990). ISBN 978-1852831134. Pages 51–53
  8. ^ a b Anderson, Scott. Campbell, Barry. Cope, Rob. Behind the Bars: The Unofficial Prisoner Cell Block H Companion. Tomahawk Press; UK ed. edition (12 August 2013). ISBN 978-0956683441. Pages 49 & 60
  9. ^ Norman Chance Who was Who on TV, Volume 3, p. 65, at Google Books
  10. ^ Horace Newcomb (editor) Encyclopedia of Television (1997), p. 1828, at Google Books
  11. ^ Kingsley, Hillary (15 November 1990). Prisoner Cell Block H: The Inside Story. Boxtree Ltd. ISBN 978-1852831134. pp. 51–53.
  12. ^ Lane, Richard, "Prisoner Cell Block H", published by Thames, London 1991
  13. ^ Sydney Morning Herald, The Guide supplement, 28 September 1987, p. 10
  14. ^ "Prisoner: Cell Block H - episode 542".
  15. ^ Knox, David (29 November 2012). "Anne Charleston guests in Wentworth". TV Tonight. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  16. ^ Josie (5 March 2012). "Josie's Juice: 'Prisoner' is back: as 'Wentworth'". Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  17. ^ "Prisoner remake Wentworth". Brisbane Times. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  18. ^ Knox, David (4 October 2012). "Wentworth cast on the inside". TV Tonight. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  19. ^ "Production commences on Wentworth Season 7". 12 April 2018. Archived from the original on 14 April 2018. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  20. ^ Epstein, Jackie; Duck, Siobhan; Woolford, Lisa (24 August 2021). "Wentworth stars on women, Aussie culture and life behind the scenes as prison drama heads into final season". Retrieved 9 August 2023.
  21. ^ "Instagram".
  22. ^ "Talking Prisoner". YouTube. Retrieved 21 May 2022.
  23. ^ "Betty Bobbitt official website". Archived from the original on 18 November 2018. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  24. ^ DVD releases:
  25. ^ a b c d e "Prisoner Worldwide". Archived from the original on 19 February 2017. Retrieved 18 February 2017.
  26. ^ "'Lily Savage' star takes over as Chitty Childcatcher – News". Archived from the original on 5 May 2013. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  27. ^ "Cell Block The Great Escape 1990". YouTube. 11 November 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2016.
  28. ^ "Prisoner Cell Block H Tour 1990: The Great Escape [VHS]". 10 April 1995. Retrieved 22 April 2016.
  29. ^ a b c "Connections". IMDb. Retrieved 22 April 2016.
  30. ^ "Episode 1". Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  31. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Eve's hanging cut on ITV Tyne Tees". YouTube. 27 March 2015. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  32. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Prisoner Cell Block H – ITV introduction to final episode UK". YouTube. 14 April 2010. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  33. ^ Knight, Dominic (1 September 2023). "Prisoner: Cell Block H joins My5 offering". ATV Today. Retrieved 11 September 2023.
  34. ^ Patterson, Stephen (1 September 2023). "Prisoner: Cell Block H returns to TV at last as it streams from the very beginning". Metro. Retrieved 2 September 2023.
  35. ^ TV Week supplement in The Sun, San Bernardino, CA, 5 August 1979. Via
  36. ^ "Pay Row Is Settled", TV Week, 28 August 1979
  37. ^ "St. Petersburg Times - Google News Archive Search".
  38. ^ Trade ad for Prisoner: Cell Block H" in Variety, November 21, 1979
  39. ^ TV Week supplement in The Sun, San Bernardino, CA, 14 September 1980. Via
  40. ^ [1] [dead link]
  41. ^ "Prisoner: Cell Block H - episode 258".
  42. ^ Preview supplement in The Daily Pantagraph, Bloomington, IL, 3 April 1982. (via
  43. ^ "The Evening Independent - Google News Archive Search".
  44. ^ "Ottawa Citizen - Google News Archive Search".
  45. ^ "The Windsor Star - Google News Archive Search".
  46. ^ "Ottawa Citizen - Google News Archive Search".
  47. ^ "Ottawa Citizen - Google News Archive Search".
  48. ^ "Ottawa Citizen - Google News Archive Search".
  49. ^ "Ottawa Citizen - Google News Archive Search".
  50. ^ "The Windsor Star - Google News Archive Search".
  51. ^ "The Vancouver Sun - Google News Archive Search".
  52. ^ "Iconic TV series 'Prisoner' to stream on 10Play in 2022". OutinPerth. 18 December 2021.
  53. ^ "Re-live one of Australia's best dramas – Foxtel Insider – What's On". FOXTEL. 3 March 2011. Archived from the original on 19 May 2013. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  54. ^ Knox, David (3 March 2011). "Prisoner cast reunite on the inside". TV Tonight. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  55. ^ Knox, David (4 March 2012). "Foxtel to remake Prisoner". TV Tonight. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  56. ^ a b "1980 Logie Award Winners". Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  57. ^ a b "1981 Logie Award Winners". Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  58. ^ a b c "1982 Logie Award Winners". Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  59. ^ a b "1983 Logie Award Winners". Retrieved 8 June 2018.

External links edit