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Prisoner (TV Series 1979–1986) Poster

(1979–1986)

Trivia

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After episode 692 was shown in Sweden in early 2000, fans demonstrated outside the building of TV 4 ( which had shown the series), demanding a rerun. It was the first time in Sweden this had happened, and the demonstration convinced the company to air the show again.
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The prison's address was: Wentworth Detention Centre, PO Box 42, Wentworth 3NS, Nunawading, Melbourne, Victoria 3131.
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Cassandra Lehman made an uncredited appearance in a flashback sequence as Bea Smith's daughter, Debbie. Cassandra is the real-life daughter of Val Lehman, who played Bea Smith. Her other daughter Joanne Lehman appeared as Yvonne, a cocky youth Bea encounters on the run.
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The oft-mentioned Department, the staff's employers, was fully The Department of Corrective Services.
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In the early stage of Prisoner (1979), the producers hired an ex-con as a script advisor. To the surprise of the staff, their new script advisor was shot during a bank robbery.
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The theme song "On the Inside" at the time was acclaimed as "the biggest selling single from a female artist in the history of the Australian recording industry". On 6th May 1989 the single was released in the UK and peaked at number 3 in the charts on 3rd June.
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The USA's second most popular show, with 25% of the audience when premiered there on 8th August 1979.
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Whilst shooting a fight scene, Val Lehman (Bea Smith) accidentally fractured Amanda Muggleton (Chrissie Latham)'s nose.
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The show also spawned stage productions including 1981's revue "Prisoner in Concert" (taped at HM Prison Pentridge); a 1989 UK-based stage drama which starred Patsy King, Elspeth Ballantyne and Glenda Linscott; a 1989 UK-based stage drama which starred Fiona Spence, Jane Clifton and Jacqui Gordon; and 1995 & 1997 UK-based stage musicals which starred Paul O'Grady as Lily Savage and Maggie Kirkpatrick.
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Elspeth Ballantyne (Meg Morris) is the only lead actress to be in the show throughout its entire run. Extras Barbara Jungwirth (Lorna Young) and Hazel Henley (Tina Murray) also lasted the course.
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Val Lehman owns Prisoner (1979) Box Set #1 - the very first of the limited edition DVD run. She has mentioned in an interview that she hasn't watched them as yet, but may auction them.
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In 1981, following all this success, the Ten Network commissioned Grundys to produce Punishment (1981) - a male version of the show. But the series was panned by the critics despite featuring Mel Gibson as an inmate and survived a mere 39 episodes before being cancelled.
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Val Lehman (Bea Smith) was originally considered for the part of Vera Bennett. Maggie Kirkpatrick had auditioned for the role. The other contenders for the role of Bea Smith included Betty Bobbitt (Judy Bryant), Maggie Kirkpatrick (Joan Ferguson), and Carole Skinner (Nola McKenzie).
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Several of the major cast all made minor guest appearances in the show before returning to the series to play long-term characters: Gerda Nicolson (Ann Reynolds), Anne Phelan (Myra Desmond), Louise Siversen (Lou Kelly), Kirsty Child (Willie Beecham), Debra Lawrance (Daphne Graham), Babs McMillan (Cass Parker), Billie Hammerberg (May Collins), Jane Clifton (Margo Gaffney), Belinda Davey (Hazel Kent), Maurie Fields (Len Murphy), Christine Earle (Janet Williams), 'Kevin Summers' (Ben Fulbright), Ernie Bourne (Mervin Pringle), Brian James (Stan Dobson), Paddy Burnet (Ida Brown), Nicki Paull (Lisa Mullins), Sue Jones (Kathy Hall), Anne Charleston (Deirdre Kean), Jennifer Ludlam (Janice Grant), Robyn Gibbes (Sam Greenway), and Marilyn Rodgers (Queenie Marshall).
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Colette Mann (Doreen Burns) was originally considered to play either Lynn Warner or Marilyn Mason during the original auditions for the show.
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Janet Andrewartha originally auditioned for the role of Bobbie Mitchell before being offered the part of Reb Kean. Janet had to agree to cut her waist-length hair to a "'James Dean'" style for the character.
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Billie Hammerberg (May Collins) had previously auditioned for the part of Nola McKenzie.
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During the shooting of a scene where Carol Burns (Franky Doyle) smashes up the recreation room set when Franky flies into a rage, one of the extras started to panic and eventually had to be coaxed out from under a chair.
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Supposedly, a total of 6480 actors, writers and directors and a total of 784 crew members were employed throughout this series' run.
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One of the best satires of the show featured in Let the Blood Run Free (1990), where at one point Nurse Pam Sandwich and Matron Dorothy Conniving-Bitch were sentenced to Wentworth Detention Centre. Costumes and possibly some set elements were reused from the original series, as was an establishing shot of WDC. Perhaps unintentionally the obviously-painted 'Oriental Shoes' shop flat which appeared behind the doors of the first Driscoll House in Prisoner (1979) also showed up in the comedy spoof.
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A 1984 storyline featuring Vivean Gray as Edna Pearson, a (possible) poisoner, was heavily cut in both Australian and overseas airings following its initial transmission. This was because Grundy was threatened with legal action by Emily Perry, an Australian woman who had been similarly - and recently - imprisoned in reality. The storyline was finally broadcast uncut in Malta in March 2000. It was released (almost) uncut on DVD in the United Kingdom in 2010, as a "stand alone" release besides the ongoing release of chronological episodes.
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The warders performing the night-time lock-up during the end-credit sequence are: Anne Yates (Kirsty Child, 1-4), Officer Grahame (Susan J. Arnold, 5-294), Joan Barfield (Delva Hunter, 295-481) and Gail Brown (Geraldine Girvan, 482-692).
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In March 2012 Foxtel announced plans to revive the show as Wentworth (2013), focusing on Bea Smith's rise to become Top Dog. This new negotiation with rights owners FremantleMedia followed similar proposals by Ten in 2010 (a broad reworking provisionally entitled "Inside Out") and the 1990s.
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Thursday 13th February 1986 saw legendary US entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. arrive (via Network Ten's "Eyewitness News" helicopter) at the Nunawading studios to visit the show's set and gallery, where he met the cast and declared his adoration for the character of Joan Ferguson, much to actress Maggie Kirkpatrick's amusement. He was a fan of the show from LA screenings, and expressed a desire to make a guest appearance, preferably opposite The Freak - unfortunately for the star no suitable shooting dates proved viable, and the drama was soon in the processes of winding down.
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In an interview Maggie Kirkpatrick admitted that when she started the show she had very little experience in front of the camera and was unsure of what she should do when her character did not have lines in a scene. She ended up doing what she had done in theatre, which was to stand still, so that she did not steal focus from the other actors on stage. Viewers felt her characters stillness was creepy and added to her reputation as "The Freak". In later seasons, when Kirkpatrick was more comfortable with acting onscreen, she said she got told off by directors if she did too much in a scene, as it undermined her creepiness.
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The "Unseen Danger" music track composed by Steve Gray was later used as The Cat theme for ITV Night Time in the United Kingdom.
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Across episodes 309-313 Judy Bryant goes to Sydney (off-screen) to visit Sandy Willson at Guthrie House. This is a reference to the show's unofficial prison advisor: aged 20, Sandra Willson murdered taxi driver Rodney Woodgate, and served 18 years between 1959-77, becoming the longest serving female prisoner in New South Wales. On her release from Mulawa Women's Detention Centre she established Guthrie House, the first Australian halfway house for female parolees. Series creator Reg Watson said he thought more of Sandra's opinions than anyone elses. She met Betty Bobbitt in reality (Judy's openly gay character being heavily based on her) and died in 1999.
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In some countries, the series was called "Prisoner: Cell Block H" to avoid confusion with the cult UK series The Prisoner (1967). Annette Andre, Terence Donovan and David Nettheim appeared in both shows.
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In 1979 it was Australia's second most popular show, with average audience 1,494,000
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A sitcom spin-off involving the character of Sandra 'Pixie' Mason (Judy McBurney) was once proposed by the show's writers but Grundys never entertained the idea.
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Pepe Trevor (Lexie Patterson) is the daughter of "Prisoner" producer Marie Trevor.
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Wentworth was a high-security prison. Other jails seen in the series were Barnhurst (aka "The Farm", a low-security country prison farm for men and women), Woodridge (a mens' prison) and Blackmoor ("The Black Hole", a maximum-security institution for serious male/female offenders); the equally-fictional Parkwoods was located in Western Australia. Real-life prisons Pentridge, Fairlea and Mulawa were occasionally alluded to, whilst Joan Ferguson transferred from Queensland's genuine Boggo Road Gaol.
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Elizabeth Latham, Chrissie's baby, was played by Lucas Bradley, son of producer Ian Bradley and script editor/actress Anne Lucas.
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Late 1981 (episode 244) saw the inmates issued with new uniforms. These were manufactured by local Victorian firms Ecole-Wagner and Johnson Pty. Ltd., from denim supplied by Yarraville Textiles Pty. Ltd. and with shirts by Roxy.
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Throughout the 1980 run, prison social worker Paul Reid drives WDC's pickup truck, a red Ford ute reg. ATC 743. It is never seen before or after during the entire series.
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From the start of production in 1978 Grundys wanted an official prison liaison officer to work with the production team, but no authorities were ever keen to provide such a service. The show proceeded without one, only to then be accused of inauthenticity by the same sources.
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The last day of taping on the whole series was Friday 5th September 1986, with a wrap party held for the crew and crew in Studio B, home of the show from day one. The final episode went out in its Melbourne home territory at 8.30pm on Thursday 11th December 1986 (in Sydney it didn't air until Monday 28th September 1987).
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In late 1983 Lesley Baker was invited back to the series to reprise her character Monica Ferguson from the show's first year; it was intended that she would be revealed as a relative of officer Joan Ferguson. Baker declined (presumably leading to the similar contemporary storyline concerning Joan's niece Lucy arriving as a prisoner), but did rejoin the cast as 'Tinker' Belle Peters who befriends escapee Maxine Daniels.
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Spoilers 

The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

Maggie Kirkpatrick intended to leave the show in the 9th season, so a storyline was planned where she would go to jail (and it being the 8th season cliffhanger) and be killed in the 9th season setting up a "Whodunnit?" storyline. The show was canceled at the end of the 8th season, so the intended cliffhanger was instead changed to the show's resolving.
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The character of Bev "The Beast" Baker (played by Maggie Dence) was originally created as a long-term addition to the cast. However, the writers soon realized that the character of Bev, a psychotic serial killer, was too disturbing for the series and wrote her out after only six episodes.
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Anne Phelan, who was leaving at the time, was the one who suggested the hostage storyline and suggested her character be killed protecting her friends.
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Following Bea Smith's departure in episode 400, Val Lehman recalled being invited three times to reprise the role by Grundys. Eventually they bowed to the actress' wishes and in episode 536 it's announced that Smith has died in a fire during an (off-screen) riot at Barnhurst, whilst attempting to save the lives of fellow inmates.
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Top Dog Sandy Edwards' reign was cut short in 1982 when actress Louise Le Nay discovered she was pregnant (apparantly on her first day working on the series). Her pregnancy bump was concealed from viewers for as long as possible, but eventually the character had to exit the show. Sandy's departure was therefore left open-ended, but following the birth of her daughter the actress elected not to return to Wentworth. Consequently viewers never learnt whether or not Edwards had escaped in the prison's garbage truck, or been killed by Kate Peterson.
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See also

Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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