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Prisoner: Cell Block H (TV Series 1979–1986) Poster

(1979–1986)

Trivia

Jump to: Spoilers (7)
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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In the early stage of Prisoner: Cell Block H (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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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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Whilst shooting a fight scene, Val Lehman (Bea Smith) accidentally fractured Amanda Muggleton (Chrissie Latham)'s nose.
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The oft-mentioned Department, the staff's employers, was originally the Department of Social Welfare, renamed as the Department of Corrective Services as the series progressed.
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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 consequently 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 else's. She met Betty Bobbitt in reality (Judy's openly gay character being heavily based on her) and died in 1999.
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Val Lehman owns Prisoner: Cell Block H (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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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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The show also spawned stage productions including the revue Prisoner in Concert (1981) (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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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: Cell Block H (1979) also showed up in the comedy spoof.
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A 1984 storyline featuring Vivean Gray as Edna Pearson, a (possible, though seemingly genuinely guilty) poisoner, was heavily cut to the point of non-existence in both Australian and overseas airings following its initial Melbourne transmission. This was because Grundys were threatened with legal action by Emily Perry, an Australian woman who had been similarly - and recently - imprisoned in reality, to much press coverage. Mrs Perry (the alleged "black widow" of Adelaide) had been variously accused of attempting to poison her third husband Kenneth - who fervently supported her denials, as did Edna's spouse Harry Pearson - after her first and second (de facto) husbands, plus her brother, died in suspicious circumstances in keeping with systematic arsenical poisoning. She served just 287 days in custody after being convicted and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment, when her conviction was quashed. The Pearson storyline was finally broadcast uncut in Malta in March 2000, and released (almost) uncut on DVD in the United Kingdom in 2010. In the fictional storylines' conclusion it is said that Harry and Edna, following his assistance in the quashing of her conviction, are separating due to "irreconcilable differences". To her death in 2012 (whilst still married to Kenneth), many of the police-force involved in her arrest still remained utterly convinced of Emily Perry's guilt.
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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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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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The last day of taping on the whole series was Friday 5th September 1986, with a wrap party thrown that evening for the cast 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 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 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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Wentworth was a high-security prison. Other jails seen in the series were Barnhurst (aka "The Farm", a low-security country prison farm for both sexes), Woodridge (a mens' prison) and Blackmoor ("The Black Hole", a maximum-security institution for serious male/female offenders); equally-fictional were Beechmont youth remand centre and Parkwoods, 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. The sometimes-mentioned Winlaton Youth Training Centre was actually very close to the studios where the show was taped on Springvale Road, Nunawading.
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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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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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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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Late 1981 (episode 244) saw the inmates issued with new uniforms, replete with WDC emblem. These were manufactured by local Victorian firms Ecole-Wagner and Johnson Pty. Ltd., from denim supplied by Yarraville Textiles Pty. Ltd. and with checked shirts by Roxy. It would not be until early in the 1984 run (episode 438) when the officers' uniforms were finally upgraded, from grey serge to khaki.
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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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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 (the proposed storyline presumably being rewritten with Joan's niece Lucy arriving as a prisoner), but instead briefly rejoined the cast as 'Tinker' Belle Peters who befriends escapee Maxine Daniels.
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Actress Maggie Kirkpatrick has recalled having much early cause for concern on being presented with her original 1982 character breakdown brief for Joan Ferguson as "a sadistic, corrupt, bull-dyke screw", not least for how her mother would react (with good reason: she hated it).
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Anne Phelan worried over the superficial presentation of violence in the series, and would always reflect this in her performance: if Myra Desmond was physically fought she would continue 'injured' acting in following episodes whether referenced in the scripts or not.
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Much is made of inmate Bobbie Mitchell's fondness for smoking (tobacco or otherwise), yet she's never actually seen doing anything more than rolling and putting an unlit cigarette in her mouth throughout her entire stint in the series, as actress Maxine Klibingaitis didn't smoke.
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Long-running UK soap Coronation Street (1960) homaged the series in August 2001, when Hayley Cropper was remanded for kidnap; an establishing shot showed the prison was named Barnhurst. Simultaneously, Terry Duckworth was serving time in HMP Brentworth.
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Maggie Kirkpatrick had originally auditioned for the role of Vera Bennett, but she didn't get the role, so in that time Kirkpatrick returned to theatre and a few years later, got a call to come onto the series as one of the series most famous characters; Joan Ferguson.
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Maggie Kirkpatrick admitted in an interview that in Joan's debut episode, that the 'Stillness of Joan' in the laundry room scene came from her nervousness in joining a highly successful show.
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In 2013 when Wentworth (2013) launched (Prisoner's re-imagining), it did so with members of the Prisoner cast, including Val Lehman, Elspeth Ballantyne, Carol Burns, Fiona Spence and Patsy King. With Fiona Spence calling Wentworth 'the ultimate compliment'
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During Audio Commentary of episode 327 the episode was very expensive according to the cast, due to the fact that they had real police, ambulance and firefighters onset and the ladder used in the scene to get up to the roof was a real ladder, and a real Jordan frame and crane where used for filming the scenes where Joan (Maggie Kirkpatrick) was lifted off of the roof.
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According to an interview in 2002, it was revealed that many of the long-term running actresses in the series had threatened to quit on more than one occasion, even Maggie Kirkpatrick admitted that she had threatened to leave after multiple story lines she considered 'out of character' for her character of Joan Ferguson. And other cast members had threatened to leave as well after the treatment many of the short term character actors got from other members of the cast (one member of the cast stated one short term cast member had such a rough time on the show, to make her feel better was gifted champagne and roses, but never acted again afterward.) . But much of the cast remained good friends after the show ended.
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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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Only 22 actors appeared in more than 100 episodes. Of them Glenda Linscott, Jane Clifton, Maxine Klibingaitis, Anne Phelan, Pepe Trevor, Reylene Pearce, Louise Siverson, Lois Collinder, Delva Hunter, appeared in less than 200 episodes. Gerard Macguire (the only male to appear in more than 100 episodes) Fiona Spence, Joy Westmore, Judith McGrath, Colette Mann appeared in less than 300 episodes. Gerda Nicolson, Patsy King, Val Lehman, Maggie Kirkpatrick appear in less than 400 episodes. Sheila Florence and Betty Bobbit appear in less than 500 episodes. No one appeared in less than 600 episodes. Elspeth Ballantyne appeared in less than 700 episodes.
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Elspeth Ballantyne is the series most billed actor. Her character of Meg Morris appeared in 669 episodes out of 692 episodes.
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During an interview in 2012 the original cast got together for an interview and said the series was popular in America but got banned in Salt Lake City for the reason that it 'was too much for American Viewers' and episodes were only showed once in the states.
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Like any long running series there are sometimes gaffes in backstories, and middle names. During the run of the series, middle names would change and sometimes characters would say 'good night' when it is clearly daylight outside.
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During a 2006 "where are they now?" program, it was revealed that it had a viewing audience of 39 million in America before the series became popular in England.
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During some episodes ending credits some of the cast had their names spelled wrong accidentally.
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The series across its 8 season run produced over 100 hours of TV per year. Val Lehman said that the cast often worked 15 hour days as the series aired 2 episodes a week.
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The series celebrated its 40th anniversary in March, in which many of the cast spoke at. Many of the surviving cast who were invited to the event passed and didn't go to the event, many of the cast who didn't come were told that they had "commitments" and many couldn't travel because they were overseas. At the same event tensions were clear between many of cast present including tension between Collette Mann and Val Lehman. In a report about the event the cast labelled it "Lehman's ego event."
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During the media before the 40th anniversary event, many of the surviving cast were simply not invited by host Val Lehman, as it went on "depending who could come", but many had other projects that had to work on, including other events they needed to be at and projects for TV work. Gerard McGuire (Matt Fletcher) was not invited either was Elsepth Ballantyne (Meg Jackson), Maggie Kirkpatrick (Joan Ferguson) was invited but had to drop out due to stage commitments, Sigrid Thorton (Ros Coulson) was not invited due to commitments for SeaChange. It was also revealed that Paula Duncan (Lorielei Wilkenson) would go to the event just 2 weeks after losing her sister, many of the other surviving cast may have not been invited due to ill health, or they were just sick of speaking about their time on the show.
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It has been revealed that many long term characters who left the series, left because they were just exhausted from the long hours on set. Fiona Spence said in an interview years after the show finished, she thought it was the right time to leave, but would've come back if she had taken some time off. Val Lehman left the series because of exhaustion as did Louise Siverson, Gerard Maguire, Patsy King, Betty Bobbitt and Ann Phelan.
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Was Patsy King's final acting credit before she went into television retirement.
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Maggie Kirkpatrick threatened to leave during the storyline where Joan Ferguson's house burnt down and she befriended a golfer. Kirkpatrick spoke about it saying 'The director we had, didn't watch any of Joan's stuff, not knowing her sexuality, and I told him, "you're ruining Joan for me. This isn't her." after that the character of Andrew Hinton was killed off because of Kirkpatrick's statement.
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After episode 327 aired the series was banned in all prisons. This is because prisoners at an actual prison followed the storyline and burned the prison down.
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The series struggled with viewership in its final season that it introduced 13 new characters to see if the show could continue for longer, but the show slowly lost more and more viewers as the season went along and Ten canceled the series after 692 episodes.
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The series is well known for the 'Prisoner' curse. As many of the shows actors were unable to find other acting roles after they finished up on the series. Philip Hyde who played Rodney took on one more acting role before retiring from acting. Many other actors died at young ages and many others refused to go events the show had arranged. Many never spoke to their Prisoner colleagues again and many returned to theatre.
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In some parts of Australia the series finale did not air until 1987, this is because the series was taken off the air in Perth and in Sydney after airing episode 542. This may be because states were showing the series later into the night and some stations refused to air the series altogether as they had changed their programming figures, even though it was considered a hit cult show network execs of several stations said fans had tuned out to the series long before the final season and they were moving along with the times. To make matter worse Prisoner cast members who were leaving the series at the time said they left because of the work hours and episode numbers, they were airing two episodes a week and many of the cast could not cope and made their decision as many would work 15 hour days and had little time to be with family. Late in the 1986 run Maggie Kirkpatrick threatened to quit the series as did many others after they stated many of the short cast actors who were there on set for 6 weeks were treated so badly one never acted again, another was gifted roses, and one decided to return to the Sydney Theatre Company. Many of the cast who became quite close said that the show did give them two things, friendship and financial stability.
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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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Anne Phelan, who was leaving the show at the time - which as she freely admits, was entirely due to her pay rise request being refused (having asked for a wage commensurate with that of exiting Judy Bryant actress Betty Bobbitt, whose workload she felt she would be inheriting) - herself initiated the hostage plotline by suggesting her long-running character Myra Desmond be killed whilst protecting her friends. She was entertained to learn that the staging of her final storyline cost Grundys more than if they'd accepted her payrise request.
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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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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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Following Bea Smith's departure in episode 400, Val Lehman recalled being invited back three times to reprise her rôle 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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The church where Meg Jackson marries Bob Morris in 1980, Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Melbourne's Doncaster area, was reused by director Rod Hardy seven years later as the venue for Scott Robinson and Charlene Mitchell's famous Neighbours (1985) wedding.
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In several episodes Vera makes fun of Barnhurst several times calling it 'soft' in episode 158, in an ironic turn of events, Vera would receive a promotion and become Governor of Barnhurst in episode 224 .
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