Prisoner (TV series)

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Also known as Prisoner: Cell Block H
(UK and United States)
Caged Women, Prisoner: Cell Block H
(Women's Prison) (Sweden)
(Prisoners) (Poland)
Celblok H
(Cellblock H) (Netherlands)
(working title)[1]
Women in Prison
(working title)[1]
Women Behind Bars
(working title)[1]
Genre Soap opera serial
(crime, drama)
Created by Reg Watson
Directed by Chris Adshead
Steve Mann
Sean Nash
Kendal Flanagan
(and others)

Elspeth Ballantyne
Betty Bobbitt
Sheila Florance
Maggie Kirkpatrick
Val Lehman
Patsy King
Gerda Nicolson
Colette Mann
Judith McGrath
Joy Westmore
Fiona Spence

Gerard Maguire
(see List of Prisoner cast members)
Theme music composer Allan Caswell
Conductor - William Motzing
Ending theme "On the Inside"
written by
Allan Caswell
conducted by
William Motzing
performed by
Lynne Hamilton
Country of origin Australia
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 8
No. of episodes 692 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Ian Bradley (from season 2)
Producer(s) Ian Bradley (season 1)
Camera setup Video
Running time 41–49 minutes
53 minutes (final episode)
Production company(s) Reg Grundy Organisation
Distributor FremantleMedia
Original network Network Ten
Picture format PAL (4:3 576i)
Original release 27 February 1979 (1979-02-27) – 11 December 1986 (1986-12-11)
Related shows Wentworth (reimagined)

Prisoner is an Australian soap opera set in a women's prison, Wentworth Detention Centre. In the United States and the United Kingdom, due to a copyright injunction,[nb 1] it was titled Prisoner: Cell Block H, and in Canada Caged Women. The series, produced by the Reg Grundy Organisation, aired on Network Ten for 692 episodes between 1979 and 1986. Originally, it was planned as a 16-part stand-alone series. The show had a cult following in numerous countries, particularly in the United Kingdom and Sweden, and launched various spin-offs including a stage play, tie-in novels and other merchandise.

The show was inspired by the British television drama Within These Walls. Prisoner was "re-imagined" on Foxtel in a new version, Wentworth,[2][3][4] which aired in 2013.


Prisoner was created by Reg Watson, who had produced the British soap opera Crossroads from 1964 to 1973 and would create Australian soaps The Young Doctors, Sons and Daughters and Neighbours. Initially conceived as a 16-episode series, the working title of the pilot episode was "Women Behind Bars". 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 Corrective Services Department.[5]

The show's themes, often radical, included feminism, homosexuality 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 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 self-styled "Queen Bea", Bea Smith and "Mum" (Jeanette) Brooks central matriarch figures. Several lesbian characters, including prisoners Franky Doyle and Judy Bryant and officer Joan Ferguson, appeared on the show.

Typical of long-running TV dramas, 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.

Dr. Greg Miller stated in episode one that he had his own private practice, but soon after he became frustrated at not having his own practice and purchased one from an elderly Doctor. Judy Bryant insisted that she had never had sex with a man, but her adult daughter became a regular character. Officer Terry Harrison said that he had never been married only a few episodes before his ex-wife was incarcerated at Wentworth. In her first appearance Myra Desmond said that she was living on her late husband's compensation, later saying that she had never married and was childless; soon afterwards, her murder of her husband and subsequent issues with her two children figured in a several storylines. Background officer Joan Barfield was often called "Connie" in early episodes, and "Officer Knox" was a series of background officers. As cast members left and returned, sentence continuity became a problem; Judy Bryant and Chrissie Latham spent much longer in Wentworth for petty crimes than they did for murder, and Bea Smith was offered parole three years after her second murder.


Viewers' introduction to the Detention Centre featured the arrival of two new prisoners, Karen Travers (Peta Toppano)[nb 2] and Lynn Warner (Kerry Armstrong). Travers was charged with murdering her husband in self-defence (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, confronted with a former lover—prison doctor Greg Miller (Barry Quin)—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 (Val Lehman), 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 (Mary Ward); 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 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 "Davo" Davidson (Patsy King); dour deputy governor Vera Bennett (Fiona Spence), who was always wanting to become Governor and was nicknamed by Franky "Vinegar Tits"; and firm but compassionate senior officer Meg Jackson (later Morris) (Elspeth Ballantyne).[6]

Early episodes featured a high level of violence: Lynn Warner's press burning; a prisoner hanging herself in her cell; unrequited lesbian love; a fatal stabbing, and a flashback sequence inspired by which 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 psychiatrist 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. 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. She was written out of the show as an escapee from Wentworth with Doreen Anderson and shot dead by a police officer after being on the run for three weeks.

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), idealistic murdereress 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.

Sheila Florance played popular character Lizzie Birdsworth

Bea, Lizzie and Doreen[edit]

As Prisoner began its second year of production in 1980 the series formula was in place, with its characters a recognisable set of archetypes. The prison population consisted of a core group of sympathetic prisoners—a top dog (Bea), an elderly inmate (Lizzie), a wayward youngster (Doreen)—and other characters such as an antagonist who threatened the top dog, a middle-class prisoner out of her element, remand prisoners awaiting trial and heavies used as muscle.

After the departure of Franky, Karen and Lynn, Bea Smith, Doreen Burns (née Anderson) and Lizzie Birdsworth became the main front-line prisoners. By 1980, Bea, a tough, ambivalent, maternal leader, had softened by comparison with the 1979 episodes. The death of her teenage daughter Debbie (Cassandra Lehman) from a heroin overdose was her motivation for killing her husband when she was released early in the series and explained her hatred of drug offenders and clouded judgement when children were involved. Doreen, a well-meaning, inept tragicomic figure, was easily influenced by others. Lizzie, a mischievous, alcoholic old bitie with a bad heart, occasionally contemplated dying in prison. The three were joined early in 1980 by Judy Bryant (Betty Bobbitt), an American expatriate lesbian who got herself imprisoned to be with her girlfriend: scheming drug dealer Sharon Gilmour (Margot Knight, in her first notable role on the show). Initially introduced as a potential opponent of Bea, Judy became part of the core group of regulars (and Bea's unofficial second-in-command), the show's longest-serving inmate and the second-longest-running character (behind Elspeth Ballantyne as Meg Jackson-Morris).[nb 3]

The mix of officers also established a template of character types. Progressive governor Erica Davidson's approach to the job was to the right of warm-hearted warder Meg Jackson but to the left of the acidic Vera Bennett, with firm-but-fair deputy governor Jim Fletcher often switching sides between Vera and Meg. Erica faced an uphill battle with untenable directives from her superiors at the Department of Corrective Services, represented by Ted Douglas (writer Ian Smith, the show's script editor for most of its run). Storylines dealing with the prisoners' everyday lives were cyclical: harsh treatment leading to prisoner resistance, followed by concessions and freedom (exploited by the prisoners, requiring stricter discipline).

Capitalising on the voyeuristic appeal of showcasing female prison life, Prisoner's storylines had familiar elements: smuggling, personality clashes, staff politics, prisoner resistance in the form of strikes and riots and a variety of issue-based court cases, police investigations and escapes. It made extensive use of cliffhangers, with dramatic escapes, crimes and catastrophes befalling the prison and its inhabitants. Plots also ventured outside Wentworth, with episodes about the officers' private lives and the efforts of newly released prisoners to adjust to life outside (including forces leading to recidivism). Bea Smith was released during the opening episodes; and with nothing and no-one on the outside since the drug-related death of her daughter Debbie, she shot her estranged husband dead, ensuring her imprisonment for life. The elderly Lizzie was released when new evidence proved her to be innocent of the poisoning for which she had served twenty years. With no place for her on the outside, Lizzie committed a petty offence to return to her "home" at Wentworth. Although the series had upbeat storylines (such as Karen Travers' in 1979), for characters like Bea and Lizzie prison was the only option.

Notable storylines during the show's Bea-Lizzie-and-Doreen era (late 1979 to late 1981) included the cliffhanger about a terrorist raid on the prison, during which governor Erica was shot and wounded. A long-running story arc involved Judy's vendetta against corrupt male warder Jock Stewart (Tommy Dysart) after he murdered her lover, Sharon Gilmour, by pushing her down a flight of stairs. Angry at a cover-up (a verdict of accidental death, and Jock suspended), the women staged a rooftop protest in which Noeline Bourke's daughter Leanne (Tracey-Jo Riley) fell to her death. Judy's efforts to avenge Sharon's death and exact vengeance against Jock included escaping and working as a prostitute to find and kill Jock and a final confrontation when she was out on parole, which ended when Jock fell down a flight of stairs and was left permanently paralysed. Before Judy began working as a prostitute, she admitted to Helen Smart that she was a 40-something virgin (telling the same to Tracey Morris (Sue Devine) in episode 154); near the end of the same season her adult daughter arrived, searching for her birth mother.

Another notable storyline involved Jim's old army buddy Geoff Butler (Ray Meagher, in his first of three roles). Geoff, an insurance salesman who aspired to be a mercenary overseas, attempted to be romantically involved with Meg, but his attempted assault against her landed him in court; he would be released on a good behaviour bond, but the terms would prevent Geoff from leaving Australia, thus preventing him from taking a mercenary position in Africa. Jim's family would later be killed by a package bomb that was meant for him, in revenge for spoiling Geoff's mercenary career.

For the 1980 cliffhanger, Meg married Bob Morris (Anthony Hawkins), whose daughter Tracey was in Wentworth for drug smuggling; meanwhile, Bea, Lizzie and Doreen are trapped in an underground tunnel after a mass-escape plan goes awry.

1981–2: Changes[edit]

After a long holiday break, Prisoner moved to an earlier time slot in the Melbourne area: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 19:30. After a recap of the 1980 season on 3 February 1981, the series resumed with episode 166 the following evening. From episode 205, it returned to its original 20:30 timeslot.

When Prisoner reached its 200th episode Bea developed amnesia, with no memory of her imprisonment, after a car crash during a transfer from Barnhurst. Bea looked for Mum, going from one old address to the next. She found Mum, who offered help to her "sick friend". Mum told parole officer Meg that Bea sought her help the night before and Meg told Mum she must inform the police, since Mum was on parole. The police raid Mum, Meg and Bea, and Bea and Mum were returned to Wentworth. Shortly after their return, Bea's amnesia dissipated after being bashed by Margo, but chose to feign her amnesia after learning that if it was permanent, it may lead to her release. She would eventually forego her stunt and plead guilty in the ensuing trial after learning that Mum would face a tough prison sentence for aiding and abetting an escapee.

During the second half of the 1981 season Vera (Vinegar Tits) Bennett left, written out when she became governor of Barnhurst. Supporting characters complementing the lead ensemble gained importance. The officers ranks were augmented by sarcastic, militant union representative Colleen Powell (Judith McGrath) and bespectacled, ineffectual Joyce Barry (Joy Westmore). Colleen benefited from the departures of Vera and later Jim Fletcher, taking over as deputy governor when Meg Morris turned down the job in order to save her marriage with Bob, which ended up being in vain. Chrissie Latham, Margo Gaffney and Helen Smart (Caroline Gillmer) became central characters.

In late 1981 Bea, Lizzie, Doreen and Judy receded into the background. Bea was hospitalised for a kidney transplant operation, Lizzie was briefly paroled, and Doreen and Judy were temporarily transferred to Barnhurst. The storylines shifted to three new characters; cocky moll Sandy Edwards (Louise Le Nay) and intelligent, enigmatic Kate Peterson (Olivia Hamnett) were convicted of murder and cunning, villainous career criminal Marie Winter (Maggie Millar) was transferred from Barnhurst. In the 1981 cliffhanger, Marie manipulated Sandy into starting a riot to protest increasingly-oppressive prison conditions following new directives from the Department. With a copy of the prison keys and improvised weapons, Sandy lead the women through the prison; in the subsequent siege, rookie officers Janet Conway (Kate Sheil) and Steve Faulkner (Wayne Jarratt) were taken hostage.

The first few months of 1982 focused on power struggles, schemes and double-crossing by Sandy, Marie and Kate, including several murder attempts. As Sandy and Marie competed for top-dog position, Kate plotted her release from Wentworth by playing different sides against each other. When they were written out of the show, its focus returned to Bea and company.[nb 4]

The Freak[edit]

Prison guard threatened by a prisoner
Episode 326, the 1982 season finale in which a fire spreads through Wentworth during a showdown between prisoner Bea Smith (back) and corrupt officer Joan Ferguson (front)

In 1982, a formidable new officer, Joan "the Freak" Ferguson (Maggie Kirkpatrick), arrived. Imposing her will with black-leather-gloves, she molested prisoners during spurious "body searches" and took a cut of all prison rackets, Ferguson was as cold, calculating and sinister as the worst prisoners but was on the other side of the bars and therefore untouchable.

Bea and Joan became deadly enemies. Joan schemed to beat Bea and Bea plotted to oust Joan, beginning a new story arc in which the women of Wentworth try to get rid of the Freak. But Ferguson wasn't going anywhere, having swiftly become an integral presence in the show, and increasingly its most iconic character much like J.R. Ewing in Dallas or Alexis Colby in Dynasty. The officers (particularly Meg Morris) recognized Ferguson's nature and unsuccessfully attempted to expose her; resulting in the resignation of Steve Faulkner.

Chrissie Latham and Margo Gaffney returned to the show, and Doreen and Judy were released from Wentworth. Doreen left the series; while Judy took charge of a halfway house for recently released prisoners, named "Driscoll House" after its first resident Susie Driscoll (Jacqui Gordon). The storylines were divided between the prison and the halfway house, allowing the series to explore issue-based plots on the outside through the Driscoll House residents. Doomed heroin addict Donna Mason (Arkie Whiteley) featured as a remand prisoner and temporary resident of Driscoll House. Young biker Maxine Daniels (Lisa Crittenden) joined the regular cast, flitting between Driscoll and Wentworth.

The main storyline was the ongoing animosity between Bea Smith and Joan Ferguson. Their enmity peaked for the 1982 season cliffhanger, in which Bea lured the Freak into a trap by claiming that Ferguson's diaries, which contained incriminating evidence, had been hidden by white-collar criminal Barbara Fields (Susan Guerin). As a diversion, Chrissie Latham lit a small fire in the prison library. Margo Gaffney started a larger, turpentine-fed fire in a storeroom.

The storeroom fire raged as Bea and Joan battled it out in the isolation wing; Bea strangled Joan with the intention of killing her and Barbara Fields retrieved the diaries from the governor's office. The fire triggered the riot alarm, locking down the burning prison. Fields, overcome by smoke, collapsed in the governor's office as flames surrounded her (and the diaries); two other inmates, Heather "Mouse" Trapp (Jentah Sobott) and Paddy Lawson (Anna Hruby), were trapped. Paddy escaped through the air ducts, and a panicking Mouse died in the fire as governor Erica Davidson attempted to unlock the gates.

Ferguson regained consciousness and attacked Bea, beating her unconscious. Ferguson soon realised that an unresponsive Bea had her keys with Ferguson trapped on the other side of the locked gate. In the episode's final scene, Joan, Bea and Paddy were trapped in the burning building.


The 1983 season began with Paddy crawling through the air ducts and finding Bea and Joan, then escaping through the roof, where they were rescued by firefighters. Mouse and Barbara would perish in the fire, with Joan's diaries that Barbara had going up in smoke.

The season was characterised by short-term characters and storylines, anchored by the rivalry between Bea and the Freak. Chrissie, Margo and Erica left the series; while callous, menacing and brutal double murderess Nola McKenzie (Carole Skinner) became a new adversary for Bea and a partner in crime for Joan. The first prisoner to actively collude with the Freak, she began running contraband rackets, plotting to seize power from the "good" top dog. Shortly after word that a man was accidentally inducted as a prisoner of Wentworth, Erica resigned over the departmental coverup of the event and was soon replaced by Ann Reynolds (Gerda Nicolson), a spirited, no-nonsense governor whose philosophies on prison operation would be similar to Erica's. Bea briefly escaped from Wentworth, contacting Doreen (Colette Mann), who had relocated to Sydney following her release from Wentworth.

The Bea-Joan-Nola conflict peaked shortly after Bea was returned to the prison. Joan and Nola attempted to drive Bea to suicide by evoking the memory of her dead daughter Debbie, coercing tarot-reading medium and remand prisoner Zara Moonbeam (Ilona Rodgers) to assist them. The plan backfired and it was Nola, not Bea, whose body was removed from Wentworth. A few months later, Joan triumphed over Bea and had her old enemy transferred to Barnhurst. After playing Bea Smith for 400 episodes, Val Lehman had tired of the role and resigned. Prisoner Phyllis Hunt (Reylene Pearce) received an expanded role amidst new arrivals: dreamy, romantic serial bigamist "Pixie" Mason (Judy McBurney); cool, villainous vice queen Sonia Stevens (Tina Bursill), who would immediately replace Bea Smith as top dog under Joan's control; Cass Parker (Babs McMillan), whose slow wit and gentle nature was offset by her strength and temper; neighbourly middle-aged con artist Minnie Donovan (Wendy Playfair); and volatile-but-vulnerable street kid Bobbie Mitchell (Maxine Klibingaitis). Judy Bryant was brought back into Wentworth after she euthanized terminally-ill former inmate Hazel Kent (Belinda Davey), after which Judy's friend Wally Wallace (Alan Hopgood) would run the house until a permanent replacement was found: Alice Dodds (Julia Blake).

In the 1983 cliffhanger, Lizzie was waiting to hear if she has been paroled and subsequently found a body in the prison yard; new officer David Bridges (David Waters) admitted to the murder and told Lizzie she would "be set free". Later, the psychotic Bridges would confess to a series of murders, which he had hidden as recent "escapes" from the prison.


Prisoner returned in 1984 with new characters gaining prominent roles in the series. Actress Sheila Florance left early in the year, leading to the departure of Lizzie, leaving only Elspeth Ballantyne (Meg Morris, formerly Jackson) as the sole remaining original cast member. During the season's first half, departed characters made return appearances: Erica Davidson reappeared as the new department boss, replacing Ted Douglas, who was exposed the previous year as corrupt, and his successor, the blowhard Arthur Richards (Sydney Jackson), who would be transferred to a different position. Other well-known characters to return in 1984 included Helen Smart, Doreen Burns, Margo Gaffney, Tracy Morris (though now played by a different actress, Michelle Thomas)[nb 5] and Marie Winter. Judy Bryant would eventually become a stopgap top dog, following attempts at the position by Sonia (controlled as a "puppet" leader by Joan Ferguson), and the tag-team style of Minnie and Cass, using Minnie's intellect and Cass' muscle.

The Freak briefly becomes governor when Ann Reynolds was recovering from breast cancer and Colleen Powell was discredited following an automobile accident that a witness falsely identified as a hit-and-run. Erica helped expose Ferguson, and Mrs. Powell was reinstated. Mrs. Powell's family was soon murdered in an explosion, in a storyline similar to Jim Fletcher's - in this case, a car bomb that was meant to assassinate fellow prison officer Rick Manning (Andy Anderson), who was investigating Sonia's husband with ties to organised crime, policeman Eddie Stevens (Norman Yemm). After Manning left Wentworth to become a juvenile crimes counselor, he was replaced by a new officer, Dennis Cruickshank (Nigel Bradshaw).

The season's major players were Reb Kean (Janet Andrewartha), a dynamic-but-troubled young armed robber who turned to crime in rebelling against her wealthy family, and the series' new top dog: Myra Desmond (Anne Phelan), a thoughtful, tough former Wentworth prisoner who had appeared sporadically as a representative of the Prison Reform Group and was now imprisoned for killing her husband (despite saying in episode 223 that she was not married). Reb and Myra became enemies of the Freak and each other. The Driscoll House storyline would be phased out after Myra, who temporary replaced Alice Dodds as its manager, was convicted of murder.

This season and the following one were characterised by cast reshuffles. Midseason saw the exits of Minnie Donovan, Sonia Stevens and Cass Parker. Long-time deputy governor Colleen Powell would also make her exit after retiring from Wentworth after she received substantial profits from the sale of her house, leading to Meg Morris being nominated as Colleen's successor, in a position that Meg turned down two years before. Juvenile prankster Marlene Warren (Genevieve Lemon) and elderly inmate Dot Farrar (Alethea McGrath) were new arrivals. Enduring inmates introduced during this period were sneering troublemaker Lou Kelly (Louise Siversen), who developed from a bit player to a sociopathic wannabe top dog and the series' main villain and dopey Alice "Lurch" Jenkins (Lois Collinder).

Prisoner became increasingly violent. Twisted psychologist Jonathan Edmonds (Bryan Marshall) arrived at Wentworth to conduct research and brainwashed Cass Parker into trying to kill best friend, Bobbie Mitchell. During her final stint in 1984, the villainous Marie colluded with the Freak and organised another riot, ravaging H Block to ensure the dismissal of an already reprimanded Ann Reynolds so Ferguson would take over as governor of Wentworth; when this failed, Winter subsequently escaped, hanging from the landing gear of a low-flying helicopter. Winter would later be captured off-screen and transferred to Blackmoor.

Serial murderess Bev "the Beast" Baker (Maggie Dence) terrorised staff and inmates with her sadistic thrill-seeking antics, which included nearly throttling Marlene; cutting Bobbie's hands with a razor blade (after they were cut earlier in an escape attempt), stabbing a visiting social worker in the heart with a knitting needle and, finally, when cornered, committing suicide by injecting herself with an empty hypodermic syringe. Shortly after psychopathic inmate Angel Adams (Kylie Foster) was inducted into Wentworth, she ordered the rape of Meg in her home by a masked intruder and a friend of Angel's, Peter Wright (Alan Pentland). Joan Ferguson faced off against murderous male counterpart Len Murphy (Maurie Fields) in a bad-screw turf war. A trio of male inmates – Geoff McRae (Leslie Dayman), Matt Delaney (Peter Bensley) and Frank Burke (Trevor Kent) – were introduced, transferred to Wentworth in secret for their safety after preventing an escape at their men's prison. Near the end of the season, as Myra and Reb had a final confrontation over the top-dog position Ann Reynolds received poison-pen letters and death threats. She and Meg would soon be kidnapped by a relative of Phyllis Hunt, Brian Lowe (Mathew King), then left gagged and bound in a crumbling warehouse laden with bombs and trip-wire booby-traps, as an act of revenge for Reb's bashing of Phyllis which left her with permanent brain damage.

In the season cliffhanger, Myra revealed that Reb, of whom she earlier appointed as successor to her Top Dog position, was a fake, as she cared more about her own motives than she does for the women's needs. Also, newly-arrived Middle-Eastern inmate Yemil Bakarta (Maria Mercedes)[nb 6] ran to the recreation room to tell them to save Pixie as Lou, Alice and Frances Harvey (Wanda Davidson) were beating her in her cell.


The 1985 season began with Reb being transferred to Blackmoor after fighting with Myra and promising Joan that she would be back for her. Pixie Mason was raped by male inmate Frank Burke, and lapsed into catatonia. Len Murphy would temporarily become governor after Ann collapsed at work soon after the kidnapping ordeal, deputy governor Meg was still in hospital recovering from her own injuries, and Joyce turned down the opportunity;[nb 7] he would soon be arrested for raping Pixie in a frame-up orchestrated by Joan. Male inmates McRae and Delaney would be involved in affairs with Myra and Marlene, respectively. Lou tried several times to kill Myra in her bid to become top dog, with one attempt leading instead to the death of another inmate, artist Samantha Greenway (Robyn Gibbes); she also attempted to kill Joan Ferguson with a home-made zip gun made by Frank Burke, only to severely injure her hand when the gun jammed.

In episode 510, Lexie Patterson (Pepe Trevor), a streetwise card sharp who dressed like Boy George, was initially inducted on remand for larceny. Shortly after being given a six-month sentence to be served at Wentworth, Lexie became a target of The Freak's abuse, including cutting off Lexie's trademark dreadlocks. Lexie would get back at Joan by having Frank drop a bookcase on her head in the prison library. The incident soon caused The Freak to experience blackouts, requiring hospitalisation for emergency brain surgery. Undeterred, the women (led by Myra) used this in an unsuccessful plan to get rid of her, beating Lou and framing Joan for the assault. Joan was fired until Sister Anita Selby (Diane Craig), a penitent Catholic nun on a six week sentence for inciting a riot at an anti-nuclear protest, lagged[nb 8] on her fellow inmates by telling the actual details to Ann Reynolds. The Freak was reinstated amid stricter security, and Reynolds refused to acknowledge Desmond as top dog following the incident.

In episode 533, Delaney and Warren married in a prison wedding at Wentworth; their marriage coincided with the departure of a number of characters: male prisoners McRae and Delaney,[nb 9] Marlene Warren and Judy Bryant. Judy would be released in episode 534 on parole, embarking on a musical career borne from a song she wrote about Pixie, "Pixie's Song"; the song had previously became a hit, without Judy's knowledge or permission, for musician and former inmate Sheila Brady (Colleen Hewett), who would accompany Judy on her final release from Wentworth.

Episode 536 was a flashback episode, with clips from the show's past as the prisoners reminisce, though by this time, the only prisoner with any connection to the earlier episodes was Myra Desmond, when she was on the outside as a Prison Reform Group rep - all of these clips were from before Myra was readmitted as prisoner, and before the current inmates were on the scene. At the conclusion of this episode, Ann Reynolds was told that there was a riot at Barnhurst that resulted in a fire, an off-screen event that hospitalised Vera Bennett and killed Bea Smith. This followed in episode 537 by a mass transfer of prisoners from Barnhurst that introduced five new inmates who would be called "The Barnhurst Five": Nora Flynn (Sonja Tallis), a reformed triple murderer; aging cat burglar May Collins (Billie Hammerberg) and her partner in crime, former fence Willie Beecham (Kirsty Child);[nb 10] garden-loving misfit Daphne Graham (Debra Lawrance) and the shy, intelligent thief Julie Egbert (Jackie Woodburne).

The Ballinger siege story arc, which began with the introduction of the Barnhurst Five, happened when staff and inmates were held hostage by armed mercenaries who broke into the prison to free remand prisoner Ruth Ballinger (Lindy Davies) on the orders of her drug-baron husband. Surrounded by police, the mercenaries took the women and officers Joan Ferguson and Joyce Barry captive and threatened to shoot a hostage every hour until they received safe passage out of the country. The siege ended in an airfield shoot-out with Joan as a hostage and the shocking death of Myra Desmond, who gave her life to save the other women.

Other characters introduced during the season included Ann's daughter Pippa (Christine Harris) and her former schoolmate, Jenny Hartley (Jenny Lovell), who ended up in H Block on remand when she was accused of murdering her wealthy grandmother. Meg became engaged to Cruickshank, but the relationship ended when escapee Frank, by this time the sole remaining male inmate at Wentworth, shot Cruickshank in the knees, permanently crippling him. Fellow officer Joyce left her husband (who died soon afterwards) and moved in with prison chef Mervin Pringle (Ernie Bourne); they married during the final season. Joan began an ill-fated relationship with fellow officer Terri Malone (Margot Knight, who previously played inmate Sharon Gilmour in 1980). Six months later the Barnhurst Five was down to one, when May was killed and Willie pardoned; both were released to participate in a police sting which went awry. Of the Barnhurst transferees, only Julie remained in the series. Terri, Pippa and Jenny left in quick succession soon after Pippa married lawyer Ben Fulbright (Kevin Summers).

Storylines after the siege were lower-key, with Nora Flynn a peaceable top dog after Myra's death. By the end of the season, the story arcs became livelier and included the return of Reb Kean as a timid, meek figure after 27 rounds of ECT and torture at Blackmoor. Officer Joyce Barry was severely beaten by Eve Wilder (Lynda Stoner), who framed the forgetful Reb. Ann Reynolds questioned her position after May Collins' death, and she resigned as governor. Nora Flynn, tired of the prison's power struggles, escaped and was murdered by a criminal-hating psychotic. In the season's cliffhanger Eve Wilder's lawyer, David Adams, told her he can no longer continue with her case and shot himself.

Final season[edit]

Prisoner's last season revolved around the conflict between the Freak and a new challenger, brash biker Rita "The Beater" Connors (Glenda Linscott), who takes over as top dog after previous incumbent Lou Kelly clashed with temporary governor Bob Moran (Peter Adams) and incited a riot. Following the episode-600 riot Alice Jenkins became friends with Rita, who formed a prison gang (the Wentworth Warriors) which included Lexie Patterson, Julie Egbert, demure housewife Nancy McCormack (Julia Blake, on remand for killing her husband but covering up for her son), biker chick "Roach" Waters (Linda Hartley) and con artist Lorelei Wilkinson (Paula Duncan). After working with former inmate Ettie Parslow running a block of flats for wayward youngsters, Ann Reynolds returned to Wentworth as governor. Bob Moran was made her deputy and Meg Morris was demoted, this was reversed after a wildcat strike action organised by the Freak. Shortly afterwards, the Freak deposed Meg Morris and became deputy governor against Ann Reynolds' wishes. Ferguson began plotting to bring down Reynolds, working with the Minister for Corrective Services, Julie Egbert's future mother-in-law and corrupt inmates to win the governorship. She briefly obtained Reynolds' job, until the Minister began to realise she was not to be trusted. Rita's gang burnt down Ferguson's uninsured house in retaliation, leaving Ferguson turning to male friend Andrew for support. After Ferguson refused to be blackmailed into bringing heroin into the prison Andrew was murdered, and she turned to the police. Julie Egbert was transferred to Barnhurst after her wedding to doctor-turned-prison-handyman Steve Ryan (Peter Hayes).

In addition to the Freak, Rita's other adversary was Kath Maxwell (Kate Hood), a middle-class friend of Bob Moran who retaliated against Rita for her brutal initiation to prison life because of her crime: the mercy killing of her terminally-ill daughter. Kath became a strong contender for the top-dog role with her monopoly on prison contraband rackets, and was supported by comic-loving cellmate Merle Jones (Rosanne Hull-Brown). Other inmates to arrive in 1986 included sneering racketeer Rose "Spider" Simpson (Taya Straton) and blackmailing call-girl Lisa Mullins (Nicki Paull and Terrie Waddell). Kath's relationship with Moran lead to his resignation from Wentworth. The officers' ranks were bolstered by three trainees: Meg Morris' son Marty Jackson (Michael Winchester), Delia Stout (Desiree Smith) and Rodney Adams (Philip Hyde), who began to emulate Ferguson in an attempt to climb the ladder at Wentworth.

Grim-faced woman with short, dark hair
Actress Maggie Kirkpatrick as Joan Ferguson "The Freak" in the final episode

Rita tried several times to murder the Freak, sabotaging a work-release project on a boat, stranding the women and leaving Ferguson lost when she went for help. While in charge of Wentworth for a day, the Freak transferred Rita to Blackmoor, where she encountered the sadistic governor Ernest Craven (Ray Meagher, in his third role on Prisoner).[nb 11] After inciting a riot at the prison in which her brother was shot dead, Rita started a fire which lead to the mass transfer of prisoners to Wentworth. Craven conspired with Ferguson to oust Reynolds once and for all. He ordered the brutal rape of Lorelei Wilkinson, threatening to kill her child unless she covered for him. Reynolds was dismissed, and Ferguson became governor. Craven tried to kill Rita, which lead to his death at the hands of Wilkinson (who became catatonic and was transferred to a mental hospital). Young aboriginal inmate Sarah West and her social worker, Pamela Madigan (a friend of Ann Reynolds) were subjected to extreme racism; when Craven arrived at Wentworth, Madigan had West transferred to Barnhurst for her own safety. With Craven dead, Ferguson dismissed Meg Morris, Joyce Pringle and Marty Jackson, who conspired to expose her corruption. With the help of an investigative TV show, Ann Reynolds reinstated as governor with Meg as her deputy and all return to the prison. Ferguson resigned, but on learning that former prisoner Willie Beecham was a powerful businesswoman who had blacklisted Ferguson from all employment, Ferguson threatened the Minister with exposure and was reinstated as an officer at Wentworth.

Ratings had been declining for some time, continuing to fall in 1986, and 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 12] 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 and Joan Ferguson. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, Rita conspires with a disillusioned Joan to rob a building society but all was not what it seemed.



Days and times listed are for ATV-10 in Melbourne; days and times may vary in other regions of Australia.

Season Year Original broadcast Time slot No. of episodes
Season premiere Season finale
1 1979 February 27, 1979 (1979-02-27)* November 28, 1979 (1979-11-28) Tuesday & Wednesday 8:30 p.m.
Tuesday & Wednesday 7:30 p.m. (ep 166 to 204 only)
79 1–79
2 1980 January 22, 1980 (1980-01-22) November 12, 1980 (1980-11-12) 86 80–165
3 1981 February 4, 1981 (1981-02-04) November 11, 1981 (1981-11-11) 81 166–246
4 1982 February 9, 1982 (1982-02-09) November 9, 1982 (1982-11-09) 80 247–326
5 1983 February 1, 1983 (1983-02-01) November 3, 1983 (1983-11-03) Tuesday & Thursday 8:30 p.m. 90 327–416
6 1984 January 17, 1984 (1984-01-17) November 8, 1984 (1984-11-08) 89 417–505
7 1985 January 24, 1985 (1985-01-24) November 5, 1985 (1985-11-05) 83 506–588
8 1986* January 9, 1986 (1986-01-09) December 11, 1986 (1986-12-11) 104 589–692
  • Episode one premiered on 26 February 1979 in the Sydney region.
  • Season eight finished broadcast in 1987 in some regions.

Spin-offs, remakes and specials[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.[8]


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).

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.[9] Wentworth premiered in Australia on Foxtel's SoHo channel on 1 May 2013.[2][3][10][11][12] As of 2018, the series is still in production, with a sixth season premiering on 19 June 2018, while a seventh season has been announced and due to air in 2019.[13]


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, 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. In Dangerous Women the emphasis was outside the prison, focusing on the 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.


Book cover, with photographs from the series
Prisoner: Cell Block H – Behind the Scenes was published in 1990.

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 one 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.


In 1980 the Prisoner cast, led by Equity representative Val Lehman (Bea Smith), went on strike due to the content of tie-in paperback novels published by Pinnacle Books 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 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 plot and characters. Both are rife with factual and typographical errors.[14][15]

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.

Behind the Bars, an unofficial companion book to the series, was published in the UK in summer 2013. A more accurate and detailed look at the series (as compared to the earlier Behind the Scenes and Kingsley's The Inside Story books), Behind the Bars was written by Scott Anderson and Barry Campbell, founders of the UK's Prisoner: Cell Block H fan club, along with Rob Cope.[16]

In 2011, Betty Bobbitt self-published From The Outside, her memoirs of her career playing the role of Judy Bryant on Prisoner.[17]

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[18]
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

Overseas sales[edit]


The show has a cult following in Sweden, where it has been shown on TV4 beginning in 7 September 1994 as Kvinnofängelset (The Women's Prison).[19] A fan club organises an annual get-together, and collected several thousand signatures (including that of actress Elspeth Ballantyne) to convince TV4 to repeat the show in 2000. After the series ended that year, work began to persuade TV4 to air the show again. TV4 originally screened the series in a late-night (1 a.m.) slot three times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays,[19] airing the final episode on 3 February 2000. During a repeat run from 2000 to October 2004, Prisoner aired at 2:15 a.m. four times a week: Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The episodes were repeated over the weekend: the Monday and Tuesday episodes on Friday and the other two on Saturday. In May 2014 TV4 Guld began rerunning the series again Monday to Thursday at 10 p.m., with episode 32 shown on 3 July. The broadcast schedule was later changed to five nights a week at midnight. Season 8 started airing on Sjuan in September 2017 at 3 p.m.

United Kingdom[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.[20]

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,[21] it was briefly available in the UK on VHS video.[22]

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). 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.[23] The theme song was played briefly in episode three of BBC sitcom One Foot in the Grave.[23] 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.[23]

ITV regional scheduling[edit]

Prisoner began airing on Yorkshire Television on 8 October 1984,[24] with the service cutting scenes involving hanging (including the attempted hanging of Sandy Edwards and the hanging of Eve Wilder).[25] 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 TVS region followed in October 1985. In 1987 Central, Thames, Scottish and TSW began the series; most other regions began broadcasting it in 1988, nearly two years after it finished production). Ulster began broadcasting Prisoner in late 1989.

Each ITV region decided when (and how often) Prisoner would be broadcast. Central Television screened three episodes weekly, finishing on 16 December 1991 before rerunning it. Most other stations also completed the series: Granada Television and Border Television on 9 February 1995, Grampian Television on 11 March 1996, HTV on 25 April 1996, STV on 19 November 1996, Yorkshire Television and Tyne Tees Television on 7 April 1997. 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).[26]

Some UK regions did not see the entire series; Channel Television began the series on 16 January 1986 with episode 10, when it aligned its schedule with TVS; it was previously aligned with TSW, which did not broadcast the series in its own region until 1987. Regional alignment meant that around the end of 1992, some episodes were skipped; Tyne Tees skipped 293 and 294 and Border Television omitted 71 episodes, 477 to 547. Furthermore, in some regions, the series was discontinued prior to its final episode in later runs: in Ulster, Prisoner ended on Ulster Television with episode 562 on 15 December 1997. In London, where the series ran on Thames and Carlton Television, viewers were told after episode 598 on 20 August 1998 that the series would resume after a summer break; it resumed at a later date. The last ITV Prisoner episode was shown on Meridian (formerly TVS), which finished an initial run with episode 586 on 12 July 1999.

The ITV regions inserted two commercial breaks into each episode, for three parts per show. The breaks were usually inserted at the second and fourth breaks in Australia. At the end of the show, the cliffhanger would lead into the end credits (unlike Australia, where a sixth break was inserted on later episodes). The Australian sponsorship was removed from the end credits; the picture would blank for a moment before resuming at the Reg Grundy and copyright pages, as the song continued uninterrupted. The time lost to the sponsorship removals resulted in the closing-credits tune seldom being played in full.

Channel 5[edit]

Early on 31 March 1997 Channel 5, which had begun broadcasting at 6 p.m. the previous evening, began a full run of Prisoner[27] while later episodes were still appearing in many ITV regions.[28] Except for an airing of the fire episode (326), as part of a 1995 Channel 4 soap weekend, it was the series' first UK network broadcast and gave some areas their first full run of the series. Although the schedule varied during the Channel 5 run, episodes were typically shown about five times a week in the 4:40 a.m. slot.[27] It briefly moved to a late-night slot, usually around 11:30 p.m.,[27] before returning to the 4:40 a.m. slot. The Channel 5 run ended on 11 February 2001, with a double bill of the penultimate and final episodes. Channel 5 have no plans to re-run the series, despite viewer requests. For most of the Channel 5 run the programme was sponsored by Pot Noodle, with humorous Prisoner-esque sequences (set in a prison cell and playing on the series' wobbly scenery and props) played before and after the episodes and in the leads into and out of commercial breaks.[29]

The Channel 5 broadcasts included commentary over the closing credits, usually from chief continuity announcer Bill Buckley[30] but sometimes from deputy announcers such as Stuart McWilliam. This began in the early-100s episodes (when Prisoner briefly moved to the late-night slot), when Buckley would deliver a quip about the episode before making continuity announcements. This developed into humorous observations about the episode just shown, and the reading of letters and depicting of trivia sent in by viewers (which Buckley called "snippets"). Due to its early-morning slot, when most viewers relied on VCRs to follow the series,[27] upcoming schedule changes were announced as part of the commentary.

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.[31] Shown Wednesdays at 8 pm, it was the first Australian series broadcast in prime time in the United States.[citation needed]

The series would later be repackaged into a daily half-hour format, as Prisoner: Cell Block H,[32] syndicated directly to local stations during the early 1980s (particularly 1980 to '81). Apart from KTLA, known stations to have aired Prisoner: Cell Block H included WPIX in New York City, WGN-TV in Chicago, WLVI in Boston, WKBD-TV in Detroit, KYW-TV in Philadelphia, KTVU in the San Francisco Bay Area, KSTW in Tacoma / Seattle, KVOS-TV Bellingham, Washington, KOB-TV in Albuquerque, WTOG in St. Petersburg/Tampa, Florida, KPHO in Phoenix and WTTG in Washington, D.C.. 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.[33] Picked up in at least 23 markets in early 1980,[34] the program would leave the American airwaves by spring 1982, after the few stations that were still carrying the program, such as KOB-TV[35] and WGN-TV,[36] removed Prisoner from their schedules.

During the spring and summer of 1985, the series was screened nationally on USA Network,[19] weekdays at 11 a.m. ET, also in a half-hour format. It was unknown which episodes were televised.[37]


In Canada, Prisoner began on September 10, 1979[38] as Caged Women on Global Television Network, at the time a small television network serving southern and eastern Ontario;[19] the program was seen weekly on Monday nights at 9 p.m.[39]

The show would move to Tuesdays at 9 p.m. in the fall of 1980, continuing with the Caged Women title.[40] The show would be off the schedule by the 1981-1982 television season,[41] 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 12 midnight and 12:30 a.m.[42] The program would be off the schedule by the start of the 1983-1984 season.[43]

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.[44]

In Vancouver, Victoria and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Prisoner: Cell Block H was telecasted under that title weekdays at 1 p.m. 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.[45]

Other countries[edit]

The series began in New Zealand in May 1981 on TV One, showing twice a week at 2:30 p.m., and was later rerun on SKY 1.[19]

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 Fridays at 10:45;[19] it was cancelled on 2 October 2000, after episode 156.

Australian reruns[edit]

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 12:15 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday and 11:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. A repeat was broadcast at 2 p.m. on Monday.

The 111 channel began the series at 6:30 p.m. AEDT on 7 March 2011, moving to 5:30 p.m. AEDT on 10 December 2012; each episode was repeated the following afternoon, and the final episode aired on 11 November 2013. The next day, the channel returned to episode one at 3 p.m. AEDT, moving to 1 p.m. AEST on 7 July 2014. Foxtel holds unlimited screening rights to the series until 2017, and the series' popularity on 111 inspired plans for a modern-day remake.[46][47][48]

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]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Best Lead Actress in a SeriesCarol Burns (1980)[49]
Best New Drama SeriesPrisoner (1980)[49]
Best Lead Actress in a SeriesSheila Florance (1981)[50]
Best Drama ProgramPrisoner (1981)[50]
Most Popular Show in VictoriaPrisoner (1981)
Most Popular ActressVal Lehman (1982)[51]
Best Lead Actress in a SeriesVal Lehman (1982)[51]
Best Drama ProgramPrisoner (1982)[51]
Best Lead Actress in a SeriesVal Lehman (1983)[52]
Best Supporting Actress in a SeriesSheila Florance (1983)[52]
Most Popular Show in VictoriaPrisoner (1985)
Nominated:Gold Logie Award for Best Personality on Australian TelevisionVal Lehman (1980)
Nominated:Gold Logie Award for Best Personality on Australian TelevisionVal Lehman (1981)
Nominated:Best Supporting Actress in a SeriesBetty Bobbitt (1982)
Best Sustained Performance by an Actress in a SeriesCarol Burns (1979)
Special Commendation Outstanding Ensemble ActingVal Lehman, Sheila Florance, Colette Mann and Betty Bobbitt (1981)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a SeriesAnne Phelan (1984)
Best Series ActressAnne Phelan (1985)
Best Sustained PerformanceGerda Nicolson (1985)
Certificate of CommendationMaggie Kirkpatrick (1985)
Certificate of CommendationGenevieve Lemon (1985)
Certificate of CommendationJoy Westmore (1985)
Best Drama SerialPrisoner (1986)
Best Performance by an Actress in a SeriesGlenda Linscott (1986)
  • Sammy Awards
Best Actress in a Series — Sheila Florance (1980)


  1. ^ The change of title for overseas broadcasts was due to an injunction requested by the UK-based television production company ITC, which considered the title too similar to their 1967 serial The Prisoner.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ It should be known that Judy Bryant's notoriety as the show's longest-serving inmate and the second-longest-running character applies to the fact that she was credited in almost all the episodes she appeared in. If background, non-speaking characters are included, Lorna Young (Barbara Jungwirth) would get the title as longest-serving inmate, having appeared very regularly from the second episode to the last in 1986, but she was only credited in a few episodes where she had spoken lines. Hazel Henley also starred as a background prisoner during the same time frame as Jungwirth's, but was only credited twice as "Tina Murray" in episodes 593 and 607.
  4. ^ Sandy was said to have been crushed by a garbage truck in an escape attempt, but could also been said that she escaped without a trace, as her body was never found. Marie would be transferred to Barnhurst, only to be transferred back in 1984. Kate would be transferred to a mental hospital.
  5. ^ Unrelated to the American actress of the same name.
  6. ^ Mercedes previously appeared in 1979 as another ethnic prisoner: a Greek prostitute named Irene Zervos. Mercedes' role as Yemil was initially credited as "Jane Doe", as Yemil initially refused to speak to anyone, up until the incident with Pixie.
  7. ^ At the end of 1984, Joyce was acting governor during the kidnapping ordeal of Ann (governor) and Meg (deputy governor). Her hesitance to pursue a second run as acting governor was due her not feeling that she handled the job well, during a period that also included the transfer of the three male inmates from Woodridge.
  8. ^ A term frequently used in this series, "lagging" is when one prisoner tattles on another.
  9. ^ McRae would be paroled, and Delaney would be transferred to a prison farm following the wedding (Marlene, his fiancee, would be released). The remaining male prisoner, Frank Burke, would not depart from the series until episode 555, when he would be hospitalised following an escape attempt.
  10. ^ Kirsty Child's role as Willie was her third in this series; her first was as Anne Yates, a corrupt prison officer who was later incarcerated and died in the prison in early episodes. She later appeared in 1983 as Glynis Johnson, the sister of released prisoner Faye Quinn (Anne Lucas).
  11. ^ Between his roles as Geoff Butler and Ernest Craven, Ray Meagher also played the role of Kurt Renner, a Sydney-based crime lord who appeared in a few episodes in April 1984.
  12. ^ 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 September 29, 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.[7]


  1. ^ a b c "A tough role for Lovely Peita". Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "Wentworth: Prisoner re-born on Foxtel". Memorable TV. Archived from the original on 1 April 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  3. ^ a b "Foxtel commissions new Prisoner series, titled /Wentworth". Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  4. ^ Josie (5 March 2012). "Josie's Juice: 'Prisoner' is back: as 'Wentworth'". Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  5. ^ "Prisoner: Eight Years Inside". Aussie Soap Archive. Retrieved 7 December 2006. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Sydney Morning Herald, The Guide supplement, September 28, 1987, p. 10
  8. ^ "Willow B: Women in Prison". 11 April 2012. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  9. ^ Knox, David (29 November 2012). "Anne Charleston guests in Wentworth". TV Tonight. Retrieved 1 February 2013. 
  10. ^ Josie (5 March 2012). "Josie's Juice: 'Prisoner' is back: as 'Wentworth'". Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  11. ^ "Prisoner remake Wentworth". Brisbane Times. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  12. ^ Knox, David (4 October 2012). "Wentworth cast on the inside". TV Tonight. Retrieved 1 February 2013. 
  13. ^ "Production commences on Wentworth Season 7". Retrieved 21 June 2018. 
  14. ^ "Errors in Hilary Kingsley's Prisoner book". Retrieved 16 December 2006. 
  15. ^ "Errors in Terry Bourke's Prisoner book". Retrieved 16 December 2006. 
  16. ^ "Behind the Bars". Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  17. ^ Betty Bobbitt official website
  18. ^ DVD releases:
  19. ^ a b c d e f "Prisoner Worldwide". Retrieved 18 February 2017. 
  20. ^ "'Lily Savage' star takes over as Chitty Childcatcher – News". Retrieved 10 April 2012. [dead link]
  21. ^ "Cell Block The Great Escape 1990". YouTube. November 11, 2013. Retrieved April 22, 2016. 
  22. ^ "Prisoner Cell Block H Tour 1990: The Great Escape [VHS]". Retrieved April 22, 2016. 
  23. ^ a b c "Connections". Imdb. Retrieved April 22, 2016. 
  24. ^ "Episode 1". Retrieved 8 June 2018. 
  25. ^ "Eve's hanging cut on ITV Tyne Tees". Youtube. 27 March 2015. Retrieved 8 June 2018. 
  26. ^ "Prisoner Cell Block H - ITV introduction to final episode UK". Youtube. 14 April 2010. Retrieved 8 June 2018. 
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External links[edit]