Prisoner (TV series)

Last updated

Also known asPrisoner: Cell Block H
(UK and United States)
Caged Women, Prisoner: Cell Block H
(The Women's Prison)(Sweden)
Celblok H
(Cellblock H)(Netherlands)
(working title) [1]
GenreSoap opera serial
Created by Reg Watson
Directed byChris Adshead
Steve Mann
Sean Nash
Kendal Flanagan
Leigh Spence
Tony Osicka
(and others) [nb 1]
Starring Elspeth Ballantyne
Betty Bobbitt
Sheila Florance
Maggie Kirkpatrick
Val Lehman
Patsy King
Gerda Nicolson
Colette Mann
Judith McGrath
Joy Westmore
Fiona Spence
Gerard Maguire
Carol Burns
(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 languageEnglish
No. of seasons8
No. of episodes692 (list of episodes)
Executive producerIan Bradley (from season 2)
ProducerIan Bradley (season 1)
Camera setup Video multi-camera (studio-based scenes)
Film (on-location and external scenes)
Running time41–49 minutes
53 minutes (final episode)
Production company Reg Grundy Organisation
Distributor Fremantle
Original network Network Ten
Picture format PAL (4:3 576i)
Original release27 February 1979 (1979-02-27) 
11 December 1986 (1986-12-11)
Related shows Wentworth

Prisoner (known in the UK and US as Prisoner: Cell Block H) is an Australian television soap opera, created by Reg Watson, which broadcast on Network Ten from 1979 to 1986, lasting eight seasons and 692 episodes. The series was produced by the Grundy Organisation and was filmed at the then Network Ten Melbourne Studios at Nunawading, and on location. It was the first series in Australia to gain an international cult following, particularly in the United States, but also in Europe - especially the United Kingdom and Sweden, with even Sammy Davis Jr., being a major fan and visiting the set. [2]


The series was so popular in the United States, in Los Angeles it was the second highest rated show after Charlies Angels and was the second highest rating programme at KTLA-5 amongst 65 prime time programmes transmitted through 11 Los Angeles based stations on Wednesday evenings at 8.30pm. By 1980 it had been in syndication in eight major US cities, including New York, where it rated higher than late-night staple The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson and reruns of legendary series MASH , it paved the way for other popular Australian produced shows including miniseries Against the Wind and The Sullivans to be sold to overseas markets [3]

At the time the 0–10 network did not have a cult drama series and where looking for a serial with controversial subject matter and also wanted to establish a show based primarily among a female cast as 1979 was The Year of the Woman. Another spin-off however would be a male counterpart version called Punishment and starring Mel Gibson, although it was not successful. [3]


Ian Bradley served as original producer and then executive producer, from series 2, Whilst Associate producer and screenwriter was Ian Smith, who appeared as an actor in the series as Head of the Department Ted Douglass, prior to becoming famous as the character Harold Bishop in Neighbours , another screenwriter Anne Lucas also acted in the series as Faye Quinn. [2]

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

It follows the lives of the prisoners and staff of the fictional high-security wing of a women's prison, called "H Division" within "The Wentworth Detention Centre", which was set in a fictional suburb called "Wentworth" in Melbourne, Victoria, numerous scenes also took place outside the compound exploring the lives of the inmates and staff outside of the centre, and in particular "Driscoll House", a half-way house where inmates were housed after being released, or neighbouring correction institutions like "Barnhurst" and "Blackmoor".

The series gained a positive reception. Initially conceived as a stand-alone miniseries of 16 episodes, its popularity meant it was developed into an ongoing series. It has since endured worldwide, acquiring cult classic status, particularly for its somewhat outrageous acting and plotlines. Its cultural impact has inspired several contemporary adaptations, including the equally-successful series Wentworth .

Creation and production

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 . Inspired by the British television drama Within These Walls , the show was initially conceived as a 16-episode series, with a pilot episode bearing the working title "Women Behind Bars". [nb 2] Its storylines focused on the lives of the prisoners and, to a lesser extent, the officers and other prison staff. When the initial episodes met an enthusiastic reception, it was felt that Prisoner could be developed into an ongoing soap opera. The early storylines were developed and expanded, with assistance from the 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 the elderly "Mum" (Jeanette) Brooks emerging as central matriarch figures. Several lesbian characters were introduced on the show, including prisoners Franky Doyle (played by Carol Burns) and Judy Bryant (played by Betty Bobbitt), as well as corrupt and sinister officer Joan Ferguson (Maggie Kirkpatrick). [6]


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

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


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

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

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

Early episodes featured a high level of violence: Lynn Warner's press burning; a prisoner hanging herself in her cell; 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 social worker Bill Jackson (Don Barker)—was stabbed to death by inmate Chrissie Latham (Amanda Muggleton).

Series extension

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

New story arcs were introduced. Karen Travers appealed against her sentence and was eventually released, allowing her to resume her relationship with Greg Miller and becoming involved in prison reform. As original characters began leaving the series (Mum Brooks, Lynn Warner, Karen and Greg appeared beyond the initial sixteen episodes, but most had left by the end of the 1979 season; Greg left in early 1980), new characters arrived: hulking husband-beater Monica Ferguson (Lesley Baker), career criminal Noeline Bourke (Jude Kuring), troubled 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.

Final season

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



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

SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
1 7927 February 1979 (1979-02-27)28 November 1979 (1979-11-28)
2 8622 January 1980 (1980-01-22)12 November 1980 (1980-11-12)
3 814 February 1981 (1981-02-04)11 November 1981 (1981-11-11)
4 809 February 1982 (1982-02-09)9 November 1982 (1982-11-09)
5 901 February 1983 (1983-02-01)3 November 1983 (1983-11-03)
6 8917 January 1984 (1984-01-17)8 November 1984 (1984-11-08)
7 8324 January 1985 (1985-01-24)5 November 1985 (1985-11-05)
8 1049 January 1986 (1986-01-09)11 December 1986 (1986-12-11)

Spin-offs, remakes and specials


Willow B: Women in Prison

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. [15]


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

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

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


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

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

Prisoner-inspired shows

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


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.

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.

In 2011, Betty Bobbitt self-published From The Outside, her memoirs of her career which included playing the role of Judy Bryant on Prisoner. [21]

DVD releases

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 titleEpisodesDiscsRelease dateRuntime
ACB rating
Region 4 [22]
The Complete Season One79202 November 20163555M
The Complete Season Two862111 January 20173949M
The Complete Season Three81218 February 20173596M
The Complete Season Four80218 March 20173600M
The Complete Season Five90235 April 20174001M
The Complete Season Six89227 June 20174001M
The Complete Season Seven83212 August 20173735M
The Complete Season Eight104266 September 20174680M

Overseas sales


The show was shown in Sweden on TV4 beginning on 7 September 1994 as Kvinnofängelset (The Women's Prison). [23] 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 (1am) slot three times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, [23] airing the final episode on 3 February 2000. During a repeat run from 2000 to October 2004, Prisoner aired at 2:15am 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 10pm, 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 3pm.

United Kingdom

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. [24]

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, [25] it was briefly available in the UK on VHS video. [26]

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. [27] The theme song was played briefly in episode three of BBC sitcom One Foot in the Grave . [27] 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 . [27]

ITV regional scheduling

Prisoner began airing on Yorkshire Television on 8 October 1984, [28] with the franchise cutting scenes involving hanging (including the attempted hanging of Sandy Edwards and the hanging of Eve Wilder). [29] 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 pm 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, usually airing after their Friday night local talk show "Kelly" which aired at 10.40pm, would have a tradition of "Prisoner" following at 11.40pm. When the Kelly Show extended to a 90-minute version from the autumn of 1990, Prisoner would air at 12.10am. Maggie Kirkpatrick and Val Lehman both appeared on the Kelly Show on occasions, such was the popularity of the show airing after "Kelly" every Friday night.

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 the first 95 episodes (from 1993 to 1995). 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). [30]

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 however the series was then discontinued from screening in London. The last ITV Prisoner episode was shown on Meridian, which finished an initial run with episode 586 on 12 July 1999.

Channel 5

Early on 31 March 1997 Channel 5, which had begun broadcasting at 6pm the previous evening, began a full run of Prisoner [31] while later episodes were still appearing in many ITV regions. [32] 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 4:40am slot. [31] It briefly moved to a late-night slot, usually around 11:30pm, [31] before returning to the 4:40am 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. [33]

The Channel 5 broadcasts included commentary over the closing credits, usually from chief continuity announcer Bill Buckley [34] 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, [31] upcoming schedule changes were announced as part of the commentary.

United States

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

The series would later be repackaged into a daily half-hour format, as Prisoner: Cell Block H, [37] 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, KRIV in Houston, Texas, KTVT in Dallas/Ft. Worth, WLVI in Boston, KWGN in Denver, KSTP-TV in Minneapolis/St. Paul, [38] KYW-TV in Philadelphia, KPLR in St. Louis, MO, 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, WTTV in Indianapolis, KPHO in Phoenix, WATL in Atlanta, WCKT in Miami, FL, WIVB in Buffalo, WDRB in Louisville, Ky., WKYT in Lexington, KY, KVVU in Las Vegas, NV 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 8pm, and under the Prisoner: Cell Block H name. [39] Picked up in at least 38 markets in early 1980, [40] the program would leave the American airwaves by spring 1982, after the few stations that were still carrying the program, such as KOB-TV [41] and WGN-TV, [42] removed Prisoner from their schedules.

During the spring and summer of 1985, the series was screened nationally on USA Network, [23] weekdays at 11am ET, also in a half-hour format. It is unknown which episodes were televised. [43]


In Canada, Prisoner began on 10 September 1979 [44] as Caged Women on Global Television Network, at the time a small television network serving southern and eastern Ontario; [23] the program was seen weekly on Monday nights at 9pm [45]

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

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

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

Other countries

The series began in New Zealand in May 1981 on TV One, showing twice a week at 2:30pm, and was later rerun on SKY 1. [23]

In South Africa, public television network SABC 1 began airing the series in 1998, screening Thursday nights at 9pm and a repeat showing Fridays at 10:45; [23] it was cancelled on 2 October 2000, after episode 156.

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

Australian reruns

Network Ten began rerunning Prisoner on 8 May 1995; the series was cancelled, despite promises that it would return after the 1996 Christmas break. BBC UKTV began airing it from the beginning on 30 November 1997, at 12:15am on Tuesday and Thursday and 11:30pm on Saturday and Sunday. A repeat was broadcast at 2pm on Monday.

The 111 channel began the series at 6:30pm AEDT on 7 March 2011, moving to 5:30pm 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 3pm AEDT, moving to 1pm AEST on 7 July 2014. Foxtel held unlimited screening rights to the series until 2017, and the series' popularity on 111 inspired plans for a modern-day remake. [52] [53] [54]

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

Best Lead Actress in a SeriesCarol Burns (1980) [55]
Best New Drama SeriesPrisoner (1980) [55]
Best Lead Actress in a SeriesSheila Florance (1981) [56]
Best Drama ProgramPrisoner (1981) [56]
Most Popular Show in VictoriaPrisoner (1981)
Most Popular ActressVal Lehman (1982) [57]
Best Lead Actress in a SeriesVal Lehman (1982) [57]
Best Drama ProgramPrisoner (1982) [57]
Best Lead Actress in a SeriesVal Lehman (1983) [58]
Best Supporting Actress in a SeriesSheila Florance (1983) [58]
Most Popular Show in VictoriaPrisoner (1985)
Nominated:Best Supporting Actress in a SeriesColette Mann (1981)
Nominated:Best Supporting Actor in a SeriesGerard Maguire (1981)
Nominated:Best Lead Actress in a SeriesBetty Bobbitt (1982)
Nominated:Best Lead Actress in a SeriesMaggie Kirkpatrick (1984)
Nominated:Best Supporting Actress in a SeriesGerda Nicolson (1985)
Nominated:Best Performance by a JuvenileRobert Summers (1985)
Nominated:Most Popular Actress in a SeriesMaggie Kirkpatrick (1986)
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)
Best Actress in a Series — Sheila Florance (1980)

See also


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

Related Research Articles

Sheila Florance Australian actress

Sheila Mary Florance credited as Sheila Florence, was an Australian theatre, television and film actress. She was best known for her performance as elderly, alcoholic convict Lizzie Birdsworth in the television series Prisoner. Born in Melbourne, she married an Englishman in 1934 and sailed to London. She spent World War II in England; her first husband died in action following the 1944 Normandy landings.

Valerie Kathleen Lehman AM is an Australian actress and director, best known for her role as the antagonist "Top Dog" and self-styled Queen Bea Smith in the Australian TV series Prisoner.

Betty Ann Bobbitt was an American actress, director, singer, and playwright based in Australia, with a career that spanned over 60 years encompassing theatre, television and film.

Celia Ireland Australian actress

Celia Ireland is an Australian actress. She is best known for her role as Regina Butcher on the television series All Saints and her Logie award winning role as Liz Birdsworth on the prison drama series Wentworth.

Frieda Joan "Franky" Doyle is a fictional character in the Australian prison cult soap opera, Prisoner (1979-1986). She was portrayed by Carol Burns, and she only appeared in the first 20 episodes of the soap opera during 1979. Frieda, also known as Franky, is a nicotine-stained lesbian biker who was imprisoned for armed robbery and murder and sentenced to life imprisonment at Wentworth Detention Centre, the fictional prison set in Melbourne. She was also in a forced romantic relationship with Doreen Anderson . In Wentworth Prison Franky's first name is sometimes given as Frieda, and sometimes as Francesca.

<i>Wentworth</i> (TV series) Australian television series

Wentworth is an Australian television drama series. It was first broadcast on SoHo on 1 May 2013. The series serves as a contemporary reimagining of Prisoner, which ran on Network Ten from 1979 to 1986. Lara Radulovich and David Hannam developed Wentworth from Reg Watson's original concept. The series is set in the modern day and initially focuses on Bea Smith's early days in prison and her subsequent rise to the top of the prison's hierarchy. From the fifth season onward, the series shifted to emphasize more of an ensemble format.

<i>Wentworth</i> (season 2)

The second season of the crime drama television series Wentworth premiered on SoHo in Australia on May 20, 2014. It was executively produced by FremantleMedia's director of drama Jo Porter. The season consisted of 12 episodes.

<i>Wentworth</i> (season 3)

The third season of the television drama series Wentworth premiered on SoHo in Australia on 7 April 2015. It was executively produced by FremantleMedia's Director of Drama, Jo Porter. The season comprises 12 episodes. Season three picks up four months after Bea's return to Wentworth following her escape and revenge murder of Brayden Holt.

Bea Smith (<i>Wentworth</i>)

Bea Smith was a fictional character from the Australian television drama Wentworth, portrayed by Danielle Cormack. She was introduced in the first episode of the series "No Place Like Home", broadcast on May 2013. Bea is notable for her storylines of being abused by her husband Harry, avenging the death of her daughter by murdering Brayden Holt and being the top dog in Wentworth Prison. Bea has had rivalries with Franky Doyle, Jacs Holt, Kaz Proctor and Joan Ferguson. Bea was the central character in Wentworth until her exit at the end of Season 4.

Franky Doyle (<i>Wentworth</i>)

Francesca Rose Doyle is a main character, former protagonist and a former prisoner of Wentworth Correctional Centre. She served primarily as the primary antagonist for season 2, before becoming a protagonist for season 3. In season 4, Franky was released from Wentworth after she fought for her innocence and began her career as a legal aid. She returned for seasons 5 and 6 as the series' main protagonist, until her release and subsequent departure from the series.

Bridget Westfall is a recurring character in Australian television drama Wentworth. Bridget is introduced as the prison's new psychologist to help the inmates. She is portrayed by Libby Tanner. Bridget is notable for her relationship with Franky Doyle, which proved popular with fans of the television series. Other main storylines have involved Bridget's friendship with prison officer/governor Vera Bennett, Bridget's support and assistance to other prisoners, and helping to reveal Ferguson's true colors.

Jessica Warner is a fictional character from the Australian television series Wentworth, portrayed by Georgia Chara. She made her first appearance during the season episode "The Danger Within," broadcast on 10 June 2014. Jess was murdered in the final episode of the third season.

Joan Ferguson (<i>Wentworth</i>)

Joan Ferguson is a fictional character in the Australian television series Wentworth, who serves as the main antagonist from season two to season 5. Joan is portrayed by actress Pamela Rabe. Her storylines centre on rivalries with Will Jackson, Bea Smith and most staff and inmates. She is introduced in Season 2 as the new Governor of Wentworth Prison following Erica Davidson being fired but becomes a prisoner in Season 4.

"No Place Like Home" is the first episode of the Australian TV series Wentworth. This episode introduces the major characters and focuses on protagonist Bea Smith being introduced to and trying to fit into prison life, while flashbacks reveal her domestic abuse at the hands of her husband and the circumstances that result in her coming to Wentworth.

"Fear Her" is the twelfth episode of the second season of the Australian television drama Wentworth, and the twenty-second episode overall. The plot of the episode sees Bea Smith take her revenge against Brayden Holt after escaping from the hospital during the previous episode. Other storylines focus on Franky Doyle's downfall as top dog, Doreen Anderson telling Nash Taylor about their baby, and Liz Birdsworth being re-arrested after being found in possession of a murder weapon.

"First Blood" is the thirty-fifth episode of the Australian drama series Wentworth. It is also the first episode of the show's fourth season, and was broadcast on 10 May 2016. The episode's story begins four months after the events of the previous episode, "Blood and Fire". "First Blood" saw the introduction of Kate Jenkinson's character Allie Novak, former prison Governor Joan returning as an inmate and the beginning of a rivalry between central character Bea Smith and Kaz Proctor. The episode also includes scenes set outside the prison, which follow Franky Doyle, a former inmate who is released on parole. It was the first episode of the show to be filmed at a new rebuilt set. It has received generally positive reviews from television critics. Reviews regarding scenes in which Joan is incarcerated in a glass-walled cell were less favourable.

Allie Novak

Allie Novak is a fictional character from the Australian drama series Wentworth, played by Kate Jenkinson. She made her first appearance during the fourth season episode titled, "First Blood", broadcast on 10 May 2016. The character was introduced as a new prison inmate and friend of Kaz Proctor, participating in their vigilante group, which has a vested interest in protecting women. One story writers developed for Allie was a romance with then-central character Bea Smith, a pairing that television critic Elaine Atwell has praised.

<i>Wentworth</i> (season 6)

The sixth season of television drama series Wentworth premiered on Showcase in Australia on 19 June 2018 and concluded on 4 September 2018. It is executive produced by FremantleMedia's Director of Drama, Jo Porter. The season comprised 12 episodes. The sixth season picks up just days after the escape of Franky Doyle and Joan Ferguson. This season introduced three new characters portrayed by Leah Purcell, Susie Porter and Rarriwuy Hick.

<i>Wentworth</i> (season 7)

The seventh season of television drama series Wentworth premiered on Fox Showcase in Australia on 28 May 2019. It is executive produced by FremantleMedia's director of drama, Jo Porter. The seventh season picks up a few months after the events of last season's finale, the presumed closure of the case of Joan Ferguson and the subsequent arrest of former acting Governor, Derek Channing.

<i>Prisoner</i> (season 2)

The second season of Australian drama television series Prisoner premiered on Network Ten on 22 January 1980. It consists of 86 episodes and concluded on 12 November 1980.


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