Prisoner a

The title card of Prisoner (aka Prisoner: Cell Block H)

PRISONER (known in the UK and the USA as Prisoner: Cell Block H and in Canada as Caged Women) was an Australian Soap Opera that ran from 1979-1986 on the Ten Network.

Created by Reg Grundy, the show focused on the lives of the inmates and staff of Wentworth Detention Centre, a maximum security women's prison located outside of Melbourne, Australia.

Much of the stories centered on the lives of the inmates and staff, who interacted in many varied ways. The head Warden of the Prison (or the Governor) was first, former barrister Erica Davidson (Patsy King), who was interested in rehabilitation. She was firm, yet fair to everyone.

After her resignation, in which she would get a job working in the Department which oversaw the prison itself; former social worker, Ann Reynolds (Gerda Nicolson), who was similarly known for rehabilitation over punishment, ran the prison for the remainder of the series' run.

Pre-eminent among the inmates was one Bea Smith (Val Lehman), the long-time "Top Dog" (the unofficial leader of the inmates), who was in prison for strangling the girlfriend of her ex-husband, and then was put back inside when she murdered her ex-husband; her friends, old dear prisoner Lizzie Birdsworth (Sheila Florance), who was inside for poisoning, but stayed inside, because it was the only home she really knew; Bea's rival, lesbian biker, Franky Doyle (Carol Burns); her ex-girlfriend, Doreen Anderson Burns (Collette Mann), who had a teddy bear to keep her company; and two newcomers to the inmate population.

In the first episode, we are introduced to Karen Travers (Peta Toppano), who had been sentenced after the murder of her abusive and adulterous husband (she had caught him having an affair and after he ordered her to get an abortion, she stabbed him in the shower!); and Lynne Warner (Kerry Armstrong), who had been arrested for kidnapping and attempted murder. She proclaimed her innocence, and it was eventually proven that the child's mother had been the one who attempted to murder the child. 

Later "Top Dogs" included Myra Desmond (Anne Phelan), who was as strong as Bea was in her prime; her mate, American ex-patriate Judy Bryant (Betty Bobbitt), who got into prison to be with her lover, Sharon Gilmour, but later served a long-term hitch; and one of the most unlikely Top Dogs of all, timid and shy Minnie Donovan, (Wendy Playfair), who despite being timid and shy, proved her worth.

During one of the show's most iconic moments, the wicked Bea slammed the hot steam press on top of Lynne's hand because of her crime. In all prisons, crimes against children are looked down upon and prison justice in this case is often extremely harsh.

Not to be outdone were the guards ("screws" as they were called in Australia). Pre-eminent among those are Meg Jackson Morris (Elspeth Ballantyne), a sympathetic guard who was sensitive to prisoner's needs though she was no pushover; Vera Bennett (Fiona Spence), an acid tongued harsh guard who believed in punishment, but she was embittered because of her caring for her over-demanding mother. Despite their differing views of prison management, Vera and Meg were friends (in fact, Meg was Vera's only friend).

The inmates liked Meg, and so called her Mrs. Jackson, or Mrs. J. (later she would be known as Mrs. Morris or Mrs. M.); but because they disliked Vera, they called her the derogatory name Vinegar Tits. Vera would later become head governor at a nearby prison called Barnhurst.

Other notable guards were Colleen Powell (Judith McGrath), called Po-Face, a firm but extremely fair guard; Joyce Barry Pringle (Joy Westmore), an ineffective, slightly clumsy but beloved guard; and Meg's son, Martin Jackson, who followed his mother into the guard job.

Many guards came and went through the doors of Wentworth, both male and female, but none of the guards were ever more hated and utterly despised by BOTH inmates and staff than the infamous Joan Ferguson (Maggie Kirkpatrick).

The lesbian Ferguson, known by her enemies (which, as stated, included both inmates and staff) as the Freak, was a power-mad woman who hated absolutely everyone. Twice she took over Wentworth and instituted restrictive regimes, one of which was stopped by Joan's former employer, Erica Davidson; she antagonized her comrades as guards, most notably Meg, whom she fought with for the job of deputy governor.

Inmates and staff alike wanted her gone, but it didn't often work. However, in the 692nd and final episode of the series, the Freak's storied luck finally ran out, when former top dog, female biker (or bikie, as they are known in Australia), Rita Connors (Glenna Linscott) had her pinched for robbing a finance company of $500,000. She was arrested and taken to Wentworth, which was the final defeat for the evil former screw.

The Freak was later transferred to a prison in Western Australia, where she could not ever befoul the prison ever again. 

There had been a prequel for the series, called Wentworth, which had the characters as younger versions of themselves. Since the show has been off the air, various DVD box sets help keep the show alive.

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