Wednesday, July 20, 2011

WIP Wednesday: Prisoner (1979-1986)

We like to think of American and British television as being the best, but we rarely think of Australia for tv. Australia is all Mad Max and Crocodile Dundee, right? Think again, friends. Australia brings us a huge chunk or WIP awesomeness in the form of "Prisoner," a WIP soap opera that ran for an astonishing 692 episodes between 1979 and 1986.

Now, while I enjoy what I have seen, it is only a small sampling of the first four seasons. Twelve are available from Netflix on DVD, and about twenty-two total are available from Amazon for around $20US. The problem, however is the lack of continuity. Twenty-two episodes is a mere 3% of the total show. What you do a get a feel for in the small portion I have seen is the head bitch in charge, Bea Smith, and the main antagonist, Joan Ferguson.

Bea Smith, played by Val Lehman, runs all the illicit activities in Wentworth prison for women. In a switch from the standard WIP formula, she is also very much the hero. She is, say, the Tony Soprano of the show. Other prisoners get a lot of play. Chrissie Latham (Amanda Muggleton), is sort of the good girl, though she is no angel. Lizzie Birdsworth (Sheila Florence), is the elderly troublemaker, being a drunk who makes alcohol in a rather careless fashion, much to Bea's chagrin.

One part that is definitely off book, formula-wise, is that most of the prison staff seems to genuinely care about those in their charge. Series one has a dick-head male sub-warden who is all about discipline, and alienates both prisoners and staff. However, series regulars Officer Meg Morris (Elspeth Ballantyne), Deputy Governor Colleen Powell (Judith McGrath), and Governor (warden) Erica Davidson (Patsy King), are not out to get the prisoners, and even understand that there is going to be a top dog, and take Bea's leadership with a grain of salt and wary eye.

Of course the devil is always the best part of any story, and our devil here is Officer Joan Ferguson, played with awesome malevolence by Maggie Kirkpatrick. She is diabolical, almost literally. It seems to take her until series four, but she eventually kicks Bea out, getting her transferred to another prison, then places a puppet HBIC over the prisoners. Joan is evil and corrupt, known as "The Freak" by inmates. Here is the first meeting between Ferguson and Bea:

In all it is an interesting show, as well as a different take on the genre. Perhaps Australia's prison background changes the way they see things versus America and England? Thanks to Tommy Salami for reminding me to check this out, and Ruby Tombstone for giving me some background (she says it is her favorite show).


bliss_infinte said...

I use to watch this show here in the states when I was a kid. I loved it. And I actually think I saw a boob once.

Thomas Pluck said...

I'm glad you liked it. This was steamy fare for a young me on late night cable :)

Darius Whiteplume said...

Bliss, I would not doubt the boobage. The Aussies are less prudish than we in the states.

Tommy, I could really get into it. There was a complete run DVD set with something like 170 DVDs going for approximately $1600US. Not sure I like it *that* much :-)

Ruby Tombstone said...

I would GLADLY pay that for the whole set! A mate of mine and I watched the lot back-to-back a few years ago - BLISS! The same friend actually recorded a dance track based on The Freak, with some of her tastier sound bites - I'll see if we can dig it up for you! I would be remiss if I didn't mention Ferguson's predecessor though, good ole Vera "Vinegar Tits" Bennett. Although I'm pretty sure there were never any actual tits involved!

Darius Whiteplume said...

@Ruby - I don't think I saw any epis with Vinegar Tits, though have seen pictures on the web. She's even harder looking than The Freak :-D

Ruby Tombstone said...

If anyone's after more info, trivia or pics I've just been approved as the Host of the Prisoner series on Miso! :)

Darius Whiteplume said...

Cool! Here is the link.

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