The following appreciation has been written by Robert Lindsay (slightly re-written).
One of the mysteries of Prisoner is why it is that the campest, craziest, most hilariously outrageous character of them all has never been adequately recognised for her achievements.
Honestly, this character was unbelievable!
She was a prissy, bossy, saccharine, snappy, sanctimonious and supercilious matron, suggesting a knockout meld of Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II. She just loved strutting the corridors of Wentworth: all clip-clopping high heels with a towering platinum coiffure, spitefully snapping at the Officers for having, oh, a hair out of place or something. Then, bang, next minute she's all sweetness and light and simply dripping insincere kindness. She loved having angry outbursts at the Officers that her successor, Ann Reynolds (actress Gerda Nicolson), wouldn't dream of. Legendary were her many bouts with Vera Bennett, and what a pair they were! All anally retentive angst and hair styled close to breaking point these two would joust bitchy one-liners through grim expressions and tightly pursed lips!
She also had lots of screaming matches with another fiery Officer, Jim Fletcher (Gerald Maguire). Erica Davidson was prone to use phrases such as the superciliously intoned "may I remind you..." or the frequently heard and angry cry of "that will be all, MISS BENNETT!"
Erica had never worked as an Officer, as Vera loved pointing out at every opportunity, but had instead come to the prison with University degrees and welfare experience. Erica's humanitarian approach to the women clashed with Vera's obsession with rules and discipline. The prisoners usually took advantage of Erica's inconsistent bouts of generosity and fortunately for the script writers, Erica was always ready to give the inmates another chance to prove how irresponsible they could be.
Erica was the daughter of a respected judge. She was also divorced.
One early storyline featured Erica's niece Barbara Davidson (Sally Cahill) entering Wentworth as a prisoner. While this caused a few tense moments for Erica, she particularly objected to being called 'Auntie Erica', this storyline presented far greater problem to Vera Bennett when the niece succeeded in convincing Vera to smuggle in some drugs for her, and then blackmailed Vera over this! Fortunately the niece was soon released.
Her first of several resignation attempts comes when she objects to being forced to give special treatment to gang boss's wife Toni McNally (59). Angela Jeffries persuades her to come back (65) but as Erica seems to have spent most of her time on the phone to her socialite friends, it doesn't take much arm twisting.
At the end of 1979 Erica was accidently shot (82) during the escape attempt of prisoner Roslyn Coulson (Sigrid Thornton). Naturally she survived that one.
In 1980 when Paul Reid (actor George Mallaby) worked at Wentworth, he and Erica basically feuded the entire time he was there. One nice little scene in episode (128) went something like this:
Paul: "Governor, may I leave early this afternoon?"
Erica: (smiling superciliously) "And what if I should refuse?"
Paul: "Well that would be quite a problem as I would like to collect my son when he is released from prison this afternoon"
Erica: (completely changing tack and gushing profusely) "Oh of course you can leave early today Paul and I hope it all goes well for your son and if there's anything I can do just ask" etc!
In 1980 she had a romance with Andrew Reynolds, the owner of the textile factory where some prisoners worked on work-release. She resisted his charms, at one point explaining "You see, I'm a career woman" and later was unruffled by the news that he was married as she says she had no intention of letting their relationship slide into "sordidness" (129). As with most of Erica's extracurricular activities, this storyline was quickly extinguished and Erica was soon back behind her desk at Wentworth.
There wasn't really all that much else Erica did outside the prison, which was good because there was always lots more fun to be had within Wentworth.
Attempts to give Erica "depth" were usually misguided - like the sudden introduction of her mother Florence and brother James (208)-(210). After her mother's death, Erica finds out that she had another child before her and James, who died in an accidental fall, making their mother guilty and cold and distant towards her other children. [We find out here that Erica's maiden name must have been Marne]
Another big incident was the storyline in episodes (228)-(236) where she was kidnapped by Linda Gorman (Mary Charleston) and Ricki Lee (Kate Turner), two University student friends of new prisoner Andrea Hennessy (Bethany Lee) who had herself been arrested during a protest at the Wentworth gates. Erica was held hostage for several episodes. She was threatened with being shot by the misguided students but the worse was yet to come: they (gasp!) give Erica an unauthorised haircut! Apparently they must have previously trained as hairdressers because, afterwards, Erica's previously tightly bound Margaret Thatcher-esque 'do had turned into a lovely, soft, layered masterpiece. Erica escaped this hostage drama by risking her life and bolting from captivity while her captors were looking the other way - this daring escape stunt no doubt triggered by the unflattering boiler suit they had given her to wear.
During the cliffhanger Wentworth fire (originally aired November 1982), when the episode ended, Erica provided an extra kick to the cliff-hanger aspect of the episode by heroically re-entering the burning Wentworth to unlock the gates. You see, Heather 'Mouse' Trapp (Jentah [pronounced Yentah] Sobbot), Paddy Lawson (Anna Hruby), Barbara Fields (Susan Guerin), Joan Ferguson (Maggie Kirkpatrick), and Bea Smith (Val Lehman) were still unaccounted for, and the fire had shorted the wiring of the Riot Alarm, causing all the gates to automatically lock.
Rumour had it she would soon leave the series! Oh No! Would Erica survive? This all turned out to be an anti-climax: in the opening moments of the following episode Erica quickly realised that the smoke was just too thick and so she gave up on this idea, re-emerging from the prison unharmed (Phew!)
As with many of the originally outrageous characters, Erica very gradually settled down and became more even tempered as the series progressed.
Actress Patsy King finally decided to leave the series late 1982. She had appeared in the series from episode one. She left Wentworth early in 1983 a few months after the big Wentworth fire. She had by that stage appeared in the series for just over four years. A catalogue of disasters including Bea's escape, the accidental induction of a man into the prison, and a dining room protest organised by Nola McKenzie leads to Ted Douglas sending Erica to her own office for a dressing down. We are not actually shown what happens: when Meg comes to find her later on, Ted Douglas is in Erica's office and says Erica has "resigned" - showing Meg the letter of resignation.
A year later after Mr Douglas himself had been sacked due to corruption (382), Erica re-appears (424) while Joan Ferguson is briefly Acting Governor to investigate the running of the prison after a hostile report on Joan's leadership from Meg. She is inadvertently drawn into the plot about Major Ferguson being held hostage when she takes a call from his kidnappers (426). She leaves when Ann Reynolds returns to work as Governor, and announces as she does that she has been appointed the new Head of Department (428).
It is as Head of Depertment that she visits Wentworth again (451) to negotiate with the women over a strike for higher pay, where the women force her into a humiliating climb-down from her inital position of refusing to grant a 50% increase. Her last appearance is in (454).
In (491), Ann mentions going for dinner with Erica after she has resigned from the department to take up a position in Canberra with "some sub-committee which has been formed to examine the role of women in the work force". After that we got a different department head and Erica made no further appearances in the series.
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