Two major admissions from Carol: 'I didn't go to any prisons to research Franky, and I'd never talked to a bikie before in my life. But after a couple of weeks on the show I met one on a beach and ended up buying him a beer in the local pub. I also met a woman in a Wollongong (an industrial city near Sydney) hospital having tattoos removed.'
No sooner was she an established favourite than Carol Burns asked for her role to be terminated. It was 8 March 1979 when the news broke, but Franky would be seen on screen for another five months as the Wentworth gang was then shooting Episode Twenty-six and into a two-shows-a- week schedule. Carol said she couldn't keep the pace.
Producer Bradley said, 'We have had to schedule extra shootings and agree with Carol that it would be difficult for her to continue playing Franky at this high standard. Carol is a very versatile actress. She takes a lot of time to get into her part and works very hard at it. Perhaps we can write her back into the show at a later date.'
But Carol had reached the stage where she wanted out, and asked that 'Franky go out with a bang - dead, gone and buried.' She got her wishes and the mourning around the country and in the United States added to the Franky Doyle cult society.
Carol was so affected by an immediate deluge of mail, telephone calls and even petitions asking that she reconsider and stay in Wentworth, that she made an unprecedented and emotional appearance on 'The Steve Raymond Show' to explain why she had to leave. 'It was almost as hard as playing Franky in full flight, but I had made up my mind and, while I was very touched by the support of so many fans, there was no new reason to reassess the situation or change my mind.'
Carol's resignation meant that top Australian movie actor, Jack Thompson, wouldn't be seen in the series either. Jack (star of the popular World War II 'Spyforce' series and the movies Sunday Too Far Away, Breaker Morant, Scobie Malone, Petersen) had wanted to work with Carol in 'Prisoner', playing off the character of Franky Doyle. This meant Jack was going back to TV after refusing small-screen work for years. Jack
<Picture> Tea-break in the canteen for the Wentworth girls as Chrissie
Latham (Amanda Muggleton, back to camera) chats with Bea Smith (Val Lehman)
had met Carol when she was 14. They were involved with local theatre groups in Brisbane and it was Jack who did most to encourage Carol's career.
Grundy's responded by changing the emphasis to the Bea Smith character, ably carried on Val Lehman's strong shoulders, and they increased Sheila Florance's workload, too. The writers also started to build up Elspeth Ballantyne's role of warder Meg Morris. And there was a steady influx of new faces in the cells and in uniform.
American actress Betty Bobbitt, 31, who had first come to Australia in 1962 at the invitation of the Seven Network to work as a featured artist on the 'Daly At Night' show with American comics Jonathon Daly and Ken Delo, soon made an impression as inmate Judy Bryant. Bryant was on a marijuana possession charge, and set to get a bond and fine. But she missed her lover, Sharon Gilmore (Margot Knight), and made
sure she stayed in Wentworth with Sharon by getting caught with marijuana in the lockup. The ruse worked. According to Betty's contract she would be doing porridge for two months. But the Judy Bryant character was an immediate success and Betty would end up on a five-year acting stretch.
In the years between 'Daly' and 'Prisoner', Betty's resonant voice and 'Yank, then mid-Atlantic accent' kept her in demand much of the time and brought her many solid acting jobs. But she admits there were desperate times in 1967 and '68 when she moved to Sydney to work in the computer mailing business (the lowest point of my life). She was in the 1976 movie, Eliza Frazer, starring Susannah York, Noel Ferrier and Trevor Howard. Betty's TV credits included 'Bellbird', 'Matlock Police' and 'Cop Shop'. And she was a regular contract player for the acclaimed Melbourne Theatre Company. She also hit the high spots as a member of the Glitter Sisters singing duo.
'I made sure Judy was portrayed as having a kindly, sensitive side. The lesbian aspects of "Prisoner" were fairly heavy and overdone in the early days, but Judy was a much more realistic and honest version of that breed,' said Betty.
Beautiful blonde Briony Behets, 27, was the next major inmate to check into Wentworth. Only weeks before, the British-born actress's latest movie, Long Weekend, starring John Hargreaves as her husband, had been unveiled to good notices. The ecological thriller was written and directed by Bri's boyfriend, Colin Eggleston, a driving force behind some of Crawford Productions' drama output in the late Sixties and Seventies.
Briony was one of the original sexpots in 'Number 96', and did a 14-month stint as Judy Donovan in 'The Box' series. A former teacher, she'd been in Australia since 1972, when she co-starred in the bizarre rat attack thriller Night of Fear, and had a high profile as Tuesday in the TV series 'Birds in the Bush' (U.K. title: 'Virgin Fellas'). In 'Prisoner' she was compulsive shoplifter Susan Rice, mother of two, whose unstable marriage led her to crime. Her six-week story was shown from the traumatic clashes at home through to her arrest and arrival at Wentworth.
'I have turned down a lot of soap offers over the past two years,' explained
Briony, 'to try and get away from sex-oriented roles. The years catch
up with you, and I really want to do more dramatic work, even if it's support
or guest pieces.'
The workload told on all the main players. Most lived in Melbourne and could get away from the rigours of making the show simply by driving home. It was different and more difficult for the inter-state Sydney cast. They tried to get home as regularly as possible. Some made it two or three times a month, others once a month. It depended on the state of the heart and pocket - 500 miles of the treacherous Hume Highway took their toll on car and driver, and the one-hour commercial jet flight cost a packet (up to $295 (£140) return by the time the show ended in 1986). Extra characters would soon be introduced in an effort to lessen the pressures on
the regular players and it had been decided that men would be featured
more prominently, too.
Mary Ward was the next regular to depart her cell at Wentworth. 'It's sad,' the veteran actress revealed, 'but two shows a week are taking their toll on me. It would be all right if I was younger. But that's the penalty you pay when the years catch up with you. I've loved doing the role of Mum Brookes, and all the girls in the show have been wonderful. They've treated me real nice. I haven't been killed off, so maybe I'll be back sometime. I would like that, but right now I'm off to Perth to see my family and friends and have a rest after a year in clink.'
The writers took a simple way out for gardening-fanatic Mum's exit. They wrote in an on-screen heart-attack and rushed her off to an emergency hospital for specialised
<Picture> Chorus line at a Prisoner cast concert (from left): Bea
Smith (Val Lehman),
Judy Bryant (Betty Bobbitt), Doreen Campbell (Colette Mann), Lizzie Birdsworth (Sheila Florance) and Margot Gaffney (Jane Clifton). Bobbitt, Mann and Clifton sang professionally as a group, The Mini-Busettes
A DAY IN THE TUNNEL
|It was a long, hard slog producing the
two hours of 'Prisoner' each week. The cast started rehearsal at around
8 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, usually on a ten-hour call,
and then they would tape for up to fourteen hours a day on Thursday and
'Have a heavy night on the town, and you really pay for it next morning,' said Val Lehman. ' You've really got to be on your toes and have a clear mind. No one has time to sit around and mope or nurse a hangover or headache, you can't take it easy. It's go, go, go.'
In between rehearsals and taping, the cast had the 'Tunnel' for relaxing - a sort of a Green Room (traditionally where actors relax before going on set). The Nunawading studio tunnel was a cosy setup with posters and notices stuck on the walls. Coffee and tea was always on the boil, and at the end of the Tunnel, a giant settee and the start of the wardrobe department.
Usually the Tunnel was a bit of a mess, with chairs, pouffes, scripts, soft drink bottles, polf coffee cups, discarded clothing and wardrobe pieces. 'Who cares?' said Fioan Spence. 'It's comfortable, and we rush in and out during rehearsals and tapings. It's home.'
It was also where the cast got to read the latest PR sheets, mail from viewers and keep track of scripts and the regular changes. Even a book could come in handy - in between those incessant cigarettes Sheila Florance intently read a latest bestseller, while Colette Mann was just as studious, deep in notes for a forthcoming episode in which she would give the writers some advice and background information on inmate counselling. She also carried a few battered paperbacks.
Ocassionally, there would be a speedy visit to the studio pay-phone, or a special trip to the make-up room for simulated blood or wounds.
The Tunnel was a place of constant activity except when the cameras were turning or rehearsals underway. Flowers, cards and gifts arrived regularly. Val Lehman was amused by one particular gift, a box of chocolates with a hidden bonus, a ten-inch hacksaw 'The chocolates are great,' crooned Val, who then had to explain how she, Sheila, Colette and Fiona Spence had eaten the lot.
'They're like the Three Musketeers,' said a soundman. 'Val's the unoffical leader of Sheila and Colette. They're together all the time. They're a load of fun, great mates, and the crew love 'em - and can they tell jokes, most of which you could never put in print.'
Elspeth Ballantyne had missed out on the chocolate, but was busy telling an on-set visiting reporter that much of the
appeal of 'Prisoner' comes from the fact that the women on screen aren't dolly-birds. 'Women can relate to us.'
When the subject of children, single-parenthood and mum's arduous schedules on 'Prisoner' ['came up' omitted from original?], Elspeth and Val were soon in earnest discussion.
Because of the long working hours, Elspeth zealously guarded her restricted time with children Matthew (11) and Tobias (9). Her career had taken a back seat soon after she married 'Bellbird' beau Dennis Miller, one of Australia's busiest actors. She had raised the boys since the 1977 split from Miller. 'Naturally, there are unique problems coping as a single mum, and "Prisoner" has changed my lifestyle.'
With 'Prisoner' slotted into the 8.30 p.m. adult viewing time on the O-TEN network the boys had yet to see their mum on TV. 'They asked me once if they could watch it and I said certainly not. They tried to con their grandparents during a holday in Adelaide, but Mum and Dad were always watching ABC, thankfully.'
Val Lehman also placed special priorities
with her two girls, Cassie (16) and Joanne (15). 'My life away from Wentworth
is fairly simple. We spend most of the free weekends on a farm owned by
a close, close friend. All I can say is, I'm extremely happy. Val divorced
her Army officer husband. 'He thought there wasn't enough room in the family
for two careers, so we broke up. Acting is something I couldn't give up.'
treatment and a long stay in an intensive care unit, which you wouldn't see on screen. That way, Mum could be left in limbo and retrieved for later episodes.
In any event, the garden wouldn't be the same without Mum. She'd helped plant those first seeds and her every spare moment had cultivated much of the colour and ,beauty in the small plot, which seemed so remote from the day-to-day life of Wentworth.
Wentworth's other older player, Sheila Florance, had her own unique
ways of coping with the
demands of Lizzie Birdsworth. Sheila rushes everywhere, as she has done all her life, which she says keeps her weight down. And she attributed her good health to a 'special diet' - stout and vegetables. She was drinking at least six small bottles of stout daily, devouring plenty of fresh vegetables, and 'swallowing a ton of vitamin pills a day'. Sheila claimed her only vice was a huge one - smoking. 'I just can't help it - it stops me from getting nervous.' Her sons Peter, Dean of the Victorian College of Drama, and Phillip, a TV cameraman, were always at their mum to quit. But to no avail.
'I can switch off from here,' she told Daily Mirror journalist Fran Hernon during an interview at the studios. 'I go home to my darling husband John and do the cooking. I love cooking. 'Our house is packed with memorabilia. I've lived a full, rich life and have a home
full of mementos, each one has a story. In fact, I can remember who gave me each one of them. Not bad for an old dodderer of 63.'
Rosie Sturgess, a longstanding comedy favourite with Oz TV audiences, and respected stage and TV actress Monica Maughan, joined the 'Prisoner' ranks as a mother and daughter combination. Monica played Pat O'Connell, mother of two young children, jailed for aiding and abetting her husband and son in an armed robbery. Rosie played Pat's mum, Mrs Devlin, left at home to look after the fretting kids.
Viewers warmed to the two players - Rosie had been a big name in 'The Wilson Family' sketches on Graham Kennedy's 'In Melbourne Tonight', and as the long-suffering wife of Alwyn Kurts in 'The Last of the Australians', a 39-part series unashamedly copied from Warren Mitchell's U.K. show 'Till Death Us Do Part'.
Monica had been an Ozcar Best Actress movie winner for her poignant performance as a troubled spinster in the 1975 Melbourne movie A City's Child, and was well known to Australian TV viewers for her major role as office secretary Maureen Flaherty in 'The Box' series also shot at the Nunawading studios.
Towards the end of 1979, more new faces appeared before the cameras at Wentworth. Some would be seen on air before the December end-of-season episode, with the others filtering through the first months of 1980.
Doreen would get a boyfriend and, after some serious courting, the possibility
of wedding bells. Ros Speirs, 28, a tall sophisticated actress best
known for her splendid work as Nellie West, wife of the central character
in the powerful ABC-TV series 'Power Without Glory', and later to become
an actors' agent, was arriving as new prisoner Caroline Simpson, on remand
for the stabbing murder of her woman-bashing father. The unusual
arrival of Caroline was compounded by the company of her distraught mother
(Bernadette Hillier), also charged with the killing. Caroline's presence
in everyday clothing - she was never a regular inmate - set her aside from
the other prisoners, and she had to suffer their mistrust. She would
get 'slightly involved' with Deputy Governor Jim Fletcher (Gerard Maguire).
Name: Nola McKenzie
Actress: Carole Skinner
|Dual killer, Nola McKenzie, was on death row in Western Australia for the murder of her husband and a prison guard when she broke out - and ended up in custody at Wentworth with an armed robbery charge. For actress Carol Skinner, 38, it was the biggest challenge of her career. ' I'd never played a genuine nasty before. Nola's tough, evil and deadly - there isn't an ounce of human compassion in her. She hasn't a good word for anyone and she's absolutely hideous to poor old Lizzie.'|
Name: Roxanne Laporte
Actress: Pepi D'Or
|Peppie d'Or, 22, was no newcomer to Australian soap, having previously appeared in 'Cop Shop', 'Holiday Island' and 'The Sullivans'. Normally, her presence meant glitz and glamour -- but for 'Prisoner' she had to appear seven months pregnant|
Even Bea Smith, now undisputed boss of the cells in the wake of Franky Doyle's death, was in the arms of reformed ex-con Ken Pearce (played by Tom Oliver) and tugging at the audience's heart-strings.
Sigrid Thornton was the next classical beauty to boost 'Prisoner's glamour stakes, a 23-year-old Queenslander who was being touted as a international star because of her classic cheekbones, big brown eyes and undeniable screen chemistry. She'd appeared with Patrick Cargill in 'Father, Dear Father, Down Under', 'Homicide' and 'The Sullivans', and made a promising cross to the big screen in The Getting of Wisdom (1977), F. J. Holden (1 977) and Snapshot (1 979). By coincidence, she would later star with Val Lehman in ABC-TV's 'Outbreak of Love'. In private life Sigrid lived with film producer-assistant director Tom Burstall and together they were renovating historical stables as a new home in an inner Melbourne suburb. Tom's British-born director-dad Tim was one of the movie-makers who led Australia's 1960s and '70s cinema resurgences (Stork, 2000 Weeks, Alvin Purple, Last of the Knucklemen).
Wentworth's assembly ogled the spunky new inmate for many different reasons from the moment she signed in as murderess Rosalyn Coulson, known to have strong ties with a group of militants. Ros might have been young, but she was a very complex person, and behind her attractive façade were uncontrollable, fiery demons.
In one of the most ambitious and daring plots of the series, Rosalyn's armed militia mates formulate an escape plan which would have done Charles Bronson or Sylvester Stallone proud. Armed to the teeth, Ros's renegades brought terrorism to Wentworth. Although Ros was blasted out of jail, her freedom would last only a few weeks.
Meanwhile off screen, the real-life romance of Barry Quin and Peta Toppano had blossomed. While playing roles as lovers in 'Prisoner' (he as caring Doctor Greg Miller, and she, inmate Karen Travers) they'd fallen in love and married quietly in April. Four months later they announced they were quitting. The script writers had ample time to wrap up their respective stories - Karen's retrial (owing much to Greg's loving persistence, and a skilful lawyer, played by Jim Smillie) resulted in her joining a work release programme. The knowing judge took into account Karen had already served
eighteen months in custody, and new evidence showed she had been terrorised
and scarred by her husband's brutal onslaughts before she attacked him
with the scissors in the infamous shower scene.
As 1979 ended, Karen, courtesy of the scriptwriters, would be at death's door, requiring a rare and delicate operation and who better to perform the life-giving surgery than Dr Greg? 1980 would see Karen on the outside.
Within days of finishing their work at Wentworth in late October, the
happy couple were jetting to England to meet Barry's parents in Sussex.
'Barry and I need more time to get to know each other. We've had
to live day and night with "Prisoner" all year. I really feel like Karen
Travers - I'm out, free. I can smell the fresh air. It's wonderful,'
Peta said just before taking the flight out of Sydney.
Early November revealed some of the inmates at Fairlea Women's Prison were modelling themselves on characters in 'Prisoner'. 'And the results are not very beneficial,' claimed Dame Phyllis Frost, convenor of the Fairlea Women's Prison
<Picture> Karen Travers (Peta Toppano) was an ordinary, devoted school-teacher until she took a kitchen knife and stabbed her husband to death in the shower. A spine-tingling flashback to the famous scene in Psycho
Name: Pixie Mason
Actress: Judy McBurney
|Sydney actress Judy McBurney was one of the most popular stars from 'The Young Doctors' where she played Tania Livingstone. As Pixie Mason, Network O-TEN's executive producer, Matt Carroll, called her 'a big character - crazy and caught up in bigamy and fraud with a comic edge'. When male inmates arrive at Wentworth, Pixie is raped by Frank Bourke (Trevor Kent), setting off a cha in reaction of brutal retaliations by Myra Desmond (Anne Phelan).|
Council. As a result of the series, some of the women were at times endeavouring to act out roles depicted on screen, even adopting the names of the main prisoners and warders from Wentworth. The jail officials found it most disturbing that certain inmates had to be ordered 'in vigorous manner' to stop their charades and resume life as their former selves. Said a Fa'rlea official, 'It adds so many problems to daily administration.'
The newly appointed Governor of Fairlea, Mr Leslie Curll, agreed with Dame Phyllis: ' "Prisoner" as a series gives the wrong impression about jail life.' And the Victorian Minister for Community Welfare Services said the public at large had to realise the nature of Victoria's jail population has 'changed so very dramatically. The proportion of prisoners serving long terms for crimes of violence has almost doubled in the past ten years.'
One of those changes was reflected in the story of Caroline Simpson (Ros Speirs). She and her mum finally got their day in court and told how old man Simpson had beaten his wife for years. As the two women had already spent several months in Wentworth on remand, they were given suspended sentences on lesser charges of involuntary manslaughter. But Caroline had to agree to spend several weeks acclimatising in a halfway house', a fairly new experimental scheme in which trusted ex-prisoners and volunteer specialists helped newly released prisoners to face life with more confidence. (In later episodes Betty Bobbitt's character, Judy Bryant, would play a major role in setting up a halfway house with technical and personal advice from real-life ex-prisoner Sandra Willson.)
THE FRANKY DOYLE STORY
|Given the strength of Franky Doyle's impact
on audiences whenever 'Prisoner' was screened, Grundy's put a skilled team
together to edit the lesbian bikie misfit's story into a two-hour special,
'The Franky Doyle Story' (what else?) replayed
the more memorable events of her torrid stay at Wentworth, and, needless
to say, was a gigantic hit. Flitting in and out of special were
<Picture> 'The first part's easy' says
Franky Doyle (Carol Burns) as she snips the barb-wire barring her escape
from Wentworth. She is joined by Doreen Campbell
(Colette Mann) and Lizzie Birdsworth (Sheila Florance)
the other regulars of the show, but the story was Franky's, and it didn't pause for breath along the way.
There was Franky's first romantic target, Karen Travers (Peta Toppano); the storm which erupted when Doreen Anderson (Colette Mann), Franky's child-like girlfriend, was about to be moved to another ward, triggering the legendary destruction scene in the prison library; the deadly top dog tussles with Bea Smith (Val Lehman); murder and blood-letting in the brawls and riots; and the hunger strike.
Who could forget Franky's traumatic sufferings and gradual decline in the harrowing times after the death of her kid brother? He was the one person she genuinely loved, but they couldn't be together. Finally, that fateful escape attempt with bumbling Doreen after Lizzie was stricken along the way and Franky's short-lived freedom before she shot a policeman and was gunned down herself.
And who could forget Franky's defiant dying words, 'Bloody bastards!'
There were critics, of course. Like the nationally mass circulated TV Week magazine, which questioned the patching together of a principal character's key scenes without giving proper and due consideration to other vital players.
Marion Macdonald wrote in her 'TV Extra' column in the highly respected Sydney Morning Herald: 'The producer has simply taken all the bits on Franky throughout the series and spliced them together, en-to-end, with ad-breaks to paper over the more remarkable leaps in the narrative. The method is interesting in showing how teh characters in a serial can be changed (from moronic to witty, for instance, from weak to steely) to fit the needs of the script or the prejudices of the scriptwriter. I can't think what else it has to recommend it.'
But the fans loved it and the ratings went through the roof. It was said to be the most VCR-copied telemovie of its time.
<Picture> Franky Doyle (Carol Burns)
about to go on the rampage in the canteen. She has the attention
of Karen Travers (Peta Toppano) and Chrissie Latham (Amanda Muggleton (centre)
but Old Lizzie Birdsworth (Sheila Florance), (second from left)
has seen it all before.