Reporters who met Patsy King off the set of 'Prisoner' were in for a pleasant surprise. They'd meet the actress without any trace of Erica Davidson. She would discard the tailored blue suit and neat bun she wore in Wentworth for vibrant coloured dresses and flowing hair. No clipped Governor's voice, either. And Patsy swings her hands and arms around when she talks and gestures. Tidy Governor Erica is very reserved when it comes to body language. 'Yet, she wasn't a stubborn or silly old stick. There was soul, and she did care about regulations and getting the job done with a minimum of fuss,' said Patsy in late 1979.
Fans found it hard to separate Patsy, the actress, from Erica, the character she played so convincingly. Yet, it took only minutes to see Patsy was the antithesis of Erica. 'Actually, 1 love playing the baddie. I keep pleading with the scriptwriters to give Erica more nasty things to do,' she told Daily Mirror reporter, Joanne Sawicki.
She was working for Grundy's on their Sydney series 'Chopper Squad' when they called her in to audition for 'Prisoner'. 'The minute I read the part, I knew it was for me. Of course, it was supposed to be for only sixteen episodes, and while I was happy to have several months' work in Melbourne, where I did all my main stage work with the National Theatre Company, I was thinking about what I'd do after 'Prisoner' finished shooting. Here we are fourteen months later, still in production and the future looks great.'
The second-in-charge at Wentworth, head warder Vera Bennett (Fiona Spence), trod the dimly lit corridors of power with fearful wrath. She possessed hands of steel and a tongue which snapped like a whipcrack. She was sour tempered and had a sadistic streak. Hence the name Vinegar Tits. Vera longed to be Governor of Wentworth. She'd show the world how to run a prison. She thought Erica Davidson too soft, inept at showing the prisoners who was boss and her failure was in not meeting fire with fire.
The prisoners feared Vera Bennett at first and were wary in the extreme, but as the
months passed they found chinks even in her fortress-like armour. Yet Vera was no easy target, and her vengeance could be awful. Only a brave heart or a fool took on Vinegar Tits.
Overall, however, the inmates ran Wentworth. Sure, there was a need for compliance to the basic rules of incarceration, but they often rebelled against many of the demands. There were ways and means of controlling the screws, and that meant you could be in charge of the system. As long-term real-life prisoner and series consultant, Sandra Willson, wrote: 'The screws had eight hours a day to come in, adjust and perform. The prisoners have all day and all night to plan their deals. That's why the inmates are always ahead. The screws can't win.' Many real-life prisoners wrote that they had a Vera in their midst. 'Vinegar Tits is here,' several said in their frequent letters. And signs, mainly hand-written, 'Watch Out for Vinegar Tits', started appearing on prison walls and even made it to staff notice-boards.
There was a balance of sensible administration between Erica Davidson and warder Meg Morris (Elspeth Ballantyne). It was a relationship which had its ups and downs, but drew deserved praise from jail officials. Meg possessed an obvious air of authority and had the ideal composure to be a good keeper. She didn't have the sadistic streak of Vera Bennett. Warm-hearted, sympathetic to many of the inmates' problems, but never a tool of their manipulations, she saw her duty as a two-edged sword. Administer the law and play by the rules a la Governor Erica Davidson, give the prisoners a chance to redeem themselves, pay their dues and get a good re-start in the outside world. Of course, some inmates saw Meg as a softie, ultimately paying the penalty when they tried to play her for a fool.
The savage losses in Meg's life would have swamped others, but Meg seemed
to accept her legacy from being a warder and doing the best she could.
In the end, she and the co-operative prisoners reap the benefits of 'playing
the game and staying within the limits'.
Name: Sonia Stevens
Actress: Tina Bursill
|Sonia Stevens -- later known as 'SS'
-- is a tough cookie. A policeman' s wife involved in drugs trafficking,
prostitution and a standover racket, she wants to be top dog and begins
some monumental confrontations with Bea Smith. Totally unpredictable,
Sonia would turn on her most devoted allies and fellow inmates breathed
a sigh of relief when Sonia made a getaway and was never recaptured.
Norman Yemm appeared as cop Eddie Stevens, Sonia's husband. And his daughter, 17-year-old Jodie Yemm, also appeared as inmate Rosemary Matthews.
<Picture> Vintage stuff from Frankie Doyle (Carol Burns) as she tells Officer Meg Morris (Elspeth Ballantyne) what she'd do with her in a dark and lonely cell ... if she got the chance
When 'Prisoner' got underway, Meg was married to jail psychiatrist Bill Jackson (Don Barker), and they had the knack of being able to leave Wentworth behind when going home. There was a 12-year-old son, destined to get a top education and perhaps become a research scientist, a doctor or lawyer. Bill and Meg wouldn't like to see him in the Corrective Services or Prison Department. Enough of that in the family already.
Bill's counselling and trust within the main ranks of prisoners meant he was able to solve a lot of problems often talking common sense to inmates seemingly hell-bent on carnage. On a couple of occasions he actually got through to Franky Doyle in the high moments of a siege or brawl. He couldn't control her, but he could help with his very special kind of calmness.
So, it was tragedy at its blackest when genial Bill was fatally stabbed by inmate Chrissie Latham during a riot at Wentworth. The blade was plunged into his chest and he died in a distraught Meg's arms. It looked like Meg would opt for greener pastures at a smaller prison, or quit the service. But she and Bill were said to have made a pact that if either died then the other would continue to do the work they'd already given so much to over the years.
<Picture> Prison psychologist Bill Jackson (Don Barker) tries to reason with crazed Frankie Doyle (Carol Burns) as a riot erupts at Wentworth. Bill, Meg Morris' husband, is stabbed to death by inmate Chrissie Latham
Gerard Maguire, 35, essayed the first major male keeper role in 'Prisoner'. There had been several men walking around the place, with little to do and less to say, but except for electrician, Eddie Cook (Richard Moir), Doctor Greg Miller (Barry Quin), lawyer, Steve Wilson (Jim Smillie), and prison psychiatrist Bill Jackson, Wentworth was basically an all-female jungle.
Sydney-born Maguire was best known for his array of TV guest roles in many local series. He co-starred as Samuel Firbeck to Oliver Tobias's Luke in 'Luke's Kingdom', the ABC-TV/BBC series (1974-75). He also guested in 'Bellbird', 'Certain Women' and 'The Truckies', and was much in demand for voice-over work on radio and in TV commercials, a busy and lucrative career that continued even after he first trod the jail corridors as Deputy Governor Jim Fletcher.
The authorities had decided things were getting a little unruly at Wentworth and, while basically pleased with Governor Erica Davidson's efforts, wanted some muscle in the front office and among the increasingly militant inmates. The Franky Doyle bullet-ridden road to eternity and the general increase in violence and riots called for a special show of force, even if that meant a man.
Jim Fletcher's suave appearance - he was a neat, moustached, able-bodied
officer whose uniform
fitted like a glove - at times would serve as a steel-edged reminder of authority and its power to the inmates, but at other times be something of a turn-on for the femmes. And debonair Jim knew it, too....
It was no surprise to learn he was a Viet Vet, said to have been on secret missions, one of which saw him save his unit from decimation when he single-handedly wiped out a gun-nest of VC snipers.
Jim Fletcher had been decorated, and looked every inch an officer no matter which uniform he fitted into - something people would notice the moment he came into sight. He had survived the hellish battlefields of Vietnam and returned home to his beautiful young wife Leila. They had two sons, Matthew (10) and David (5). The Fletchers quickly settled into their new life with the Wentworth appointment. It was obvious Jim's next posting would be as Superintendent or even Governor of either Wentworth, or a bigger prison.
Fletcher's arrival as second-in-command at Wentworth irked Vera Bennett.
Name: Gloria Marshall
Actress: Totty Goldsmith
|Glamorous troublemaker Gloria Marshall was played by the 20-year-old niece of Olivia Newton-John, Totty Goldsmith. Her parents are Rona Newton-John and Brian Goldsmith, founders of the highly successful Melbourne nightclub, Underground.|
been hopeful when officialdom began questioning Erica Davidson's effectiveness as Governor. For a while it looked like Vera might get the top job by default. However, Fletcher's muscle and past record as a strict but well intentioned keeper triumphed, if in fact the penal bosses had ever actually considered the rival merits of the two officers. Maybe all that was only in Vera's mind?
Still, behind all the stories of Vietnam bravery and the ability to administer regulations under pressure, Jim Fletcher arrived at Wentworth with a secret that could cost him his job, even his life. He had been relieved of his duties at his most recent posting, a renowned tough male prison, because of his anti-violence stand, a reaction against Vietnam genocide.
In true 'Prisoner' fashion, Vietnam follows Jim Fletcher to his new
domain in Wentworth when unit buddy Geoff Butler (played by Ray Meagher,
later to become Summer Bay kingpin Alf Stewart in 'Home and Away') decides
to pay a visit. It doesn't take Geoff long to realise Jim is a changed
man from their Vietnam days, but Geoff brightens up when he meets and starts
dating a somewhat nervous Meg Morris (she has always
used her maiden name when working in the prison). It is obvious
Meg is still trying to overcome the horror and ordeal of seeing her husband
murdered in the jail riot. But she is pleased, that a man is showing
<Picture> Wentworth Deputy Governor Jim Fletcher
(Gerard Maguire), brought in as up-front muscle for Wentworth, lost his
wife and two kids to a demented Vietnam buddy's parcel
Things go badly wrong with the budding romance. Geoff pushes too hard with a wary Meg and assaults her. Finding himself in court with Jim Fletcher a witness against him, Butler swears horrific revenge. Calling on his Viet skills, a demonic Geoff builds a parcel bomb and sends it to Jim. The deadly package ends up in a spine-tingling tug-of-war between young Matthew and David Fletcher and, as their mum Leila intervenes, the bomb explodes, killing all three.
Shocked viewers would later rate the bomb deaths as the most traumatic Wentworth event since Franky Doyle's death.
Joyce Barry (a fine, understated role by Joy Westmore) was 'the background warder' in the early phases of 'Prisoner' but, as the series began to swing more of the jailers' lives into full view, Joyce's personal and home problems would be played out, and she soon became much more interesting to viewers. She'd even find a lover.
Judith McGrath also began in the background as Officer Colleen Powell. Once her personal trials and tribulations were unveiled viewers realised a second time that there was a lot more to the women in uniform than they had been led to believe.
Looking back through those 1979-80 episodes of 'Prisoner', the emphasis on characters and storylines was thrust firmly in the direction of inmates Franky Doyle and Bea Smith. Jailers Erica Davidson, Vera Bennett and Meg Morris suffered somewhat from storyline neglect, but this was rectified when John McRae took over from initial producer Ian Bradley. Most of the major cast changes in the next two seasons of 'Prisoner' would be on the right side of the law, among the keepers of the inmates. More and more was happening to the jailers, particularly in their private lives.
The two 'background' officers Joyce Barry (Joy Westmore) and Colleen Powell (Judith McGrath) were being given heavier workloads, although the emphasis was still on Governor Erica Davidson (Patsy King) and Warders Vera Bennett (Fiona Spence) and Meg Morris (Elspeth Ballantyne). The Deputy Governor Jim Fletcher (Gerard Maguire) was by now a short-term proposition.
As Pixie Mason (Judy McBurney) had brought
some fun and levity to Wentworth's cell-block, it seemed a good idea to
inject some humour into the jailers' domain. A male stripper was
smuggled in to a forty-fourth birthday party for Bea Smith, causing
Name: Angela Adams
Actress: Kylie Foster
|Angela is a spoilt girl who rebels against her parents and burns down their house -- with them in it, described by actress Kylie Foster as 'a thoroughly rotten, nasty and real bad seed'.|
<Picture> Patsy King made it to the 300th
episode party for 'Prisoner' to renew acquaintance with her former
cast colleagues. No sign of Governor Erica
Ferguson, and Elspeth Ballantyne was for removed from warder Meg Morris'
usual uniform. (Solo Syndication)
Governor Davidson some red-faced moments. She'd okayed the party for Queen Bea - 'The women need to have fun from time to time' - but not a stripper. The inmates had organised a special diversion to keep the guards busy, and their plan almost worked. In the end, after officialdom had been placated, everyone, including the stripper and the Governor had a few laughs.
It was good to see Erica having a laugh, even at her own expense. She'd been suspended pending an inquiry into her association with a clothing factory operated by Andrew Reynolds (John Lee), which was used as work-experience for a group of prisoners. Following a highly volatile report from Vera Bennett, Erica faced allegations that she had had an illicit affair with Reynolds (actually it was a perfectly natural
SONG OF THE NIGHT
|In mid-May 1989, a worldwide search began
for Sixties and Seventies star Lynne Hamilton, singer of 'On the Inside',
the haunting theme song for the closing credits of 'Prisoner: Cell Block
'On the Inside' was climbing the British charts as the series started grabbing millions of regular viewers on the ITV Network. Explained Ray Levy, the A1 Pop Record Company managing director in London, 'On instinct we released the "Prisoner" theme song single earlier than planned. It started to do very well, but we couldn't find Lynne to help with the promotion. Many people said she was no longer in the business and had retired to be an anonymous housewife.'
In fact, Lynne was basking in the sunshine of the Gold Coast near Brisbane, Queensland, when her family learned the London company was looking for the Lancashire-born singer. 'It was like history repeating itself,' said Lynne. '"On the Inside" shot to number one in the Australian charts ten years ago when "Prisoner" was first aired, and now it's hurtling up the charts in the U.K.' (It eventually reached number four.)
Lynne had already been a successful entertainer in the U.K. and Europe, but was an unknown singer in Australia when asked to record 'On the Inside', written by one of Australia's best known country singer-songwriters Allan Caswell (Oz Country Singer of the Year, 1988). The Grundy Organization had gone to the RCA company and asked for an unknown singer to record the theme song.
'They chose me, the unknown,' quips Lynne, now 40.
Lynne had started singing at the age of 15 in England with a teen backing group The Desperadoes, working and touring with outfits like The Who, the Animals and Freddy and the Dreamers. Then came a four-year stint in a duo, The Caravelles, touring Europe and the U.K. before splitting up. 'My musical ideas were developing, changing. I wanted to keep up with the competition. The other girl didn't agree.'
Lynne decided to try her luck away from the demanding routine of day and night travelling to gigs all over Europe, and headed Down Under to the sunshine and rolling golden beaches of the Gold Coast. 'I wasn't quite 20, had saved 430,000 (£13,760), which was a lot of money in 1971. So, I brought out my mum and two sisters and decided to become my own self-made businesswoman. First I ran a car rental agency, then a lingerie shop, and finally a restaurant, none of them really worked out.
'I ran into an old friend, George Dilanian. He couldn't believe I had stopped singing and took over my management. Then came the RCA call to record "On the Inside". I had an agent, John Hansen, and things looked good when the song became a megahit in Australia. It sold more than 80,000
copies. I was then living in the Sydney suburb of Kilarney Heights to be closer to the hub of the club scene.
'I did a lot of gigs, but the second hit wasn't there, so I moved to the States for three years. Yes, I knew the series was a big hit there, but Patti Page had recorded a slow country ballad of "On the Inside". I didn't have a deal for an American release or residuals, but writer Allan Caswell did. I decided long ago it's no use crying over spilt milk.'
The timing of Lynne Hamilton's recall to
triumph in England couldn't have been better - record producer Mike Howells
said she was in for 'a heap of royalties' - as Lynne had just completed
a new album in Los Angeles. The mother of two daughters made sure she went
to Chorley, Lancashire, for a poignant reunion with her bricklayer dad
Reg. An unashamed 'Prisoner' addict, he is, too.
grown-up relationship). Vera also claimed Erica had used the factory to further her own financial ends. It took the hierarchy weeks to decide Erica was innocent of the accusations.
Twice, when under tremendous pressure, Erica had resigned, but was talked into returning. She also withstood some heavy flak about supposed preferential treatment of a niece sent to Wentworth on drug-related charges. As viewers knew, Erica may have been a little soft in some areas, but she didn't do anyone any favours.
No sooner had it been announced that Gerard Maguire was quitting the show, ["when" omitted in original?] a new female warder, Christine Simmons, was checking the cells at Wentworth. A NIDA graduate of 1970, Kate Sheil was a seasoned actress with ample stage and TV credits ('Bellamy', 'Cop Shop') and had been in a Bruce Beresford movie, Puberty Blues (1978). Her style of operation was by the book and, if you behaved yourself, life would be a lot easier day and night.
Sydney actor Wayne Jarratt, 25, was the second of the full-time male jailers at Wentworth, a dark-haired, hard-working, disciplined player who relished being in his first major TV role. As the cheeky Steve Fawkner, he 'was able to get his teeth into an interesting character role, a ladies' man, with a tendency to break prison rules', said the amiable Jarratt in his first major interview.
Jarratt told Melbourne Herald writer Yasmine Willan his character of Fawkner was 'a little weak at times, but it was a likeable weakness, he wasn't a wimp. Getting involved with a female prisoner was a no-no, for a male guard, but my guy does just that. He romances a really heavy number in former underworld moll Sandy Edwards. Alas, she leaves the scene during an escape in which she gets into a garbage truck unaware the compaction unit is about to be used. Grim stuff, but real.'
Just as 'Prisoner's' new producer John McRae took over the reins and announced a build-up in cast numbers, Vinegar Tits Bennett was about to be written out of the show. Fans were upset and swags of protesting mail arrived at the studio. The switchboard
took more than 100 calls asking Fiona to reconsider her decision. 'Stay a little longer,' the fans pleaded. They'd grown attached to the imposing character who meted out her own kind of justice as she patrolled the Wentworth corridors.
Even one Sydney scribe admitted he would miss her greatly. 'Vera would be completely at home striding through the grounds of Belsen and Auschwitz concentration camps. She does it all so well.'
But there was no keeping Wentworth's resident ogress in uniform. 'I loved playing Vera,' said Fiona Spence. 'But it was time to wash that dame right out of my hair.'
Working out her final weeks, Fiona Spence started to pay particular attention to Vera Bennett's hair-style and lipstick. A new male guard was on the scene - Brendan Wilson (played by former 'Bellbird' regular Brian Hannan, now a very successful voice-over and TV comercials actor) - and he starts to fancy Vera. It is all because of a bet he had with a mate, but in the process he genuinely falls for Vera. Viewers could hardly wait to see how Vinegar Tits handled the kissin' and the cuddlin'.
Fiona Spence was tearful as she did the round of farewells. The Wentworth set had been her home for more than two years. 'We all knew we'd miss her,' said Val Lehman. 'Forget the character, Fi was fun to work with. No one remembers lines like she does. She's off home to sleep this party off, and we'll be back tomorrow with hangovers. That's more like a parting gift from old Vinegar Tits.'
Val herself, along with Colette Mann and Gerard Maguire, was about to take a break to shoot the movie Kitty and the Bagman. So, much of the script was now being thrown at the female jailers. Quipped Colette: 'About time Elspeth, Judy, Joy and Erica got some homework. Happy script-reading, girls.'