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Lizzie Birdsworth (Sheila Florance)

Full name: Elizabeth Josephine Birdsworth. Tough as old boots and in the person of Sheila Florance completely believable and individual. At the start of the series, Lizzie has been in prison for nearly twenty years, after being found guilty of murdering four shearers by poisoning them while she was working as a cook on a sheep station.

Lizzie wasn't initially a front rank character, but seems from the start to have been intended as a useful source of light relief, almost a sitcom character with catchphrases ("Me old ticker") and quirks of gesture and behaviour (the lizard dart of the tongue whenever Lizzie thinks of the booze she can't have).

Comic partners - Doreen, Maxine

Threeway Lizzie Doreen Bea for the first 300 episodes (and indeed the mugshot credit show just these three for much of that period) but Lizzie outlasts both Bea and Doreen (though Doreen does return later)

Pathos as well as light relief and giving the opportunity to explore ideas of institutionalition which were posed at the start of the series through the character of Mum Brooks.

Treated indulgently by the staff - Erica openly so, Jim at a slight distance. Even Vera has a sneaking fondness for Lizzie, and . So if anyone treats Lizzie meanly they are set to lose the other women's (and the audience's) sympathy. As when Franky in an early episode stole Lizzie's teeth to punish her, and Lizzie had to go the dining room without them.

After Doreen is released to the halfway house (70), Lizzie is keen to her out to be with her, and is disturbed when the police seem to be re-opening the case which put her inside in the first place. Lizzie is convinced the police are trying to pin something else on her to keep her inside. Lizzie is finally told about the deathbed confession of Ralph Cambell, the works overseer (87) - although Lizzie had put enough rat poison in her cooking to make the men ill, he had increased the dose to make it fatal so he could keep the shearers' wages and pay off his gambling debts. Lizzie is released (88) and is eligible for compensation.

However, after a while on the outside with Doreen in the first halfway house, Lizzie and Doreen go on a drunken shoplifting spree though only Doreen is arrested and returned to Wentworth (100). Lizzie makes several attempts to get returned to prison to be with Doreen, but in the end she has to flush the magistrate's memoirs down the toilet in order to get a stiff sentence (105).

Captain Barton, the Salvation Army chaplain, who gives Lizzie a day on the outside to examine the Salvation Army hostel where she might go after her release (111). Later, while he is working as the temporary social worker Captain Barton advertises for members of Lizzie's family and gets a reply from a woman claiming to be Lizzie's daughter Marcia (118). Lizzie does not seem to mind when she is exposed as a fraud, and decides to treat Marcia (whose real name is Ellen) and her daughter Josie as her real family. Lizzie uses what is left of her compensation money to pay for an operation for Josie and for the cost of further treatment for her in Chicago.

Lizzie is involved with Judy in trying to bankrupt Kay White to put an end to her running the book in Wentworth. When Kay finds out how she has been set up, she dashes to Lizzie's cell and starts to throttle her, until another prisoner Linda Jones bashes her over the head with a jug kettle (145)

Longterm plot starts in (169) with the introduction of prison handyman Sid Humpreys. The relationship between Sid and Lizzie devops slowly over a long period of time.

Escapes on her own account (186) when she is refused day release and walks back to the prison herself in the following episode

After Sid's death, Lizzie burns down the house so Sid's son can't get his hands on it.

Eventually released to live with her real son, Arthur Charlton and his family. (418).

The writers obviously saw how important it was to have a character like Lizzie, who rarely contributes to dramatic plot lines but is just there. The success of Sheila Florance's characterisation made it difficult to live up to afterwards, though there were several attempts. Dot Farrar was a complete failure as a Lizzie substitute, and Ettie Parslow only partly successful.

As one of the classic characters, Lizzie continues to be mentioned after she leaves, for instance in (498), when Bobbie says of the radio "It's older than Lizzie Birdsworth!" and then again in (499) in connection with the "trial" of Sarah Higgins.

Sheila Florance's obit in the Independant was written by Charles Tingwell and used to be available on someone's website...

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Updated ~ 22 May 1999