Premiering on Network Ten on 27 February 1979, Prisoner ran for eight years and 692 episodes. Following its immediate success in Australia, the Grundy production became an international hit spawning several remakes and re-imaginings – including the award-winning Foxtel series, Wentworth.
Ground-breaking at the time, Prisoner followed the lives of the inmates and staff at Wentworth Detention Centre. Lehman played Wentworth’s original top dog, Bea Smith, while Muggleton gave life to troublemaker Chrissie Latham.
Millions tuned in each week to see whether Joan ‘The Freak’ Ferguson would finally get her comeuppance. Ferguson was the corrupt officer who unofficially ruled Wentworth Detention Centre with an iron fist.
Prisoner had great success in many territories, particularly the UK (where it was known as Prisoner Cell Block H and even inspired a musical stage show). It generated a short-lived spin-off set in a male prison (Punishment, featuring a young Mel Gibson), a US remake (Dangerous Women) and an award-winning re-imagining (Wentworth – recently renewed for an eighth season on Foxtel).
On Wednesday 27 February, Canberra’s National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Prisoner with the presence of Val Lehman (Bea Smith) and Amanda Muggleton (Chrissie Latham). Join me at NFSA to celebrate my time “on the inside” at Prisoner‘s 40th anniversary,” says Val Lehman.
Amanda Muggleton adds “Want to know what went on behind the scenes in Prisoner? Come and have a laugh with Val and I on 27 February, and celebrate 40 years of Prisoner with us.”
The event will include the screening of an explosive episode of the series and a Q&A with the actresses – as they share their memories of the show, discuss its legacy, and react to their characters’ best scenes.
Also making a special appearance will be award-winning singer/songwriter Allan Caswell, author of the hit Prisoner theme song On the Inside – which launched his career. The track, recorded by singer Lynne Hamilton, reached #4 in Australia in 1979, and peaked at #3 in the United Kingdom 10 years later. It was later covered by Ella Hooper in 2011.
“I wrote On the Inside as the theme for Prisoner in 1979,” said Caswell. “It was the first song I’d had recorded and started a song writing career that is still going strong 40 years later. The link between the show and the song has always been incredibly strong and I am very proud of my association with Prisoner and the amazing actors, crew and writers that built it. I would love people to come and celebrate with us.”
An online collection, featuring rare clips from Prisoner‘s 1981 male spin-off Punishment (starring Mel Gibson) and 1991 US remake, Dangerous Women, is available on the NFSA website. For more information about the NFSA’s 40th Anniversary Prisoner Celebration, visit: www.nfsa.gov.au for details.
Image: A scene from Prisoner (film still) – courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA)