Friday, 16 October 2009

Prisoner Cell Block H - The Warders of Wentworth

Ages ago, on my old blog, I started writing about Prisoner: Cell Block H. Strewth cobber, I bloody adore this show! My husband and I have been working our way through my entire 692 episode box set - perfect viewing after a long day - we're now up to episode 291 - not too much further to go then - and new n' nasty prison officer Joan Ferguson has just arrived on the scene. Which is the perfect opportunity for me to post this previously unpublished Prisoner fest, concerning the Warders of Wentworth... indulge me, my lovelies!!

Erica Davidson

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you .... Mrs Erica Davidson, the original reigning queen of Wentworth!

Superbly camp, not to say superbly coiffed, governor of Wentworth, in the Googie Withers vein, for the first half of the series. Erica was well-educated, well-heeled and well-spoken in equal measures. Her upper class demeanour and manners kind of set her at odds with some of the other rough and ready characters in Prisoner though and that’s what makes her so hilariously incongruous – like having an upper class home counties housewife from a Noel Coward play pop up on your local council estate. Nevertheless Erica was a staunch but fair governor, dedicated to her profession and often pioneering various work release programmes to improve the lot of the Wentworth women, most of which fell apart in spite of her good intentions.

Erica holds court behind her favourite place - her desk

Standard Erica scenes usually took place in her office, with Mrs D sat behind her desk reprimanding either a prisoner or officer in imperious fashion (she wasn’t afraid to criticise the conduct of her staff) or making an all-important trip to her filing cabinet.

Look, I'm sorry darlings, but I DON'T have any tinnies in my fridge, so just put the guns down, okay yaaaaaah??

She did get her fair share of the drama though - being shot at by terrorists and kidnapped by radical students for instance - one of my all time favourite Erica plotlines leading to some hilarious scenes in which the students break into Erica's house (erm, where they did they find out her address?) take her to a secret hideaway, force her to wear a boiler suit (were they trying to turn her into a lesbo?) and - GASP!! - cut off some locks of her hair!!

And as for a love life, well, Erica was such a professional she barely had time for one. Her first husband was briefly seen in a restaurant, never to return (as actress Patsy King wryly put it, he was probably still there, covered in cobwebs). Then Erica had a fling with factory owner Andrew Reynolds, but that went tits up when it transpired he was still married.

We sometimes saw Erica in her lovely, chintzy home too:

Erica looking rather sulky considering that her blouse matches so wonderfully with her sofa covers ... or perhaps that's the reason why ....

Going back to her job, Erica was also often seen in conference with the “man from the Department” Ted Douglas, played by none other than Harold Bishop from Neighbours, but a much nastier, more officious version and she often received a ticking off from him for f*cking up the prison administration yet again. So much so that in episode 360, she was inexplicably dismissed from her post as governor. Noooo!!

La Davidson back with a vengeance! Back, back, BACK!!

Fortunately this wasn’t the last we’d seen of Mrs D as she later returned as a general representative of the Department, called back to Wentworth to investigate the corrupt regime of new governor Joan Ferguson. Typical Erica lines included: ““May I remind you”. “That will be all, Miss Bennett!” “Thank you” (in appropriate cut-glass tones). Yes she could be a bit of a caricature at times but we loved Erica!

If you want to read an excellent summary of Eric’s character, try here.

And did you know that there is also a blog dedicated entirely to the wonderful (or should I say goddess-like) actress who played Erica, Patsy King? Try here:

It’s a goodie with some fab photos of the lady in question and some Erica/Patsy faces! And I’ve been in email contact with the blog’s creator, Eva, who is a lovely lady!

Ann Reynolds

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you ... Mrs Ann Reynolds!

The second major governor of Wentworth after Erica, Ann stayed with the show until the end. She was a much more toned-down governor than Erica and positively normal compared to her camp (and rather more caricatured) predecessor. That didn’t mean she was boring (although I confess of the two governors, Erica was my favourite). Ann still had her merits and was a good egg with the women’s best interests at heart.

When she first arrives at Wentworth, Ann’s appointment as governor comes as a shock, particularly to officers Meg, Colleen and Joan, who have all applied for the position! Colleen and Ann don’t hit it off particularly well, as Ann prefers to prioritise paperwork over the prisoners, thus leading to conflict between the two. However they manage to resolve their differences. Meanwhile, the conniving Joan Ferguson feeds Ann lots of juicy gossip and unpleasantries regarding her work colleagues, in an attempt to influence her…

Ann getting stuck into her new job by interrogating mullet-headed nasty Nola

Ann proved to be a fair and just governor who, like Erica, attempted to pioneer several prison reform programmes that invariably went wrong – prison fetes, women’s choir outings etc. She also had to face the usual stiff opposition from Joan, who sought every opportunity to supplant Ann as governor. Eventually she gets wise to Joan’s devious ways and is supportive of attempts to get rid of her. One of my favourite scenes occurs after Ann has twigged that Joan is in cahoots with fellow nasty officer, Rodney Adams. Ann calls Rodney into her office and tells him that he'd better watch his behaviour, "Otherwise I'll have you out of here faster than you can say Joan Ferguson!" You go, lady.

On the personal side, Mrs R (or “Reyno” as she became known) endured some problems of her own, one of the most challenging being breast cancer. This storyline was presented quite well, not least due to actress Gerda Nicholson’s sterling performance. And in terms of lovers, Ann fared slightly better than her predecessor, having relationships with half-way house manager Wally Wallis (yes that was his real name) and later a bikie priest, Dan Moulton! Neither attachment lasted long though…We also got to meet Ann’s grown up children from her previous marriage, Paul, a photographer with a Princess Diana hair cut and her hilariously flouncy, prima-donna daughter (and 80s’ style victim - just look at the photo below):

Meg Jackson nee Morris

Meg and "vinegar" Vera - the original warders

The perennially “nice” prison warder and the moral centre of “Prisoner”. Meg was firm but fair and unlike most of the other officers, actually had a positive attitude toward the inmates of Wentworth and was an advocate of prisoner rehabilitation. So much so, that one stage she left Wentworth to become a social worker. Wow-eee.

Elspeth Ballyntyne, who played Meg, also holds the unique record of being the only actress to stay with the show throughout its entire 7 year run, as of course did Meg.

When the show starts off, Meg is happily married to Bill, who also happens to work at Wentworth too as a psychiatrist. Their son, Marty (played by a horrible looking pig-faced actor) doesn’t like the fact that they are spending so much time away from home and rebels. Fortunately he clears off and makes several on and off returns over the years, played by different actors (a classic soap staple). On the last occasion, Marty turns up at Wentworth as a trainee officer, much to his Mum’s horror! However she soon adjusts to the idea…

Saint Meg getting a face lift from one of the Wentworth crims

Whilst it was nice to see a prison officer with a positive attitude, Meg could be a bit of crashing bore and her rather prim, preachy, do-gooder persona (“Mrs Bleeding Hearts Morris” as the Freak once aptly described her) did at times grate. Of course being a soap character, the good ones get punished the most and over the years many bad things happened to Meg – in only the second episode of Prisoner, husband Bill is stabbed to death with a pair of scissors by a jealous crim leaving Meg a widow; her second husband leaves her when he decided he didn’t like having a working wife, a subsequent boyfriend is shot in the legs and permanently disabled, then leaves her, she’s raped, blown up in a disused factory and at one point, even becomes a temporary inmate at Wentworth! Well, happiness in the world of soaps is NEVER eternal. One of the most interesting storylines involving Meg occurs when twisted prison psychiatrist Jonathan Edmunds brainwashes her into becoming a “bad screw”, causing her to start treating the prisoners badly, which includes slapping rebellious Reb Keen. I wish that had lasted a bit longer.

Dear old Meggy-pops also suffered from some baaaaad dress sense. In the early episodes she sports some hilariously tacky outfits including a flared blue trouser suit and other similar style monstrosities:

See what I mean?? By the end of the show’s run she’s looking a bit more “with it” and has got herself a very nice layered 80s “do”:

God bless Saint Meg!!

Vera Bennett aka Vinegar Tits

Vera in a rare, semi-smiling moment

Mentioned previously, the first of the “nasty” screws at Wentworth and possessor of a decidedly sour personality, hence the moniker which Frankie Doyle christens her with. Whilst hardly corrupt in the style of succeeding officer Joan Ferguson, Vera certainly had a permanently negative view of the Wentworth women, regarding them as little more than animals and taking the opportunity to exert her authority wherever and whenever she could. She seldom cracked a smile, preferring to put down the inmates with another snide and unpleasant comment. She was also quite a manipulator and enjoyed stirring up trouble amongst the women (though having said that she could hardly be said to be corrupt like her successor, Joan Ferguson). Of course it all boiled down to psychology and family background – Vera’s Mother was hardly the loving type and much of Vera’s “personal” life revolved around looking after her, giving her very little time for herself or anyone else. Vera’s Mum soon dies leaving Vera all alone.

Vera also has very few successful or lasting relationships with men – the last person she dates before she left the show – fellow officer Terry Harrison – ends up getting shot! Oh woe, thy name is Vera Bennett.

Miss Bennett also had her hair drawn back in a tight bun which she rarely let down – surely symbolic of her personality – and on those occasions in which Vera appears “glammed up” she actually looks semi-attractive, but it doesn’t last (here she is getting spectacularly plastered down her local bar):

Disco diva Vera getting plastered down her local Aussie watering hole

After some 224 episodes Vera leaves Wentworth to become governor of Barnhurst where we can only imagine she relishes cracking the whip even more in her position “at the top”.

Jim Fletcher aka Fletch the Letch

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you ... Fletch the Letch!!

First of the major male “screw" characters who appeared in the early episodes and lasted for a considerable stretch in the show. Tall, slightly ginga and sporting a Freddie Mercury style look (and therefore not the horniest of the male warders for me - Steve Fawkner is surely far more deserving of that category - see below). When Jimbolina first arrives he's a bit of a cold fish and it transpires that he once fought in Vietnam which has had a bit of a traumatising effect on him - cue scenes in a bar with Dr Greg Miller (the prison's resident Doc) downing lots of whiskeys and saying how he's haunted by the noise of the guns and the helicopters ... heavvvvvvy, man. He also has a phobia for blood and the colour red. However in honoured Prisoner fashion these character "elements" soon get totally forgotten and Jim begins to develop into a relatively ordinary individual.

I love the way Blossom's behive stays marvellously intact, even after a heavy sesh with the Fletchster...

The women of Wentworth are somewhat creeped out by him at the start though and keep thinking that he's "perving" on them, hence their delightful moniker "Fletch the Letch". Although it turns out that Jim's married with kids, he has an on-off relationship with his wife and not much later on he sh&gs ex inmate and prozzie Blossom Crabtree (great name - that's her above having bedroom shenanigans with the Fletchster). So the Letch label actually proves true after all - although it's all in the name of getting hold of a key to a safety deposit box - perhaps it could be argued that there's one more than one box involved in this equation however (think about it). In fact Jim has a bit of an eye for the ladies and later on becomes more than a little interested in young and sultry Caroline Simpson when she's imprisoned along with her Mum for stabbing her husband. Then there's Michelle Parks, an athelete Jim takes such a fancy to, he unwittingly helps her find a fake alibi for a crime she DID commit and she gets off scot free. Jim, you drongo!!

Jim and fellow officers Meg and Vera (loving Meg's naff pointing-at-the-bullet holes pose). And Jim looks ULTRA suave with those sexy earphones...

Whilst well played by Gerard Maguire, one of Jim's least appealing qualities was his homophobia. Though not exactly of the tub-thumping "Kill all queers and dykes" variety, he didn't like particularly having Judy Bryant around, owing to the fact that she was a lesbian and thought that she'd try to seduce every female inmate in sight. Very open-minded of you there, Jim.

Fletch does however have his fair share of tragedy when his family are all killed by a parcel bomb planted by none other than Alf from Home and Away (or the same actor, any road). Much later he gets the job promotion he deserves when he's made Governor of a Boys Remand Centre, Beechmont and also giving him the chance to be a kind of surrogate Dad?

Colleen Powell aka Po-face

Colleen was christened "Po-face" because of the, well, po-faced, serious facial expression she frequently wore (though unlike old Vinegar Vera she did actually crack a smile every now and then). She was another of my favourite screws. Famous for her inadequate hair slides and pock-marked face, Colleen started off as a nasty and aggressive prison officer in the Vera mould before gradually mellowing as time went on - it was all dependent on the whim of the script-writers really. Colleen made fleeting appearances to begin with and then evolved into a full time character.

Her first major plotline involved a whinging prisoner called Alison who inadvertently assaults Colleen, causing her to press charges and make her life hell.

Later we found out that Colleen was actually semi-human when we see her husband and kids, including crimp-haired daughter Jennifer who is kidnapped by criminals (always an attempt to “humanise” a character). Things got complicated when one of the kidnappers is put in Wentworth leading to tension for Colleen.

Colleen’s somewhat dry, sarcastic persona comes in handy later on when she and some of the other officers team up against the corrupt Joan Ferguson. It doesn’t work out long term, but she and Meg in particular remain united in their dislike of their trouble-making colleague, particularly when Joan slags off Meg and Colleen to the new governor Ann Reynolds. When Colleen and Meg find out, they are furious and have a go at Joan, who says: "Of course I was forgetting how well we all get on, wasn't I?" to which Colleen retorts: “I’d like to remind the bitch…with a sledgehammer”. Very subtle.

Her most trying times come later when all of her family are blown up by a bomb and she starts drinking on the job to cope (with excellent and convincing scenes from Judith McGrath who played Colleen). Luckily in the fortunate tradition of soaps Colleen lands on her feet when her house sells for a grand amount and she uses the proceeds to go round the world on a cruise.

Joan Ferguson

Ladies and Gentlemen ... I give you ... La Freak! She's unique! She's far from meek! She's tres chic!!

I’ve already written about the fabulous Freak, so if you want to know more, go here.

Steve Fawkner

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you .... Steve "Spunko" Fawkner!!

In a show filled with decidedly unsexy individuals, Mr Fawkner was a veritable sex god. The handsome, dark haired young officer with the cheeky grin arrived after Vera had left and naturally became a favourite with the female inmates, who referred to him as “spunko” amongst other things. Generally good-natured and fair, Steve could exert authority when needed, but made the mistake of having an affair with one of the prisoners, Sandy Edwards, which got him into some strife.

Nice bod, not sure about the Jim Jams ...

The highlight of Steve’s appearances occurred during a prison riot in which the women stripped Steve to his underpants (probably the most miniscule pair of briefs you ever saw) and flung him in a cell. Unfortunately it didn’t progress any further than that as he quickly covered himself up with some jim jam bottoms. Boring!

Steve later exited the programme when he became implicated in a plot to get rid of Joan “The Freak” Ferguson, which went wrong. In order to prevent suspicion falling on his fellow officers, Steve resigns, leaving the show with his trademark smile…

Other officers worthy of a quick mention:

Anne Yates

Ann Yates looking a bit glam (off duty) ...

The first "bent" screw of Wentworth who appeared in the very early episodes. It transpires that Anne's conspiring with a prisoner to bring drugs into Wentworth and she's promptly given the boot. However not too much later Vera happens upon Anne in bar and gets invited to one of her parties - where it turns out she's working as a drug dealer. Then, in the ultimate of ironies, Ann gets banged up in Wentworth as a prisoner. Top dog Bea Smith, never one to take kindly to drug pushers, has a scrap with her, resulting in Ann stabbing Bea, then running off and hiding in one of the laundry's dryers, into which she gets accidentally locked ... and suffocates to death. Not a nice way to go, really.

Joyce Barry

Joyce inducting ... Boy George?!

Comedy element prison officer who started off as a bit part before graduating to full time character. Sported a somewhat severe bob haircut and big spectacles. The character grew more comic over time and rather less than believable as a prison officer e.g. when she later revealed a talent for tap dancing and had an affair with prison cook played by the same guy as Gail Robinson's Dad in Neighbours. Still kind of endearing though and definitely an officer with her heart in the right place.

Sally Dean

Home and Awaaaaaaay!! With you each - oh sorry, wrong soap ...

Trainee officer who was cr*p at her job, tried to imitate Vera and failed miserably. Played by the same actress who later played dopey inmate Daphne and also Pippa Number 2 in Home & Away.

Jock Stewart

I'm sleazy! I'm seriously nasty! And I'm Scottish! (Scottish personages please note: The 3 things aren't necessarily connected ...)

Nasty Scots prison warder and a really unpleasant piece of work. Tried to pressurise Doreen into selling her house, then revealed his sadistic streak when he threw Judy Bryant’s girlfriend Sharon down a stairwell, breaking her neck. Suspended from duty when suspicion fell on him but Jude had the misfortune of running into him twice whilst “on the outside”, leading to some nail-biting scenes. However the sleazy Scotsman got his comeuppance when Judy sprays him in the eyes with an aerosol can and he then falls down a stairwell, leaving Judy to declare: "This one's for Sharon ... and Dor ... and me, and all the women you've bashed and hurt." Way to go, Jude.

David Bridges

Cos you're freeeeee! To do what you want to do!! (As long as I can bump you off in the process...)

Another psychotic male screw (where DO they get them from? Doesn't their Personnel dept know how to vet new staff??) this time with a seemingly “good” persona, espousing the rights of the prison women and how they deserved freedom. In fact his idea of “freedom” was killing the ladies and stashing their bodies in the prison boiler room…Nice. The revelation that David was in fact the killer lead to a thrilling prison garden cliffhanger with Lizzie Birdsworth unwittingly discovering a dead body in the undergrowth, telling Mr Bridges what she'd found and the nasty man himsefl pulling a knife out in front of her declaring: "No Lizzie...not one body...there are now TWO!" Ugggh.

Dennis Cruikshank

'Allo there! I'm from oooop North but now I've gone down under!! (Erm, perhaps that needs rephrasing ...)

A prison officer from none other than Yorkshire, England and a good egg to boot. Ended up having a relationship with another good egg, Meg. Unfortunately this wasn't allowed to blossom when poor Mr C was shot in the legs by a runaway convict and decided a relationship with Mrs Morris just wasn't going to work, so promptly buggered off. Eeeh bah gum!!

And that's it for now, me old maties! Hope you liked it!! I'm off to the dunny for a smoko with Lizzie ...


  1. I never really got into Prisoner... and when I look at clips now it, for some reason, makes me think of Crossroads. Not sure why. Could be they had similar production values (if wildly differing storylines)!

  2. Steve - Well it IS kind of similar to Crossroads - they're both cheesy, with some risible acting and storylines and both have a cult following as well as a certain camp appeal. Plus the same old sets in use. But I should add (in spite of my comment about the risible performances) that there WAS some good acting in Prisoner which could make it rivetting. Honest, cobber!!

  3. Oh my god. Funnily enough, I am watching Prisoner on DVD at the moment - at around the episode 332 count. Nola McKenzie has just come in to the show and I rememeber her being a total terror who scared the living daylights out of me.

    Anyway, this was the most epic Prisoner article I think I have ever read in my life. Make no mistake, Prisoner was AWESOME. The storylines were gripping and utterly complex, plus the episodes were littered with what felt like completely random moments of utter shock and awe. And this was in spite of the sets and the acting. I love Prisoner and this article was a great trip down memory lane.

    And why is it that all the gays still remember Steve Faulkner in his pants? Oh I wonder why!

  4. Thanks Newplanet for your nice comments! Agreed, Prisoner was awesomeness personified (though some MAY disagree....) Well back in the late 80s I guess we gay boys had less to latch onto (so to speak) so a shot of a man in his pants was one of the few things we had to look at ...

  5. Hi Cheeser, I've been looking for something like your blog for ages - great job!
    I live in Switzerland, where the series has never been shown, but members of my family used to tape the episodes for me in the UK, and I saw most of them. However I missed the solution to the mystery over Erica's awful mother. I guessed that Erica was probably her father's daughter but not her mother's - can you please satisfy my curiosity on this point? Im bookmarking your blog, and will look forward t reading it regularly - thanks!

  6. Hi everybody. is a NEW website with all 692 episode of Cell Block H. No annoying adverts or anything either :)

  7. Hi everybody. is a NEW website with all 692 episode of Cell Block H. No annoying adverts or anything either :)

  8. its a shame than steve falkner aka wayne jarrett died in 1988 he was a good man and allways be remembered

    1. he died of a brain tumour at aged 31 so young and hansome if i had one wish id wish him back alive

  9. watch prisoner cell block h in HD on