Mug, limited edition slip and box, 'Queen Bea' , silver jubilee commemorative souvenir mug for television series 'Prisoner', ceramic / cardboard, made by Partners in Crime, Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, 2004
On 27 Feb 1979 Grundy Productions' new prime time series Prisoner started a successful run on 0-10. It was created by Reg Watson, and produced by Reg Watson and Godfrey Phillip. It received Logie awards for Most Popular Drama Series and Most Popular Show of 1980. It lasted 8 years (until 1987) and enjoyed high ratings in Australia. It is still one of the most talked about shows across 50 years of Australian TV.
Prisoner was an innovation in the content of drama serial and is unique in world television. A triumph of Australian TV, it has fascinated critics and academics, challenging the social norms about deviance, womanhood and sexual difference. It has a camp image, with wobbly sets and unbelievable storylines but it was a hard-boiled drama serial with dramatic realism, grittiness, and unpleasant issues. It used the soap conventions of big close-ups, zooms and crashing music. It was ahead of its time in many ways. American advertisers boycotted it.
Much of its success was due to the way it presented women. It provided a wide range of strong character roles for Australian actresses. The cast was nearly all female, playing characters who are central without having to purchase it with glamour and sexiness. Not fragile, delicate bodies. Normally tough women on TV have to be glamorous as well eg Emma Peel, Bionic Woman, Charlie's Angels, Xena. Prisoner had no glamorous young models, no sunny beaches, just the grim walls of Wentworth Detention Centre. Shabby prison uniforms, no make-up, wrinkles (eg Lizzie, played by Sheila Florance) , drab and simple sets and costumes. You see the toilets in their cells. It used foul language eg a character called Vinegar Tits. Apart from the orchestrated mayhem of the Roller Game and female wrestling, physical violence (these were not catfights) was unique for women on TV. In Episode 1 (screened 17 Feb 1979), 'Queen' Bea Smith (Val Lehman) crushed Lynn Warner's (Kerry Armstrong) hand in a steam press.
Known outside Australia as Prisoner: Cell Block H, it developed a sustained cult following in Britain, where it even inspired a stage musical, and in the USA, where female bikers held a wake when Frankie Doyle was killed by a bullet trying to escape.
It is remarkable that these new Prisoner souvenirs are still being made 18 years after the show ceased production. No other past Australian television drama program has retained such a level of interest or continued merchandise sales so long after it ceased production. The objects illustrate the Prisoner cult.
The mug is one of a range of Prisoner merchandise available through a website called Partners in Crime, run by Roz Vecsey and Val Lehman (Queen Bea Smith from Prisoner), based in Ballarat Victoria. The range includes souvenir brochures, videos of 'The Great Escape' episode, and items signed by various cast members. The merchandise was created to commemorate the Prisoner silver jubilee in 2004.
The mug was made for the silver jubilee in 2004 of the television series 'Prisoner'. It was purchased new from the Partners in Crime website, Ballarat, Victoria.