Performance costume, prison guard's uniform, cloth / metal / plastic, various makers, worn on the television series 'Prisoner', Australia, 1979-1986
This prison officer's uniform was used in the serial drama 'Prisoner', which remains one of the most talked about shows across 50 years of Australian television. No other Australian drama program has retained such a level of interest for so long. Unique in world television, it enjoyed high ratings, puzzled critics, fascinated academics, was sold to overseas markets and created its own cult.
In 1973 a points system was added to the government-imposed local content quota for TV networks, in which drama scored higher than quiz or variety. This change, and the success of the series 'Number 96', brought a deluge of locally made serials to commercial TV. In 1974 game show producer Reg Grundy launched his first drama, 'Class Of '74', a five-night-a-week teen soap. It paved the way for a string of successful drama serials for the Grundy Organisation. 'Glenview High', 'The Restless Years', 'Sons & Daughters' and 'The Young Doctors' were early evening family viewing, where sex was implied but rarely explicit. By 1979 thirteen hours of new serial drama were broadcast each week.
On 27 February 1979 Grundy's prime time series 'Prisoner' commenced on the 0-10 network. It was created by Reg Watson and produced by Reg Watson and Godfrey Phillip. Set in a tough women's prison called Wentworth Detention Centre, 'Prisoner' was an innovation in the content of a drama serial. It gained a large following in Australia and received Logies for Most Popular Drama Series and Most Popular Show of 1980. Production ceased in 1986 after 692 episodes.
'Prisoner' challenged the social norms of deviance, womanhood and sexual difference. It is remembered for its dramatic realism, physical violence, grittiness, lesbianism, confrontation of unpleasant issues, and its humour. Unlike other soaps, 'Prisoner' had no glamorous young models, no sunny beaches, just the grim walls of Wentworth. It provided many strong character roles for Australian actresses, without resorting to glamour and sexiness. The prison uniforms were shabby, make-up was minimal and the sets were drab and simple. Viewers even saw the toilets in the cells. Inmates used foul language, such as the nickname given to the Deputy Governor Vera Bennett, 'Vinegar Tits'. Despite the unbelievable storylines, it had a gritty realism and a sense of compassion for the predicament of the inmates. Dramatic moments were underscored by close-ups, zooms and crashing music.
Known outside Australia as 'Prisoner: Cell Block H', the show was exported to over 15 countries. It developed a sustained cult following in Sweden, in Britain, where it even inspired a west end stage musical in 1995, and in the USA, where female bikers are said to have held a wake when Franky Doyle (Carol Burns) was killed by a bullet after escaping from Wentworth. In Germany, Grundy's 'Hinter Gittern' ('Behind Bars') was based on recycled 'Prisoner' scripts. Interest in 'Prisoner' has endured. The show has inspired fanzines with names like 'H Block Herald' and 'Blockade'. A 174 disc boxed set containing every 'Prisoner' episode was due for Australian release in late 2007.
Australia has excelled at making fast-paced soaps with a balance of melodrama and humour. Soaps are a staple of weekday Australian television, commanding the loyalty of audiences who adhere to a daily habit of TV viewing and understand the plot history. A shared passion for a soap can bring a sense of peer group community and act as a social lubricant. Long-running soaps have been a reliable way for networks to reach Australian drama content quotas.
The jacket and skirt were made in Melbourne by Work in Style Pty Ltd. The shirt was made in Melbourne by Solomon Brothers.
The uniform was possibly worn by minor character Di Hagen, played by actor Christine Andrew. It was found later in a box at Channel Ten in Adelaide and sent to the Marketing and Publicity Manager, Network TEN, Melbourne, who passed it on to Michael Idato of the Sydney Morning Herald.