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Series / Prisoner: Cell Block H

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An Australian soap opera set in Wentworth Detention Centre, a women's prison. It ran for 692 episodes from 1979 to 1986.

Although sometimes the object of derision for its infamous shaky sets, Prisoner: Cell Block H is a cult show, and it found success not only in Australia, but also the United Kingdom, USA and Sweden. It also spawned two successful stage spin-offs.

A Darker and Edgier and supposedly more serious Continuity Reboot (officially not a Remake), called Wentworth in Australia and Wentworth Prison in other markets, began airing in 2013.


This show provides examples of:

  • Alpha Bitch: Or, in Prisoner parlance, Top Dog. The Top Dog is the boss of the prisoners - controlling things as she sees fit. The position of Top Dog was usually the preserve of the smartest and toughest, and much sought-after. 'Good' Top Dogs usually serve as a kind of protector of the prisoners. 'Bad' Top Dogs might be in league with corrupt 'screws', or simply run rackets to line their own pockets.
  • Berserk Button: Doing time for dealing drugs? Better not let Bea Smith find out. Any kind of cruelty towards children is pretty much a shared berserk button for the prisoners.
  • Breakout Villain: Arguably, Joan 'The Freak' Ferguson. Introduced in episode 287, she is probably one of the show's most recognisable faces.
  • Broken Bird: A common trope for many of the prisoners. Vera Bennett is a good example of this among the officers. Seemingly cynical and severe, Vera's problems all stemmed from her horrible mother's bullying.
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  • Butch Lesbian: Franky Doyle was the first. Joan Ferguson is another example.
  • Code of Honour: No lagging!
  • Cross-Cast Role: Notably, Chrissie Latham's daughter Elizabeth is played by a baby boy.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: A frequent explanation for how the women ended up in prison. Paddy Lawson's mother was a cruel disciplinarian and locked her in a cupboard, which led to her claustrophobia and violent outbursts. Chrissie Latham's father sexually abused her. Bea Smith's daughter died of a drug overdose after her neglectful father kicked her out of the house. Joan Ferguson's corrupt ways and hatred of prisoners stemmed from the murder of her inmate girlfriend.
  • Dirty Cop: Jock Stewart and Joan Ferguson are the most notable examples.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Vera's usual response to any overtures of sympathy or friendship
  • Driven to Suicide: We see this in the very first episode.
  • Driven to Villainy: Again, a frequent backstory for the women. One notable example is Nola McKenzie, who married young to escape her alcoholic, deadbeat family, only to find herself married to an alcoholic deadbeat who cheated on her and knocked her about. Couple that with a stultifying existence in the sticks, and you have a recipe for disaster.
    Nola: Have you ever lived on the Nulabol? There's nothing out there except lousy scrub and the trains going past. I used to stand on the veranda trying to keep the dust out of my eyes, watching the Indian Pacific go past. All those people going somewhere. And me, stuck in the middle of nowhere
    Chrissie: So why didn't you hop on a train and clear off?
    Nola: What with? He kept me broke. He blew every cent we had on booze
    Bea: And so you blasted him?
    Nola: Yeah. He was sittin' on the verandah crackin' tins by the dozen. It was stinkin' hot. He told me I stank. He laughed and called me a filthy slag. So I got his rifle, and I just kept firing\\.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Officer Fletcher might have had the military background, and initially seemed strict - but let's not pretend - this role belongs to Joan Ferguson.
  • Evil Gloating: Joan, frequently.
  • Get into Jail Free: Judy Bryant does this in order to keep her relationship going with Sharon Gilmour
  • Girls Behind Bars: Probably the best-known example, excluding Orange Is The New Black
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Lots of these among the women. Two examples are: Chrissie Latham (if we overlook that one murder) and Marilyn Mason
  • Institutional Apparel: Wentworth inmates wear checked shirts and denim outfits.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: The women fake this in order to try and convince the other officers that Ferguson is plying Hannah Simpson with luxuries in exchange for sexual favours.
  • Mark of Shame: Carried out by two Top Dogs. Bea brands 'K' for killer on Nola's breast with a soldering iron as revenge for Paddy's murder. Myra brands an 'R' for rapist on Frank's forehead as revenge for Pixie's rape.
  • Market-Based Title: The original Australian title was simply Prisoner, but in other markets the title was expanded to avoid confusion with The Prisoner.
  • Mugshot Montage: Played out in the intro.
  • No Theme Tune: The show always opens with a brief recap, and then mugshots of a couple of the prisoners, with only the sound of a camera clicking. The theme tune used at the end, 'On the Inside', got to number 3 in the UK charts in 1989.
  • The Old Convict: Lizzie Birdsworth.
  • Prison Riot: Almost too many to mention. The most notable takes place in an early episode, when Bea and Franky's rivalry reaches boiling point.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Meg Jackson/Morris, without a doubt. Even her anger towards the women after her husband's murder only lasted a couple of episodes.
  • Serial Killer: Bev 'The Butcher' Baker.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Karen Travers, who killed her adulterous husband in a sort of fugue-like state. Hard to feel very sorry for Bea Smith's husband, too. There's also 'Mum', who helped her terminally ill husband commit suicide.
  • Situational Sexuality: Franky Doyle introduces herself to Karen Travers by telling her that she [Karen] will learn to enjoy prison.

Alternative Title(s): Prisoner


Example of: