Ann Curthoys and John Docker: 'In praise of Prisoner' in John Tulloch and Graeme Turner (eds) Australian television: programs, pleasures and politics (Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1989, ISBN 0-04-380030-0).

A revised and shortened version of the essay is reprinted as:-

‘Melodrama in Action: Prisoner, or Cell Block H’ Chapter 19 of Postmodernism and popular culture: a cultural history by John Docker (Cambridge University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-521-46598-2 £13.95, 0-521-46045-X £35.00)

The links in the original footnotes lead to the bibliography at the end. My own comments are footnoted [JL1], [JL2] etc.

"The Festival of Light stated that Prisoner does a great disservice to the Department of Corrective Services: 'Staff appear no better than the prisoners. This program breaks down respect for law and order - especially young people watching at 8.30 pm. It includes excessive violence and crude language'" [1]

Prisoner's cultural context

‘Prisoner’ as text

Responses to Prisoner


[1] Australian Broadcasting Tribual, Public Enquiry Report, Licence Renewals, Vol. 1, 1985, p.179. back to text
[2] Sun Herald, 13 July 1986. back to text
[3] In the several paragraphs which follow we have drawn on Albert Moran, ‘Television Drama Series: a Checklist of Titles and Production Companies’, the Appendix to Images and Industry; Television Drama Production (Currency Press, Sydney, 1985) back to text
[4] Moran, Images, p. 153; TV Week, 24 February 1979, p.8; Albert Moran, Making a TV Series: The Bellamy Project (Currency Press, Sydney, 1982), pp. 23-4; Dorothy Hobson, Crossroads: The Drama of a Soap Opera (Methuen, London, 1982), p.39. back to text
[5] Womanspeak, Vol. 4, No. 5, June-July 1979, p.24 back to text
[6] TV Week, 24 February 1979, p.8. back to text
[7] Interview with Ian Holmes, Cinema Papers, No. 24, December-January, 1979-80, pp. 613-15. back to text
[8] Sandra Willson, ‘Prison, Prisoners and the Community’ in S. K. Mukherjee and J. Scutt (eds.), Women and Crime, (George Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 19810, pp 196, 199-200. back to text
[9] TV Week, 17 March 1979. back to text
[10] Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist (University of Texas, Austin, 1981), “Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel”, pp.111-29. back to text
[11] Ian Donaldson, The World Upside-Down (Oxford University Press, London, 1970), Chapter 1. back to text
[12] Peter Stallybrass, ‘”Drunk with the cup of liberty”: Robin Hood , the Carnivalesque and the Rhetoric of Violence in early Modern Europe’, Semiotica, Vol. 54, -1/2, 1985, pp.113-45; Natalie Davis, ‘Women on Top’, in Society and Culture in Early Modern France (Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1975). back to text
[13] Robin Walker, ‘Bushraging in Fact and Legend’, Historical Studies, No. 42, April 1964. back to text
[14] For sympathy for escapees, as in the famous Simmonds and Newcombe case, see Les Newcombe, Inside Out (Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1979); Jan Simmonds, For Simmo (Cassell, Melbourne, 1979). back to text
[15] For a discussion of historians’ images of convict women, see Elizabeth Windschuttle, “Women. Crime and Punishment”, in Mukherjee and Scutt, Women and Crime, pp.31-50. back to text
[16] Anne Summers, Damned Whores and God’s Police, (Penguin, Ringwood, 1975). back to text
[17] Peter Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1976); Bakhtin, “Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel”, pp.111-21. See also John Docker, ‘In Defence of Melodrama: Towards a Libertarian Aesthetic’, Australasian Drama Studies 9, 1986 and ‘Antipodean Literature: A World Upside Down?’, Overland, pp.103, 1986. back to text
[18] See Michael R Booth, ed., The Magistrate and Other Nineteenth Century Plays (Oxford University Press, London, 1974) back to text
[19] TV Week, 9 May 1981. This performance resulted in a one-hour special entitled ‘Prisoner in Concert’ shown on 7 May 1981 at 7.30 p.m. in Melbourne. back to text
[20] Hobson, Crossroads, p.36 back to text
[21] Quoted in TV Week, 14 June 1980. back to text
[22] TV Week, 3 March, 7 April 1979, 14 June 1980; Sydney Morning Herald TV Guide, 30 May and 6 June 1983. back to text
[23] Sandra Hall, Turning On, Turning Off: Australian Television in the Eighties (Cassell, Melbourne, 1981), p.41. back to text
[24] See Michael Poole, ‘The State of TV Criticism’, The Listener, 22 March 1984, on the tone that from early on dominated British TV reviewing: “playful, top-heavy with ‘personality’, aggressively non-specialist. Clive James inherited this tone and became its most accomplished exponent ... Here is a man who knows full well that his real subject is not television but himself.’ See also John Docker, ‘The Culture Police: TV Criticism in Australia’, Hermes, 1987. back to text
[25] Hall, Turning On, Turning Off, p.42. back to text
[26] Susan Dermody, John Docker and Drusilla Modjeska, eds, Nellie Melba, Ginger Meggs and Friends (Kibble Books, Melbourne, 1982), Stern’s argument largely concerns the early Prisoner. See also Diane Powell, ‘Soap’, Third Degree, No. 1, 1985 (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, New South Wales Institute of Technology), drawing on the work of Tania Modleski. back to text
[27] See Robert C. Allen, ‘On Reading Soaps: A Semiotic Primer’, in E. Ann Kaplan, ed., Regarding Television (American Film Institute, Los Angeles, 19830, and Speaking of Soap Operas (University of North Caroline Press, Chapel Hill, 1985). back to text
[28] John Docker, ‘”Unprecedented in History”: Drama and the Dramatic in Television’, Australasian Dramatic Studies, 2 April 1983, p.59. back to text
[29] Christine Curry and Christine O’Sullivan, Teaching Television in Secondary Schools (New South Wales Institute of Technology Media Papers, No. 9, 1980). back to text
[30] Claire Thomas, ‘Girls and Counter-School Culture’, in David McCallum and Uldis Ozolins, eds., Melbourne Working Papers 1980 (University of Melbourne Department of Education, 19800, p 143. See also Patricia Palmer, The Lively Audience: A Study of Children Around the TV Set (Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 19860 and Girls and Television (New South Wales Ministry of Education, Sydney, 1986). back to text

My comments:

[JL1] Yes, I'm afraid they do make a very basic mistake this early on. There were 692 episodes, as I'm sure I don't need to tell anyone. back to text

[JL2] Marie Winter not Winters. back to text

[JL3] The description which follows doesn't seem to me to do justice to Nancy-Banks Smith's style at all. I think her reviews show considerable affection for Prisoner, even while she's making fun of it. Judge for yourself or go back to the text.

Updated ~ 07 September 1997