Article- The Motherlode: Prisoner Cell Block H on ITV

Article- The Motherlode: Prisoner Cell Block H on ITV

30 years ago to the day something extraordinary happened. Let me elaborate. I grew up in York in the UK. My local TV station was Yorkshire Television who were the first UK regional station to transmit twenty four hours a day. Because of this during the night and early hours of the morning they would show some of the most eclectic fare imaginable. One night they might show Spawn of the Slithis, another they might show a Warhol movie, the night after it might be a series of rare Scorsese short films. In between whatever they showed they would transmit 70’s and 80’s Public Information Films and ads for sex lines.

It’s Monday 3rd Oct, 1988. I forget what I was recording on my VCR but it was what was after it that made my jaw hit the floor. I was suddenly watching a late 70’s/early 80’s drama depicting Australian women in denim serving time in a Melbourne prison. The programme was of course Prisoner Cell Block H, a programme that I had seen listed plenty of times but never thought of taping to investigate. For a fan of exploitation cinema and cult movies the discovery of this programme was the equivalent of hitting the jackpot. This was also my first taste of ‘Ozploitation’.

This first episode that I watched was (I later found out) episode number 125. This was a great point in the whole trajectory of Prisoner’s history to start watching it. At this point Prisoner had just entered it’s ‘Imperial Phase’- characters had been clearly defined and established, there was a firm nucleus of these characters who the audience recognised and had grown to love. Hence there were viewers favourite prisoners (Bea, Lizzie, Dor and relative newcomer, Judy) and favourite ‘screws’ even if some of them weren’t goodies (Vera ‘Vinegar Tits’ Bennett is far from a pleasant character but audiences loved her being vile and sour just as much as they did fellow officer Meg Morris being all ‘sweetness and light’). These characters were eagerly watched by viewers as they moved through different situations and encountered opposition from various characters who entered their orbit.

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The Imperial Phase- familiar characters loved by the audience

This was also a great episode to act as an introduction as it featured one of Prisoner’s greatest characters- Noeline Burke. If you want to experience how brilliantly funny, well written and acted this inmate was then please do investigate her scenes here.

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Noeline Burke. Genius, just genius.

I started to watch every episode after this. I had my fingers crossed that this first episode that I had recorded by mistake wasn’t some kind of fluke. I was relieved to find out that it wasn’t. Every episode was consistently brilliant. The characters were hugely likeable, the dialogue crackled with character and the storylines were by turns intelligent, perceptive, daring and sometimes downright outrageous. I was looking for sex, violence and gritty fare. I had found the motherlode for this in Prisoner Cell Block H.

Yorkshire TV’s history of showing Prisoner (as it was called in Australia) was very good. They were the first UK regional TV station to show the programme in the UK.

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Original TV listing for the first episode showing of Prisoner on Yorkshire TV, Monday 8th Oct, 1984

They had started showing it in 1984 when the programme was still being made and shown in Australia (it ran from 1979 until 1986 in Oz).

My friend who I had grown up with had actually told me about seeing the first episode when it was first shown and gleefully regaled the plotline to me involving the ‘baby that was buried alive and found by tracker dogs just in time’.

After watching Prisoner for several months on Yorkshire TV I suddenly had a brainwave- what if other regions had started showing Prisoner from different time-points. One region could have just started showing it from the very beginning whilst another might be up to a later point in the programme’s history. I had another TV aerial which allowed me to watch programmes on another regional station (Tyne Tees). I found out that they showed Prisoner on a Thursday as opposed to the Monday in Yorkshire. When I tuned in I was astounded to find out that they were showing episode 30 and so I had the luxury of almost starting from the beginning of the programmes history.

In no time Prisoner was starting to gain popularity as seemingly everyone from students (Prisoner regularly featured in the NME end of year Reader’s Poll in the Best Programme category) to OAPs started to religiously tune in every week. There were estimates that weekly viewing figures for the programme in the UK ranged from anywhere between 3 to 10 million. When shown in America it had primetime viewing figures of 39 million.

But there were still those who didn’t get the programme and just saw it as cheap trash. They probably came to see Prisoner after hearing that it was another Aussie soap and so surmised that maybe it would be like Neighbours and Home and Away. Rumours of wobbly walls started around this time. Which is very strange as Prisoner was filmed in the headquarters for Channel 9 the company that made it in Australia. And for what it’s worth, I’ve watched Prisoner in it’s entirety several times. It may have been rushed in places (and these occasions were few and fair between) but Prisoner was shown twice a week in Oz- thats two hours of telly to be made and so the cast and crew never had the luxury of multiple takes and plenty of time to shoot these in.

Also, if you watch other soaps from this time period you will see similar techniques, imperfections and production practices at play. I’ve seen shaking sets and moving bannisters/staircases in Coronation Street before. But then maybe this is why Prisoner was criticised as sub-par or cheap in the early days of it being shown on ITV- it’s Australian and maybe this was pure snobbery on the parts of the minority of British critics and viewers who didn’t like it. The same criticisms would never have been levelled against home-grown fare.

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To understand Prisoner and enjoy it is not just to recognise the conventions of the ‘Women in Prison’ sub-genre but also to understand ‘cult’ viewing in the first place. Prisoner is so sophisticated that it can fit into multiple categories with their own viewing demographics all at once- soap opera, drama, exploitation vehicle with heightened storylines and a pessimism/realism not seen on many other TV programmes at that time.

Another great thing about Yorkshire TV showing Prisoner before any other region was that they didn’t think to check the programmes content. When word spread that there were some scenes or storylines that were close to the bone and needed to be possibly cut, they had already been shown on Yorkshire and devoured by yours truly. Hangings, decapitations, brandings, shootings- they all featured and in many cases in graphic detail.

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Even 30 years on Prisoner Cell Block H is still my favourite TV show. Do yourself a favour- if you’re a fan of all things exploitation, ‘cult’ and extreme watch Prisoner. You’ll be glad you did.

All of the episodes of Prisoner are on YouTube. Start here.

My Prisoner clip YouTube channel is here.

Yer bloods worth bottlin’.

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Review- Snapshot (1979)

Review- Snapshot (1979)

I first learnt of this film as it was called The Day After Halloween and marketed as a sequel to John Carpenter’s classic. It isn’t. But it’s still a really interesting movie.

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I came across this soundtrack whilst browsing for vinyl in the mid 90’s in London. I didn’t know of a film that had cheekily billed itself as an unofficial sequel to Halloween.

Angela (played by Prisoner Cell Block H’s brilliant Sigrid Thornton) is persuaded to ditch her low paid hairdressing job and enter the world of modelling. Nude modelling.

This could have been a generic ‘nice girl gets led astray’ film but it isn’t. Theres too many genuinely unexpected twists and turns for it to be predictable. An example- Angela is stalked throughout the film by her creepy ex-boyfriend- who just so happens to drive a pink ice-cream van!

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There’s an air of unease and menace that runs through the whole film that gives it a truly unsettling feel.

Watch out for the ending- it’s very unsettling indeed.

4 out of 5

Review- Not Quite Hollywood (2008)

Review- Not Quite Hollywood (2008)

This is such a great documentary about Ozploitation films (exploitation films made in Australia).

All the great films and sub-genres are here- the bawdy Ocker comedies, the slasher movies, the films for petrolheads.

The main players are all interviewed and show that making these insane films was just as insane in real life.

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I’m so glad that so much attention was devoted to Brian Trenchard-Smith. I think Turkey Shoot is the greatest Aussie film ever (take that Picnic at Hanging Rock).

But it’s not just Aussies who are interviewed. Jamie Lee Curtis and others are interviewed as they starred in prominent Ozploitation movies. Quentin Tarantino features as he’s a massive fan of the genre.

This doc is great for beginners and the already initiated alike. Theres so many films named that I hadn’t heard of that I’ll now be hunting down. Job done.

4.5 out of 5

Take The Red Pill. Do it now.

Take The Red Pill. Do it now.

As its International Men’s Day I thought I’d review a documentary that I saw a few days ago.

How did I learn of The Red Pill? Thats a journey in itself…Someone tried to bully me in my place of work for being openly gay (note the word ‘tried’. I fought back and have never seen myself as a victim. I’m a fighter). However, in the midst of what was happening to me I began to suffer from clinical depression. The panic attacks that I had kept at bay since the age of 13 were now out of control and I began to experience suicidal thoughts on a daily basis.

It was whilst suffering from all of this that I began to research the issue of suicide and learnt that 75-78% of suicides are male. This fact shocked me massively.

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And so from looking into male suicide I learnt about The Red Pill. The title is actually a reference to the movie The Matrix ”in which the protagonist is offered the choice of a red pill, representing truth and self-knowledge, or a blue pill representing a return to blissful ignorance”.

I knew that the film was seen as controversial to some people with some feminists wanting it to be banned.

So is this film about the Men’s Rights Movement a rancid cesspool of anti-feminism rhetoric, a film that only conveys views from rape enablers that are fundamentally anti-women? Of course not. The film is amazingly balanced with Men’s Rights activists finally given a platform as well as feminists on the same topics. I had never heard these Men’s Rights advocates speak before which is also very telling. The audience is granted a modicum of intelligence with which they can make up their own mind.

Topics raised and discussed include male suicide, the lack of funding for male health conditions such as testicular and prostate cancer, the custody battles that fathers go through, the male victims of domestic abuse…the list goes on. These are all issues in which there is no equality between the sexes with men coming out disadvantaged.

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The documentary itself is amazingly made by filmmaker Cassie Jaye. She presents a well rounded and perceptive documentary that is balanced, fact-based and free from hysterical amateur dramatics. The documentary flows effortlessly and you feel like you want to see more when it finishes. Thankfully there are uncut and unedited interviews from the film on YouTube. And whilst you’re on YouTube look up Cassie Jaye’s videos. Especially of note are the interviews given to the Australian media who had never even seen the film (they claim that Ms Jaye hadn’t supplied the film for them to see when in fact she had and several times. Ignorance is bliss, Andrew O’Keefe) but called it misogynistic and hateful. This is clear proof that they had never seen the film as The Red Pill is neither.

But it seems that others are also taking The Red Pill. Taste of Cinema had a list of their favourite documentaries on their website recently. The Red Pill featured in that list. And it fully deserved to be there.

I’ll finish this review by reiterating the fact I quoted earlier. 75-78% of suicides are male. 75-78%! These conversations regarding men’s issues need to be had before there are many more casualties. And I speak from very bitter experience. The Red Pill starts this process of discussion and discourse in a brilliantly balanced and intelligent way. Thank you, Cassie Jaye.

 

Day 21- 31 Days of Halloween- Patrick (1978)

Day 21- 31 Days of Halloween- Patrick (1978)

A gorgeous slice of Ozploitation that is extremely well made, acted and written. A young man named Patrick is in a coma after killing his parents three years earlier. A new nurse named Kathie has been assigned to tend to him and they strike up a relationship through a typewriter that Patrick can telekinetically control and through the only bodily function that Patrick can control- his ability to spit (one for yes, two for no). Strange things start to happen in Kathie’s life regarding the husband shes recently separated from and the doctor shes just started seeing. Could Patrick be responsible?

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I love a movie in which the lead character is in a coma but strangely gives a great performance in that state. In fact all of the cast are great and if you’re a fan of Australian TV then you should be able to recognise most of the actors. I recognised the actors who played Captain Barton the Salvo Army man, Evelyn Randell and Irene Zervos from Prisoner Cell Block H.

The setting of the sinister hospital wouldn’t be out of place in an early Cronenberg film. The building seems to constitute another character in this film and a very foreboding one.

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This is a favourite film of Quentin Tarantino, fact fans.

4.5 out of 5

Top 10 Outrageous Prisoner Cell Block H Moments Video

Top 10 Outrageous Prisoner Cell Block H Moments Video

As some of you may know I’m a huge Prisoner Cell Block H fan. I actually think its the best TV series ever made. If you’re into cult film, cult TV or video nasties/exploitation cinema then chances are you’ll love Prisoner.

I’ve just made a video documenting some of the most outrageous moments from the series.

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All the juicy stuff is present and correct- drugs, lynchings, murders and brandings. Theres even a sequence that will have you shaking your head in disbelief.

The videos here. But beware- its not for the faint hearted!

Top 10 Prisoner Cell Block H Characters

Top 10 Prisoner Cell Block H Characters

I’ve just created a video of my Top 10 Prisoner Cell Block H characters.

The videos here.

For those of you who don’t know I’m a huge Prisoner fan. I actually think its the best TV programme ever made.

Yes, this is Meathook Cinema but with Prisoner being Cult TV at its finest I have no problems with extolling its virtues.

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Coming soon- a mammoth article on the programme and why its so vital to anyone with a taste for brilliant popular culture.

Now, I’ll have ten bucks on Fancy Nancy running in the 2.10 at Kiteton. I hope you’re not a piker…