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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Day 16- 31 Days of Halloween- The Tingler (1959)

Day 16- 31 Days of Halloween- The Tingler (1959)

A scientist (played by Vincent Price with his usual aplomb) discovers an organism that attaches itself to the human spine and feeds on the feeling of fear from the host person. The parasite is known to be present as it makes the spine of the person feel a tingling sensation. For this reason its known as a Tingler.

Add into this premise a plot line involving a couple who own a small cinema, one of whom is deaf and mute and another story strand involving the wife of Price’s character and her potential infidelity.

I was obsessed with the film’s director William Castle as a boy as I had read so much about the gimmicks he dreamt up to make the audience’s moviegoing experience something out of the ordinary and in keeping with a ‘roll up, roll up’ circus host as well as a filmmaker.

The gimmick for The Tingler was for some of the seats in the larger cinemas to have an electrical device attached underneath so that some audience members really did feel a tingling sensation at the end of the film when Price’s character has to announce to the cinema audience within the film that The Tingler is loose in the theater somewhere. Castle also employed planted screamers in the audience and people who were told to faint at specific points. A young John Waters famously went to see this film on its original release time after time but only after checking under every seat until he found a seat that had the device attached.

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As I had read plenty about Castle and his brilliant brand of showmanship it was almost as if this overshadowed the actual films. His films weren’t available in England when I first read about his work and so there was an agonising wait before I could see any of his filmography.

And here in lies his greatest gimmick. For all of the pranks and hoopla, his film’s are actually amazingly made, beautiful to look at and constantly achieve just the balance of terror, kitsch and camp.

The Tingler is no exception. It captures the opulence and majesty of 50’s American living in some scenes (check out the set design) but also a kind of affectionate simplicity of small town life symbolised by the gorgeous little moviehouse.

But then theres the pure hilarity of The Tingler which is obviously a large rubber bug. Its one of the funniest scenes in the movie when Price tries to convince fellow characters that The Tingler could in fact kill a man effortlessly and quickly. But then thats the magic of Price- a camp knowingness and deadpan delivery. A raised eyebrow from him says more than a hundred lines from an inferior actor.

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Even the introduction from Castle could be evaluated as high art if it was viewed merely as a short film rather than as an intro to his movie. The filmmaker warns people of what is to come and that they should scream for their lives if they experience what is being played out to them on the screen.

High art. C’mon Criterion- release a William Castle boxset already.

Day 13- 31 Days of Halloween- Friday the 13th Part 4- The Final Chapter

Day 13- 31 Days of Halloween- Friday the 13th Part 4- The Final Chapter

I remember seeing this on video at a friends house back in the day and being so freaked out that I had to ask his Dad to walk me home. I was 12 years old. Them were the days.

After the camp of Part 3 this film gets back on track and is resplendent with really vicious kills courtesy of Tom Savini.

Part teen drama, part TV movie about life after separation, the film then becomes what it says on the tin- a nasty 80s horror movie with our friend Jason bumping off the most irritating kids known to man. The film has a very serious and grave tone throughout that precedes the fucked up ending.

Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover both star in this relentless rollercoaster of gore.

Watch for the machete slide scene. This was cut from the original UK video release and is well wirth the price of admission.

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My favourite Friday the 13th movie and the end of Fridays imperial phase.

4 out of 5

Phantasm Remastered Bluray Specs

Phantasm Remastered Bluray Specs

Here are the Phantasm Remastered Bluray specs courtesy of the preorder at Diabolik DVD

Phantasm (Remastered) (Blu-Ray)
BLU-RAY BONUS FEATURES:
**New 5.1 Surround Sound
**Original Mono Track
**Audio Commentary with Director & Writer Don Coscarelli, Michael Baldwin (Mike), Angus Scrimm (The Tall Man), and Bill Thornbury (Joan)
**Graveyard Carz Episode
**Interviews from 1979 with Don Coscarelli and Angus Scrimm
**Deleted Scenes
**Trailers

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The Omen (1976) – Day 18 – 31 Days of Halloween

The Omen (1976) – Day 18 – 31 Days of Halloween

The Omen aka Donald Trump: The Childhood Years

An American diplomat adopts an orphaned child whose mother died at birth unbeknowst to his wife who has just given birth to their (supposedly) stillborn son. Their new child however is the Antichrist. Hilarity ensues. Just kidding.


This film is perfect in many ways. Direction, cast, cinematography, music, screenplay. If ever it feels like the movie could curdle into camp it then reins itself in. The scariest horror movies deal with the huge conflict between good and evil. Us mere mortals are in no position to scoff or deride such things. This is one of the many reasons why this movie is so bonechilling.

Whilst I could name all of the performances I love in this film I would just be reciting the entire cast list. My favourite performance? Damian himself. He says very little but his performance is flawless. And watch for his facial expression at the very end of the movie when hes looking directly at the audience. 


The Antichrist is adopted into the world of politics. Makes you think doesn’t it?
4 out of 5 

The Pit (1981)- Day 5- 31 Days of Halloween

The Pit (1981)- Day 5- 31 Days of Halloween

This film should be filed under ‘Uncategorisable Gem’.

Lead character is twelve year Jamie. Hes obsessed with sex, his only friend is an evil teddy bear and he knows if a pit inhabited by a pack of mutant trolls called trolologs. Just your average movie plot.


This movie is so brilliantly written complete with quirky characters that its a joy to behold. The acting is pitch perfect and the feel of the movie resembles an after school special directed by John Waters.

Apparently this is to be released by Kino Lorber on Blu ray soon. Sign me up.
4 and a half out of 5