27th November 1999
Queen Bea, the Freak and Co stop back inside for a special delivery.
BY themselves, Val Lehman, Rowena Wallace, Paula Duncan, Maggie Kirkpatrick and Cath Gordon are formidable women, but together … well, let’s say they are simply dynamite!
Reuniting for a one-off appearance in the upcoming SBS sitcom Pizza, the Prisoner stars send up the show that made them household names.
“That’s why we’re doing it — to have a laugh at ourselves and the show,” says Val, who, as Bea Smith, ruled Wentworth Detention Centre. “But it’s more a favor to director Paul Fenech. He’s a truly amazing talent.”
Paul, a two-time Tropfest short film winner who also writes, produces and stars in Pizza, says that making a 10-part series on pizza delivery encapsulates Australian pop culture.
Among the TV names appearing are Gary Sweet, Shane Porteous, lan Turpie, Tony Bonner and Barry Crocker.
“It’s like visiting Australian television history,” Paul says. “It’s great.”
While “the girls”, as they call themselves, wait to be called on set to film their scenes, each passing moment is filled with chatter and laughter.
The Prisoner uniforms of drab tunics may be under lock and key, but the denim overalls for Pizza will do nicely. Even the thought of being back behind bars doesn’t daunt this group.
“We spent the first day back together rolling around, laughing and telling some old stories,” says Maggie, who played the notorious Joan “The Freak” Ferguson. “It’s not a great dramatic challenge … and it’s just a hideous look, really.”
Her frankness leaves the other girls in fits of laughter as they proceed to compare their costume of denim overalls and dour green shirts.
“It’s not too bad a look — at least its comfortable and better than the gear in Prisoner,” Val says, laughing.
“I think I’ll leave the heels on,” adds Paula, who played Lorelei Wilkinson. “It’s a much better look than the work boots — and they’re probably more comfortable, too!”
“We were never allowed to wear overalls during Prisoner,” Val says. “I wasn’t allowed to be this butch. The producers said I had to wear a dress.”
Rowena Wallace, who went on to further television fame in Sons and Daughters as ‘Pat the Rat’, says her Prisoner stint as Ann Griffin had her wearing a more actor-friendly wardrobe than the rest of the cast.
“My character was only on remand, so I wasn’t as drab,” she recalls, with relief.
“I had this affinity with a washing machine – it’s all coming back to me,” she says of Ann, a schizophrenic who tossed her friend through the spin-dry cycle!
“I was The Freak’s girl,” Paula says to Maggie. “I was the one she liked.”
“I loved my character,” Val fondly reminisces of Queen Bea. “Wouldn’t you enjoy being right every day of your life?”
Rowena returns to the present and says that she couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of this reunion.
Val agrees. “Walking into a room for a job and seeing all these familiar faces is a wonderful change,” she says. “It’s been an easy job.”
The girls say they would rather leave the past behind and concentrate on future projects, but they can’t forget the part Prisoner played in their lives.
“Prisoner was an absolute turning point for Australian drama and became such a cult classic,” Rowena believes.
“Not bad, considering we were only signed on 16-week contracts initially,” Val adds. “I don’t think anyone could have imagined that, within a year of starting, there would be a viewing audience in America of 39 million people, prime time. We were pioneers.”
“I don’t think the show will ever die,” Rowena concludes. “If we could say why it’s still a success, then we could all retire very happy!”
By Marina Williams
Original content copyright TV Week.