TV Week
10th December 1983

Four years as Officer Powell is ending for actress Judith McGrath

PRISONER STAR Judith McGrath — one of the most popular members of the cast — has quit.

And that means Wentworth Detention Centre will lose its deputy governor.

Judith’s role — Officer Colleen Powell — will be a big loss to the Ten Network, although she will be seen on screen until well into next year.

She finished work in the studio on December 9, although the rest of the cast continues until December 23.

“That’s when my contract winds up,” she said, explaining that she wanted to visit home in Brisbane to organise her Christmas shopping.

Judith has been with Prisoner, initially on an irregular basis, for about four years.

“I’m desperate to do something different.”

“For the first couple of years I used to drift in and out,” she said, but when Fiona Spence (Vera Bennett) left the show, Colleen became a regular.

“I’ve been contracted for the past two years, and I must say Prisoner has been great for me.

“Working in what has to be basically formula TV does bring its own challenge. There are times when you’re making unlikely scripts work and it can be rewarding.

“They haven’t had to sustain a character for such a length of time before; it was a different method of working for me.

“But after a while it does start to lose its lustre. The same situations keep recurring.”

Judith says she has been thinking for some time about leaving the series.

“Perhaps last year might have been the time to go.

“But being in a series like Prisoner does give you security that comes with a nine-to-five job; mind you, ours is a pretty much extended nine-to-five,” Judith said.

“I always thought that when the character had developed and relationships with the other characters had been explored to their full extent that would be the time to get out.

“I felt I would rather leave before boredom, resentment and frustration set in. I’m certainly not saying Prisoner isn’t creating something, but I don’t know where to take Colleen now.”

Judith began her acting career in Brisbane with the Twelfth Night Theatre and studied mime, dance and drama in London.

She returned to Australia after three years in London and Europe and rejoined the Twelfth Night company, doing everything over the next 12 months from Shakespeare to children’s shows.

She moved to Melbourne, working with the Melbourne Theatre Company, the Playbox and Alexander Theatres as well as appearing in Skyways and Young Ramsay.

And she says she’d like to get back to the theatre.

“I’m interested in doing anything. It’s a big open field out there and I don’t think we (as actors) can afford to specialise.

“I’m desperate to do something different.”

Colleen Powell is not going to make a dramatic final exit.

“Colleen’s going overseas, I think. It’s a good way for her to go.”

Would Judith consider returning to the series?

“It’s hard even to contemplate how I’d feel about coming back. I’ll just take things day by day,” she said.

Judith has no immediate plans for a new role.

“This is an insecure profession. But I always think when an actor does his best work, that the best performances come when you’re putting yourself on the line.”

PATRICE FIDGEON

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