Prisoner Cell Block H: 5 key people and some background info for survival

THURSDAY evenings during the late 1980s was when many viewers settled down and enjoyed a visit to Wentworth Detention Centre. Once inside, who can you trust? Maybe you’ll be safe working in the kitchen? Maybe you can’t stand the heat of the kitchen and you’re thrown onto laundry duties where it’s not much cooler. Once you’re on laundry duties, best watch your step: the top dog operates the steam press – get on the wrong side of her and who knows what part of your body will be flattened!

Many of us tuned-in to find out about the happenings on the inside. Who was top-dog? Who wanted to be top-dog? Who’s planning to make an escape? Which warden is a wolf dolled-up as a sheep?

Prisoner Cell Block H was essential late night viewing. The set was a bit cardboardy, but this TV series won quite a few Logie Awards (annual Australian television industry awards) and was fun late night viewing. PCBH achieved cult status as viewers tuned in to grab their late night fix behind bars.

Planning on doing a stint as a prisoner at Wentworth? Here’s a bit of background info to help you keep safe and sane:

Bea Smith. Top Dog and chief operator of the steam press. Inside for shooting her husband. You cross her at your peril. Get on her wrong side and prepared to be beaten to a pulp. A bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character: nice as pie one minute but will smash-you-up the next. There’s only one Bea Smith… remember that!

Vera Bennett. Hard faced, emotionless and cold prison warden who does things by the book. She will sternly tell you to Get back to your cell. She displays that mischievous smile when she putting an inmate in their place. Not sure how she got her nickname Vinegar Tits, but her face certainly swayed towards the sour side at times. Do as you’re told and don’t mess!

Lizzie. Fun old lady and a good mate of Bea Smith. Her laugh is unmistakeable. The fact is that she loves it on the inside. She once had the opportunity to be released but deliberately jeopardised it so she could be back with her inmates. Lizzie is fun, has bags of energy and cannot resist a drop of alcohol. If you’re going to have a secret drink with Lizzie, you risk letting slip private and confidential information, and who knows what that could lead to…

Doreen. A good friend of Lizzie. When it comes to Doreen, you would catch yourself saying Aww or bless. Doreen is a vulnerable soul who needs chunks of advice from Bea and Lizzie. One bit of advice she did not get was regarding the use of a garden fork – it’s for gardening only, not for ramming through your foot! Remember, Doreen is a very close friend of Bea, so be careful what you let slip.

Joan Ferguson. This a case of saving the worst until last. Miss Ferguson is the warden you don’t ever want to cross. She is wicked; she is evil. She’s the kind of person who’d make the devil tremble and dampen his fierce flames. Smuggling, dodgy dealings, double crossing, bullying, organised beatings, the goes on. Keep clear!

Surviving your stint? There’s no time for detailed verbal reports as it’s time to get back to your cell. Soon the prison cell door will slam shut followed by the rattling of keys as you’re locked in. The lights will go out. Darkness and a cell mate will be your only companions until the morning. You may hear some screams, some snoring or your cell mate sleep-talking and revealing their darkest secrets. Hold onto your sanity, take it one day at a time and keep your enemies close. Survival tips for being a resident of Wentworth Detention Centre.

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