Between 1980 and 1985, American-born actress Betty Bobbitt could be seen on Australian TV in the Grundy Television Production of 'Prisoner' playing the part of inmate Judy. Betty spoke to 'TV Week' back in 1982.
Jacqui Johnson: Do you think your accent or anti-American feeling has made it harder for you?
Betty: It did in the early days, but it doesn't anymore. 'Prisoner' never presented a problem to me and the same applied to the film I did recently (in 1982), 'The Clinic'. My accent was never discussed, and that's good because this is a migrant country. About 20 years ago (back in 1960) there wasn't a good feeling about Americans in Australia and you had to prove yourself. But now (in 1982) Australia has a lot more going for it and it's a better place to live in than America.
Jacqui Johnson: Look back over the 20 years (from 1960 to 1982), did you ever think of leaving Australia?
Betty: Yes. It never had to do with my acting career, though. When I was in my early 30s, I wasn't coping very well at all with my private life. My marriage was completely dissolved and I had a 4-year-old son and I thought what am I going to do with my life? … I was married to a very well-known artist who lives in America. We got on very well and we never argued about show business.
Our problem was a growth thing. We grew together over a few years and he changed and so did I, and we no longer wanted to live together … So I thought I should go home. But this was ridiculous, because my parents had died and my home was really in Melbourne. It was a very hard time for me then. My closest friend is a librarian. Actor Gary Down is a close friend, and Colette Mann, Val Lehman and Jane Clifton are very good friends. But I do like all the 'Prisoner' cast.
Jane Clifton played inmate Margo told Patrice Fidgeon of 'TV Week' of her return in 1984 after leaving the series in 1982, "I think the producers have re-introduced the character to upset the nice people in the series. It's an interesting exercise to have to go all the way with an evil character. She looks like Adolf Hitler's sister. Margo's been involved in the drug trade at Barnhurst (high-security prison) and her transfer is part of a plot by Fellowes (head of a crime syndicate) to get the drug trade going strongly at Wentworth (Detention Centre).
"And she's not messing about, she's selling hard drugs – mainly cocaine. I don’t think I’m going to be too popular. There was a tough edge to Margo before, but people really didn’t take her seriously. This time she has absolutely no redeeming features, she's very nasty. I might contrive to be in some place where they don't see 'Prisoner' when the episodes go to air."
Jane also told Jacqui Johnson, "I love singing. The group (rock band Stiletto) was a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. I stuck it out for nearly 4 years but we broke up. I got increasingly sick of life on the road and the fact that we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. But we did manage to get a contract with EMI Records and we recorded an album 'Licence To Rage'.
"I initially went to uni because I wanted to be a mathematics teacher, but then I started to get involved in street theater. During my course, I went from one band to another and joined the Pram Factory theater group to get more experience. During my years of acting (dating back to 1970) I've never had the opportunity to play straight characters like Lady MacBeth."
Wayne Jarratt played warden Steve Faulkner told 'TV Week' in 1982, "… When I started I only had 2 paragraphs telling me about my character, and after the initial 6 weeks I didn’t know what to do with Steve … The women have been terrific in giving me advice. Val Lehman has been a godsend because she knows her craft extremely well and gives very good advice … Most actors who come into 'Prisoner' are given thorough backgrounds on their character, so they know where they're heading. I came through the back door."
On the set, Wayne recounted, "I hear about so many women's problem all day that some of the topics of conversation would make any male blush. No one in my immediate family acts. My father is a lecturer in photography for Nikon, my mother is a brilliant housewife and my sister is working for an import and export firm … (At the time) I've got a lot to learn still and 'Prisoner' has been terrific, but I need some more theater experience. I certainly hope this is not the last time I work in TV, and I don't think it's the one opportunity I'm throwing away."
In 1985, writers Coral Drouyn, Alister Webb and Ysabelle Dean introduced the controversial mind control through hypnosis storyline on 'Prisoner'. Bryan Marshall played psychologist Jonathan Edmunds who had been dismissed from Foxsmith Institute for "manipulating his patients" using illegal and immoral methods brought his mind control through hypnosis program to Wentworth. He told the Governor Ann Reynolds the program had achieved "scientific importance" and "years of valuable research."
That same year, Polish-born actress Agnieszka Perepeczko played inmate Hannah, a defector from (then) East Germany who had experienced nightmares of her childhood in a concentration camp featuring warden Joan Ferguson as a Nazi guard. Agnieszka described Hannah, "She is not very attractive and she’s very depressed. That makes me happy. It is like I was born with God’s spoon in my mouth. To be playing beautiful women all the time is very boring.
"When you play beautiful women there is always the risk people do not get a chance to see your acting ability. They (the 'Prisoner' cast and crew) were so helpful and friendly. I think I learnt a lot." Agnieszka first came to Australia in 1976 to model Polish designs for the Australian Wool Board. However "modeling was representing my country, but acting is what I do."
Agnieszka graduated from the Warsaw State Artistic Drama School and before 'Prisoner' had toured the U.S., Russia and the U.K. with Polish drama companies as well as Mongolia, "It was a very special thing to happen. We flew into one-strip airports and lonely places where there were rows of tents with maybe one hotel and about 4 buildings. We were given a tremendous reception. Our arrival was like a miracle to the people. They are very poor and just don't get visits like that." It was understood as of 1984, Agnieszka was granted residential status in Australia.