20160529

PRISONER

Born in 1926, Maurie Fields had "appeared in just about every local show that has been made" in Australia, until his death in 1995. Maurie usually played "the man you loved to hate." Maurie told Neil Jillett of 'Fairfax Media' in 1978, "I was resident mongrel at Crawfords for years. Australian management does tend to typecast a bit, and I was typecast as a heavy." 

Between 1984 and 1985, Maurie could be seen playing Len Arthur Murphy on 'Prisoner', a warden who got transferred from the Woodbridge men's prison to work at the women's Wentworth Detention Centre. Maurie believed the viewers connected with him because he played an "Aussie and a lot of people out there talk like me." Maurie told Jenny Brown, "I hate ocker, that's not what I’m doing. I base my characters on people I’ve met, especially country people, who are real. 

"There are so many different types that you could play on forever without running out of them. Those dead-set, fair dinkum people who would give you their last dina. They're Aussies and I'm Aussie. All the others were far too Pommy." On reflection, "It (television) tends to make an actor pretty lazy. You get to know the character, you know exactly where you are going to walk, you know every stick of furniture on the set. As a result, you kind of half learn the script, bang, the scene goes in, and you've done it." 

After Val Lehman left 'Prisoner' in 1983, she told Patrice Fidgeon, "I've been asked (to return) 3 times. The first time I said no straight out. The second time the reply was the same, and the third time I considered it – only for a moment – before saying no again." Val reasoned, "It would have set me back another year (if Val came back to 'Prisoner').

"I'd be behind the eight ball again, getting rid of that Bea image. I really think it's the short-sightedness of casting people and directors that makes it hard for actors." Judith McGrath played the warden Colleen Powell remarked, "Television goes by your looks rather than ability. In TV, I'm cast as a 40-year-old (although Judith was only 33 in 1981). I believe the parts start to get better when you reach 40. 

"Australian writers don’t understand the 30s age group (at the time) – that's why they aren’t writing the parts for us. Sometimes my role can prove difficult because I have to imagine what it would be like in a prison. Some people like my character, others hate her. One woman turned to her friend in the street recently (back in August 1981) and said: 'I think that woman is that bitch in 'Prisoner'.' I couldn’t resist it, so I turned around and said I was." 

In August 1984, filming of 'A Fortunate Life' began. Val played the mother of A.B. "Bert" Facey. Budgeted at around $6 million, the PBL Productions of the 4-part mini-series was shot on location in Perth and Subiaco, Western Australia. Val told 'TV Week' in June 1984, "The scripts are so good. I'm sure it's going to be brilliant. The part of Bert's mother is a lovely one because it's played on a number of levels. 

"She dumped half her children on her mother and later, when they were earning money, she wanted them back again. She was very ill suffering from acute appendicitis but at the same time was desperately trying to atone for what she did to her children." Val made known, "I was originally from Perth. In fact, my mother was born in Wickepin – that's where the Facey family lived." 

Since leaving 'Prisoner', Val observed, "It's all worked out rather well. I'm a great believer in chance. I've always been really lucky and you almost come to rely on that luck." Anne Phelan played inmate Myra Desmond made the observation, "Working on 'Prisoner' we have 2 definite types of character; they are either good baddies or bad baddies. Because she (Myra) is such a tough character, she is highly recognizable to the general public.

"I am amazed at the number of young people who watch 'Prisoner'. I have been acting for so long and have never come up against it (being recognized) before. All of a sudden you are in a national television series … I deal very well with the people who come up in a restaurant and want to talk, but one thing I will not answer to is people calling out to me as Myra. I am Anne Phelan, an actress not to be confused with Myra, a character in a series."

Anne also mentioned, "I played Kate (a policeman's wife) for 4 years (on the ABC's TV series 'Bellbird') and loved it all. I think because 'Bellbird' had such a country audience people did not recognize you as much in public. I have a lot to be thankful for, and especially 'Bellbird' which enabled me to buy, or at least (at the time) begin to pay off my home (an old church in Victoria). You could say it's the house that 'Bellbird' built. Being an actress is such a different sort of lifestyle and sometimes a terribly insecure way of living." 

Judith expressed, "I came from a working-class family, but I never wanted for anything. I was sent to ballet, sporting activities, speech and acting lessons. I had an academic schooling, which has been useless to me. My parents had hoped I would follow a more stable career than acting. The money is fantastic and I would know what I was doing from week to week." 

Susan Guerin played inmate Barbara Fields told Jacqui Johnson in 1982, "'Prisoner' hold its popularity because it's very real and people can identify with it. My agent pushed me, so I auditioned, but I really didn't think I'd hear back from them. My credits aren't that impressive because I'm not pushy ... I just sit back and let the work come to me. My philosophy is if it happens it happens, and if it doesn’t I’ll find something else. When I’m not acting I will at least have teaching to fall back on. The Catholic school I went to put on a few drama festivals and I won a few Best Actress Awards. When I left school acting was the only thing I wanted to do so I joined an agency and I've never looked back."

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