Prisoner: Cell Block H - The Franky Doyle Story
Star, London, 1981
The blurb on the back:
Women behind bars
If you watched Prisoner: Cell Block H in its early glory days, you'll notice something immediately about this cover - the photo isn't of Carol Burns, the actress who played Franky Doyle, but of someone else altogether.
You see, this book pre-dates the appearance of Prisoner on British TV. In Australia it had started in 1979, but by 1981 there was still no sign of it coming over, and no particular reason why it should - Australian TV didn't travel back then, and we didn't seem to have enough channels to justify filling them up with cheap foreign rubbish that wasn't American (always time for that, of course). The first couple of Prisoner novels therefore (this was the second) were sold here on the strength of being shocking exposés of life in women's prison, with no reference to the series at all.
So was it any good? Course it was! Prisoner was brilliant. Or at least it was when it started. Its creator, Reg Watson, may have been a veteran of Crossroads and he may have nicked the idea for a drama series set in a women's prison from Within These Walls, but in its original form the show was actually pretty gritty for a soap. Maybe it helped that this was Australia, production values were low and consequently it all looked fairly intense, but behind the melodrama there was an intention to tackle serious stuff.
Before it got all self-parodic, the star was undoubtedly Franky - an out lesbian biker who was doing time for armed robbery. She was hard, she was illiterate and - astonishingly for TV - she looked like she might actually be a dyke. She wasn't one of the Lipstick Lesbians you get in shows like Brookside and Eastenders - male fantasy figures designed for the retards at FHM - but a convincing portrayal of what seemed like a real person.
The book's not quite as over-written as you might expect - even has some genuinely moving bits in it - and, in the absence of the series on TV, it's a nice reminder of halcyon days.
Carol Burns as Franky Doyle
from Hilary Kingsley, Prisoner Cell Block H: The Inside Story
(Boxtree, London, 1990)
ARTISTIC MERIT: 2/5
visit a Prisoner website with a particularly fine bibliography