Recently, I reached episode two-hundred of ‘Prisoner: Cell Block H’, an episode which contained a plot where top dog, Bea Smith, has amnesia. Now, I don’t normally entertain storylines about memory loss because, in my opinion, they are generally badly scripted, badly acted, and a bad excuse for a lazy writer to turn their villains into heroes and their heroes into victims (there are exceptions to the rule, of course, and one of these is the hollywood blockbuster ‘Memento’ which stars Aussie actor Guy Pearce); I also especially hate it when, for convenience’s sake, the writers decide to predictably smack these same characters over the head with a blunt object so that they can justify magically restoring their pasts and their previous personalities.
Funnily enough, I started watching Prisoner when I was locked up in an adolescent psychiatric unit at the age of fifteen. Finally, after almost a year of being disbelieved, fobbed off, and randomly accused of being on drugs by doctors, I received the diagnosis that I had retrograde, anterograde and post traumatic amnesia (not one but three bloody amnesias) and this was the result of an acquired brain injury; I also had clinical depression – but then who wouldn’t after all I’d been through – so it was decided that it would be for my own good to have inpatient treatment.
It was common practice, in the psychiatric unit, for us to be confined to our rooms from around nine pm (and lights out followed shortly afterwards). However, when ‘the two Anne’s were on the night shift they would sit up in the day room with their tea and biscuits watching Prisoner, and it became a ritual that anyone else who was a fan of the program could get to stay up to watch it too. By then I’d already gained an ‘us and them’ mentality, just like Bea Smith and the inmates of Wentworth, and I’d learnt to grab all the priviledges I could, especially if it meant putting one over on authority figures, and so I became a fan by default.
I suppose you could say I found affinity with the TV program and I continued watching it for several years after I was released. I also tuned in to the Canadian prison drama ‘Dangerous Woman’ when it was on UK Living and then later ‘Bad Girls’ followed by ‘Prison Break’, ‘Oz’ and more recently the TV shows ‘Wentworth’ and ‘Orange Is The New Black’. I did try to watch 1960s English prison drama ‘Within These Walls’ but Granada Gold showed the episodes in a random order and I couldn’t make head nor tail of it.
Anyway, initially, I had to switch my laptop off ten minutes into this milestone episode because it was making me cringe. However, my fondess of the show won through; plus I was very curious to see how the story developed because, ironically, despite having watched nearly every Prisoner episode back in the nineties and early noughties, I have no recollection of Bea ever having amnesia. (I do, however, remember there being another storyline, much later in the series, which involved armed robber Reb Keane losing her memory – and I’m sure Reb was later released on compassionate grounds.)
The plot started off a couple of episodes earlier with Bea, a twice convicted murdress, and the only survivor of a road accident which occured whilst she was being transferred from Barnhurst back to Wentworth Detention Centre, stumbling from a prison van. Concussed and disorientated, she sought out her old home, then her daughter Debbie who unbeknowst to her had died, then finally Mum Brooks, an ex-con, who is out on parole (and the only person she can remember), before being recaptured and hauled back to Wenworth. Fair enough, I thought, it is a soap opera after all… And in the end, I quite enjoyed it, despite the cliched climax where Bea’s memory returns like the flick of a light switch, after she receives a predictable bump on the head during a bashing from fellow inmate Margot Gaffney.
Now, I would love to chew the fat with veteran actor Val Lehman aka Queen Bea about her inspiration and ideas behind that amnesia storyline. And, even better, if the producers of Wenthworth ever thought about re-enacting it with Danielle Cormack and wanted someone with real life experience (nudge, nudge)… well … I would be more than happy to step into the blue denim breech…