1 9 8 1 (Australia)
1 x 90 minute episode
26 x 60 minute episodes
Innocent TV viewers did not deserve Punishment. Low ratings prompted justice to be done and they were soon released from this hellish existence.
Punishment was the Australian soap opera meant to be the male equivalent of the women-behind-bars saga, Prisoner: Cell Block H.
Like Prisoner, it was created by Grundy TV and screened in Australia on the 0-Ten Network, but everything – starting with the appallingly downbeat title – was wrong.
There was an abundance of unsavoury, unsympathetic characters. There were few, if any, likeable or admirable figures of strength and authority. The ‘clean’ prison doctor was around at the start but then seemed to disappear.
There was no humour and no sex or romance – the vital ingredients to soap opera. In the first episode, a warder’s wife was briefly seen. After that, she escaped.
Ascending star Mel Gibson appeared as a prisoner in the movie-length opening episode. Brian Wenzel (later to play the lovable copper in A Country Practice) played a warder.
But totally miscast as Alan Smith, the governor of (fictitious) Longridge men’s prison with “an academic bent on reform rather than punishment”, was Barry Crocker, the former variety artist, famous as Bazza Mackenzie, later to become the singer of the Neighbours theme.
Ken Wayne played despicable old guard chief warden Jack Hudson, who made Prisoner‘s Vera Bennett look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.
Prisoners included Mike Preston, Brian Harrison, David Spencer, Arthur Sherman, Jon Ewing, James C Steele – and Michael Smith, the juvenile cream of the crop, already sampling Hudson’s violent nature and the sexual innuendo of the inmates.
Much time was taken with unattractive plots about drugs and assaults and the squabbles of unpleasant warders. But worst of all was the absence of women. Its effect on the men’s lives was not explored, perhaps on the grounds of taste.
Punishment was not Prisoner. Punishment was a mistake. There was no mystique about men without women, and viewers did not want to see a load of violence.
Where Prisoner had created a sympathy for society’s misfits – including some unhappy homosexuals – Punishment created a horror of them.
The series was pulled by Ten in March 1981 after airing only four episodes (they commissioned 26 episodes at a cost of $80,000 per episode).
The prison was mocked up in Ten’s Sydney studios with outside location filming at East Sydney Technical College and Gladesville Psychiatric Hospital.
Governor Alan Smith
Chief Officer Jack Hudson
Andy ‘Pop’ Epstein
Gary ‘Gazza’ Cooper
James C. Steele
David “Robbo” Roberts