"Rack off you Mongrel" Came a cry from one of the cells as we passed by.
They said I had murdered my new husband, but I hadn’t… I suspected one of his daughters, mean as cats piss and twice as thick, right drongo’s the pair of them… Mind you, I was the one in here, so they couldn’t be that stupid.
But this was a brand new show, was it a worry that it wouldn't be a success?
"Yes we only had 16 week contracts; however that was extended to 6 months even before the show went to air. We all stayed on except Carol Burns who asked to be written out and only did 20 episodes."
I suppose everyone knows what their limitations are and you need to understand the character you're playing... So is there a bit of Bea in you?
"Every character I play can only be based on my knowledge, interpretation, life experience and my powers of observations, so there has to be something of each character in me. But I haven't killed anyone for weeks!"
I shuffled a bit further down on the bed, I knew she was joking, but... Well... You can never be too sure...
Smiling and carried on with my questions and it being my first time in prison, I was dying to know...
How do you think the show reflected real life in Australian women's prisons?
"It was never meant to be a documentary about women's prison life, although pretty well everything in our scripts was based on actual events, things just don't move that quickly in any prison... Our mandate was to entertain!"
Did you visit any prisons
yourself? To prepare for the show, I mean... Not for any other reasons... I laughed nevrvously.
"We were taken to visit a woman’s prison before we started shooting... The only thing I gained from that visit, was the deputy governor was not very bright, had no intention of allowing us to talk to any of the prisoners, and although we were VIP visitors made it very clear we had to do as we were told by her whilst within those walls! Playing power games. I got a lot more information from one of the social workers who actually put me in
touch with a released prisoner who had been top dog. Fortunately our producers, and best writer (Denise Morgan) did a lot of very worthwhile research and passed it on to us."
What has the reaction been from real inmates?
"Real inmates who occasionally wrote fan letters. Used to comment; they wish they had a Bea Smith in their prison to stand up for them."
Comforting, I thought...
Now I loved the show and pretty much everyone I know loved the show, but when Val started no one could have imagined the success of it. Imagine the pitch at the Reg Grundy offices... "So, it's going to be set in a women's prison and the lead killed her husbands mistress..." It's not exactly Dynasty!
So I had to ask...
Did you think that the show was going to be as popular as it was, and still is? Especially with the gay community?
"I Had no idea what the public's reaction would be but I thought it was certainly worthwhile and the best opportunity I'd ever
been given had to show what I could do with a strong character."
And you certainly did! Bea was such an iconic character!
"People loved Bea because she was smart and fair, the champion of the underdog, and thumbed her nose at authority."
Now I loved every twist, every turn, every funny, horrific and terrifying storyline, but what was Val's, I wondered?
"I liked the amnesia storyline, which had been my own idea, because it gave me the opportunity to show what Bea had been like before her incarceration."
Now, the hierarchy went - from the lowest of the low to the Top Dog... The inmates, the screws, the Gov'ner AND THEN Queen Bea... I wondered if this was reflected on set?
"Rack off means the same as 'Piss off' or 'Fuck off’. But we were not permitted to say either of those in the show..."
I was free.