PRISONER “CHRISSIE LATHAM”. In the early 1980′s this multi award winning, ground breaking series did much for the Australian industry, showing in prime time to a viewing audience of 39 million in the US, it pioneered the Australian accent and idiom. Mind you for some it was a little too explicit, it’s daring content saw it banned in Salt Lake City! Even in the 1990′s after it was picked up by the UK, programme managers only dared put it to air late at night, causing “Prisoner” to become one of the most video recorded programmes on UK television, second only to Thomas The Tank Engine! With a predominately female cast it took character actors out of cameo roles and gave them the leads. Most memorable and popular original characters being: Gestapo style prison Officer, Vera (Vinegar Tits) Bennett played by Fiona Spence; Oldest most loveable inmate of them all Lizzie Birdsworth played by the late Sheila Florance; Toughest murderess with a heart of gold (you’re ever likely to meet), Bea Smith, Cell Block H’s Top Dog, played by Val Lehman. However there was glamour (in yellow heels) too.
Amanda Muggleton first appeared in Episode 3 of “Prisoner” as inmate Chrissie Latham, serving a sentence for prostitution. But it isn’t very long (the same episode) before she ends up serving time for murder, stabbing Prison Psychologist, Bill Jackson too death with a pair of scissors (during a Frankie Doyle riot) ! Transferred out of Wentworth Detention Centre to serve time at Barnhurst, Chrissie’s debut episodes are explosive stuff ! However, so popular with viewers was the character, she was returned to Wentworth, much to the dismay of Meg Jackson in episode 65. For almost 40 episodes Latham brings havoc back to the corridors of the prison, also revealing she is with child. That doesn’t stop her from lagging to Vera Bennett on escapee Roslyn Coulson, forming a temporary relationship with new inmate Sharon Gilmour, and beginning a drug trafficking racket. The mischievous Latham and Gilmour then join forces for a very brief reign as “Top Dog” whilst Bea Smith serves a stint in the Isolation Wing.
Any Prisoner fan knows Smith’s control over Wentworth is such, that whilst Gilmour is kept away from her, Margo Gaffney and infamous prison heavies Lil Stokes and Bev Cavelli will happily carry out any beating Bea orders. In the resulting tryst, Chrissie is knocked to the ground and “hello labour” ! Baby Elizabeth is born, named after Lizzie Birdsworth and forced straight into a humidicrib. From here on in, a new softer side of Chrissie emerges with motherhood (if you can ignore the bit where she breaks a chair over the head of Judy Bryant). She’s eventually transferred to the Maternity Block with Elizabeth as her second stint on “Prisoner” comes to an all-too-early end.
Nearly 50 episodes later, Latham re-appears in Episode 151 when Doreen Burns saves Elizabeth’s life, only to later jeopardise it by stealing the child from a hospital after she overhears a Doctor recommending the baby go into Welfare Custody. This eventually happens in Episode 167 when cold-hearted Department rep Stuart Gillespie orders the child be taken from Chrissie on the day of her first birthday. Back for a fourth time in Episode 187, this time Chrissie ends up on the outside trying to make things work with Mick O’Brien, Elizabeth’s mystery father ! Despite numerous clashes and differences (and many smashed plates) the two find happiness just in time for the Cops to arrive and cart Mick (an escapee) off to finish his time in South Australia.
Amanda’s fifth and final period on the show is unarguably her finest. Returned to Wentworth on a whole bunch of fresh charges including government fraud, theft and breaking parole, its not long before she’s stealing money from the other prisoners. More shockingly, she begins to lag on the inmates to the supremely evil screw, Joan “The Freak” Ferguson (who blackmails the info out of Chrissie, threatening to cut off her visits with Elizabeth). The price for handing over such information is a good and severe kicking to the head when Latham oversteps the mark. Edge-of-seat viewing indeed !
Never one to miss an opportunity to make a quick buck, Latham sets up an escape for fellow cell mate Hannah Simpson for a small fee. Two grand richer, it is actually Chrissie that finally absails down the Loading Bay wall and on to the top of the get-away van… as poor Hannah suffers The Freak’s advances in solitary. Life is never dull in Wentworth !
With barely an episode or two to reflect upon her recent (bad) behaviour, Chrissie falls madly in lust with hot new prison nurse Neil Murray. Unfortunately for Chrissie, Penny Seymore and Tina Gibson, he is a psychotic serial killer with a penchant for slicing up prostitutes. He busts Chrissie out for the day after securing her hospitalisation with a fake illness. However, during a snooping session in the prison infirmary, Steve Fawkner finds some incriminating evidence just in time to save the day. Murray is shot and wounded by police as he tries to spear Chrissie through the heart with a kitchen knife.
It takes a lot to keep a good woman down though and Chrissie quickly recovers from her ordeal by tarring and feathering Margo and MC’ing the Woodridge Mens Prison Concert. She’s reunited here with one of her cohorts from the earlier escape, and also Neil Murray who gets a second chance to bump her off. Kudos to Paddy Lawson’s beau, Andy who steps in just in the nick of time to save her. But heartache is never far away and the next hurdle for Chrissie comes when scheming sister-in-law, Brenda Latham serves her with custody papers. She signs them and promptly turns her attention to getting revenge on Joan Ferguson…
A five-against-one Freak bashing takes place on the back stairs, and Barbara Fields cops a body search/cell trashing, before Chrissie decides to become bossom-buddies with Top Dog Bea Smith. They join forces to burn down Wentworth during Episode 326 whilst Smith goes “Freak hunting”. Actually, they just mean to start a small diversionary fire, which Latham does in the Library, leaving just enough time for Bea to clobber Ferguson. Unfortunately, Margo tosses a molotov cocktail into a store room stocked to the rafters with turps and hey presto, goodbye Wentworth, Barbara Fields and Heather “Mouse” Trapp.
The women head off to Woodridge where Chrissie and Bea deliver Jeanie Stanton’s baby (Christopher) and bash the hell out of Margo for lagging to the cops about who started The Great Fire at Wentworth. Chrissie suggests some great screw-baiting with a points chart in retaliation to one of Erica Davidson’s good behaviour schemes which see’s Chrissie antagonise The Freak for the very last time ! Whilst fellow inmate Paddy Lawson comes to a watery end thanks to the evil Nola McKenzie, the last we see of Chrissie is when the paddy wagon comes to take her to Barnhurst and she is dragged off kicking and screaming during Episode 338.
Amanda left Prisoner in late 1982 (still on air in early 1983) after 106 episodes as Chrissie. Directly after leaving the show, she appeared in the hugely successful Theatre Production “Steaming” and due to a steady stream of job offers and exciting new roles, never had the time to return for a 6th visit behind bars.