Question: I know that the new TV series based on Prisoner, re-named Wentworth, has a different theme song from the original series, can you tell me more about the original Prisoner theme song?
On the Inside (A Caswell) – Lynne Hamilton 1979
This song has a unique history – it was not the original choice of theme song for the TV show Prisoner; the singer Lynne Hamilton had been a pop star in the UK with the group the Caravelles but after emigrating to Australia in 1971 had drifted away from the industry, yet her rendition of the song surprisingly became a local hit in 1979. But another ten years would pass before On the Inside became an international hit; and in recent years Alan Caswell, the writer of the song, has taken legal action against a US band for alleged plagiarism of the song.
Reg Grundy had established an impressive reputation for producing quiz and game shows for Australian television, but he craved success with drama, so he recruited ex-pat Aussie Reg Watson who had cut his teeth on Lew Grade productions in the UK, and Watson’s first dramatic success was the raw, hard-edged, addictive series about life inside the Wentworth Detention Centre for Women – known simply as Prisoner, and in the UK as Prisoner – Cell Block H.
Grundy Productions had all but finalized a decision to use the song Unchained Melody, a hit for the Righteous Brothers in 1965, as the Prisoner theme song, but Chris Gilbey, head of the Sydney office of ATV-Northern Songs, campaigned to use one of their songwriters, British emigrant Alan Caswell to write a theme song. Caswell was given the script for the pilot episode of the show and told he had the weekend to provide a song, in a burst of inspiration on the Sunday, he wrote the song in under an hour and submitted it to ATV-Northern and Grundy the next Monday.
Lancashire-born Lynne Hamilton had performed with a backing group, the Desperadoes, in the UK and they had appeared on the same bill with such acts as The Who, The Animals and Freddy and the Dreamers, they were also label mates with the Beatles and Lynne knew the Fab Four socially.
Later Lynne became a member of the female pop duo The Caravelles, who had scored a huge hit in the US and the UK in 1963, with You Don’t Have to Be A Baby to Cry.
Lynne and her family emigrated to Sydney when Lynne was 18, she ultimately drifted away from the recording scene and owned and operated restaurants and a hire car company, in 1979 she was invited to record the theme song for Prisoner by Grundy Productions.
Alan Caswell’s country sensibility permeates the song, the minimalist guitars and piano provide subtle support for Hamilton’s emotional vocals which capture the pain and fragility of a woman who feels imprisoned.
Lynne Hamilton has revealed that when she first demoed the song she broke down in tears, because she was feeling the grief of divorcing her husband and identifying with the lyrics which counterpoint the emotional fragility and anguish, of a failed relationship, with the alienation, deprivation, and loneliness of being incarcerated.
The song was a big hit locally, climbing to #4, and occupying the charts for 40 weeks, but a follow up single failed to succeed, the series Prisoner was however a smash hit, running for 692 episodes between 1979- 86. Once released in the UK, the show was a runaway hit, and burnished the reputations of its stars overseas, just as another Grundy production, Neighbours, would do for Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Delta Goodrem and Holly Vallance.
On the Inside climbed to #3 on the UK pop charts when released there in 1989, and the former Caravelle, Lynne Hamilton, would return to London, to perform her international hit, on Top of The Pops.
Alan Caswell took legal action against Sony Music in 2003 claiming that the 1982 song Christmas In Dixie, recorded by US country rock band Alabama, had plagiarized his song. The courts ultimately dismissed Caswell’s claim, stating that “the central element of both songs is one of the most basic and common harmonic patterns in all music.” Lynne Hamilton works as an Evangelical Minister and still occasionally performs in support of her church.
The current Wentworth theme song is Wentworth (You Don’t Know Me), performed by the band Pleasantville, from Southsea in the UK.