Australian actress Carol Burns, who lit up television screens as Prisoner‘s infamous Franky Doyle, has died aged 68.
She died at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital following a short battle with cancer. Her partner of 36 years, composer and musician, Alan Lawrence was at her bedside.
Burns’ Logie-winning portrayal as the leather-jacketed lesbian misfit of 0-TEN’s Prisoner for just 19 episodes in 1979, feuding with ‘top dog’ Bea Smith, drawn romantically towards Doreen Anderson (Colette Mann), igniting riots and famously naming Vera Bennett (Fiona Spence) “Vinegar Tits.”
So convincing was her performance that when the show screened in the US female bikie fans held a mock ‘funeral’ for the character following her on-screen death, while Grundy TV edited a Franky Doyle Story telemovie without union approval and actor payments.
While she appeared in other television credits, none would surpass her broad success as Franky Doyle. They included The Mango Tree, Lucinda Brayford, Carson’s Law, The Dismissal, All the Rivers Run, Eureka Stockade, Queen Kat Carmel & St Jude, Flipper, The Day of the Roses, Fire, Blue Heelers, Small Claims, The Strange Calls, Reef Doctors and UK dramas Casualty, Heartbeat, The Bill. Film credits included Bad Blood, Starstruck, Dusty, Strikebound, Gettin’ Square and Tracks.
Brisbane-based Burns was also a gifted stage actress performing with Brisbane Arts Theatre, Twelfth Night Theatre, Queensland Theatre Company, Sydney Theatre Company, Melbourne Theatre Company, La Boite Theatre Company, Nimrod Theatre Company and the State Theatre Company of South Australia.
She recently took the lead role in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days as part of QTC’s 2015 season, scoring rave reviews.
In 2011 Burns told ABC the character of Franky Doyle was inspired by watching a boy on public transport.
“I was sitting opposite two little boys who were what little brothers are to each other. They didn’t really want to be sharing the seat. They didn’t really want to be on the train. So they wriggled and squirmed and pushed ans said ‘Piss’orf.’
“And I thought ‘That’s the sort of mentality that Frankie Doyle is.’ So I found the attitude from a nine year old boy and I found the laugh from hearing somebody in the street, (a woman with) a shockingly raucous laugh.
“When they offered me the part they said ‘Do you want to play the most hated woman on television?’
“And I said ‘Just so long as you let me show why she’s hated.’ Because as soon as you do that everybody falls in love with you.
The role on the Grundy soap was also a pioneer as a primetime lesbian on Australian television.
TV Historian Andrew Mercado told TV Tonight, “Carol Burns was nothing like her iconic character Franky Doyle in real life – she was soft and lovely and just goes to show what an amazing actress she was to create one of Prisoner’s most incredible characters ever.”
Last year Nicole da Silva who recreated Franky Doyle in Foxtel’s Wentworth said, “I started auditioning for the show I watched the first episode and started doing a little bit of research with (originator) Carol Burns’ Franky.
“What I loved about what I saw was that they were making really interesting choices about females and how they were portrayed on telly.”
Carol Burns told TV Tonight, “In the early days of Prisoner “People would say ‘That character will be hated or loved’ and it wasn’t exactly as people said because the audience makes up their own mind.”
@mrpford oh dear what a shock … She was a wonderful actress and created an iconic character . Vale Carol
— Colette Mann (@mann_reelmann) December 22, 2015