Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
Teacher Notes - English
FROM BOOKS TO SCREEN The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher (pronounced Fry-knee) began life in 1989 as the daring lady detective protagonist of a series of 18 crime books written by Australian author, Kerry Greenwood. Phryne is a glamorous and thoroughly modern woman of the late 1920s with an acquired taste for the best but impeccable working class origins. She was an instant success with readers and she still shows no sign of hanging up her pearl-handled pistol or giving up her adventurous life…
When television producers Fiona Eagger and Deb Cox first met Kerry Greenwood it was, Fiona says, “a match made in heaven”. Of utmost importance to Kerry in the translation of her novels to screen was the authenticity of the world, the authenticity of the language, and a respect for Phryne’s character.
From a television production perspective, Phryne has it all: murder mysteries, a strong female character, beautiful costumes and locations, and a great legacy from a well-loved series of books. The main difference between Phryne and other crime series is the focus on characters. Central to both books and the television series is a woman who is unconventional and ahead of her time, which gives the genre an unorthodox edge. And, because Phryne champions the underdog, there is more depth than just solving crimes.
Additionally, the books are set in the late 1920s, which was a marvellous time for some Australian women whose lives had been dramatically impacted upon by the Great War. Through the enormous devastation of the war and the loss of so many men, women held positions of authority and new opportunities emerged for them.
Many women missed out on partners, marriage, and the conventional choices because there weren’t the men around. But some women, like Phryne Fisher, embraced the opportunities of the times. In Phryne’s case, she joined the war as an ambulance driver in France where she gained a taste of being a woman unhampered by a reliance on men. On returning to Australia in the 20s she fell into a unique time that was informed by the delirium of surviving the war and untempered by any foreknowledge of the looming Depression or the Second World War.
Yet despite the beautiful frocks, magnificent home, snazzy sports car and all the escapist elements of Phryne’s life, she is woman committed to helping change the world for people who are in serious trouble.
If she’d just been a dilettante – the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher trying to save the world – rather than someone who grew up with injustice, her character would not have been anywhere near as interesting. Her working class past included a hard life living in poverty on the streets of Collingwood. There, a terrible crime was visited upon her younger sister. When Phryne’s sister’s case was not investigated because she came from a poor family for whom no-one cared, Phryne became driven to resolve the crime for herself. Phryne’s insistence on justice subsequently spread to helping other people in similar plights.
The series is a delightful “whodunit” combined with a bit of old fashioned fun, taking audiences back in time to a meticulously realised, decorous world - a world of beauty, wit and charm. (Source: Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries Press Kit - The Genesis)
KEY HISTORICAL AND POLITICAL EVENTS OF MELBOURNE 1928 King George V is the monarch of Australia The Australian Governor General is John Baird The Australian Prime Minister is Stanley Bruce Melbourne's population reaches one million William McPherson replaces Edmond Hogan as Premier of Victoria Melbourne had been the home of federal parliament since Federation in 1901. However, it was technically never the capital of Australia. The establishment of the Federal Capital Territory in 1911 designated that area – not yet named Canberra – as the capital. (Old) Parliament House was opened in 1927, where federal parliament then sat. The Spencer Street Bridge is being constructed across the Yarra, blocking upstream river traffic The summer Olympics are held in Amsterdam and women compete in athletic events for the first time. Edith Robinson is the first Australian woman to compete Bert Hinkler, a Queenslander, makes the first solo flight from Britain to Australia Charles Kingsford Smith makes the first flight from the USA to Australia Amelia Earhart is the first female to fly across the Atlantic Ocean The Flying Doctor Service begins in Cloncurry Mickey Mouse makes his first appearance The British parliament gives the vote to all women aged 21 and over. (Women aged 30 or over, who were householders or married to householders, had been given the vote in 1918.) Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin Cole Porter and Louis Armstrong are immensely popular.
In 1928, the waterside workers strike in Melbourne over the ‘Dog Collar Act’ under which Waterfront workers are subject to the ‘bull’ labour pick-up system. A new industrial award considered worse than the old system leads to spontaneous industrial action around Australia. Riots in Melbourne
abc.net.au/phrynefisher result in injuries and arrests and the death of Alan Whittaker, a Gallipoli veteran and union member, shot in the neck from behind. Animosities are directed at Southern European immigrants, some of whom, desperate for work in difficult economic circumstances, take employment as strikebreakers and become involved in violent confrontations between trade unionists and employers.
(Source: Miss Fisher's Melbourne: A Potted History of 1928 – Life and Times in Melbourne, 1928, pp 2-3)
MELBOURNE SOCIETY IN 1928 During the First World War, many Australian women emerge from their houses to fill the jobs left empty by men who had joined the armed services and gone to Europe. However, this should not be overplayed as the government of the day was not keen on accepting female workers. Many women remained frustrated in their attempts to work.
The movement from house to workforce leads to the birth of the “new woman” of the 1920s. Liberated by their experiences in the war, women work and live in the manner men had enjoyed for decades. However, for most working class women, life remains the tough day-to-day drudgery that it had been before the war. The era of “the new women” rarely percolates into the working classes of the inner city slums.
Occupations taken by women include factory work, nursing, teaching, clerical, secretarial and typing in offices and retail.
Although women can leave the house to pursue a career, society frowns upon those who do not complete their duty as mother and housekeeper.
With the end of the war and the return of the soldiers to the workforce, women remained in their jobs, as they work as efficiently as men, but are paid less.
The little pay women receive gives them enough financial independence to become more confident in social and personal relationships.
Although women complete some vocational training courses, university studies and higher education are still largely limited to men.
During the 1920s, women appear on the political scene. In March 1921, Edith Cowan of Western Australia becomes the first woman elected to an Australian parliament. Her portrait is on the Australian fifty-dollar bill.
Innovations in domestic technology reduce time-consuming labour in maintaining a household. Hot water is available from taps; gas stoves become more common; carpets and vacuum cleaners appear in houses; the refrigerator ensures food stays fresh while the washing machine and electric iron make cleaning and pressing clothes an easier process.
abc.net.au/phrynefisher However, it needs to be emphasised that these improvements affected the middle classes. For most working class and rural communities, such pleasures were a generation away. Gas and a small number of telephones follow from the 1880s.
Electricity is connected in homes in the 1920s.
(Source: Miss Fisher's Melbourne: A Potted History of 1928 – Sexual Politics, pp 9-10)
CHALLENGING SOCIAL NORMS Young women of the 1920s often cut their hair short. They wear lighter, brighter dresses, shortened to knee-length. The effect of leg is exploited, appearing nude or covered by a tight-fitting, seamed stocking. Make-up and lipstick are worn. Women smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, swear and express well-informed opinions on all topics of the day in public. Women wear ‘revealing’ bathing costumes to the beach. By comparison with other countries, Australian women of the 1920s enjoy more freedom, privileges and rights. Divorce becomes the catchword of the decade, increasing among women now finding financial and emotional independence. The tendency of men to leave the city in search of work, combined with women’s greater longevity has, by 1901, created the beginnings of the female majority that would make the city’s population in the future.
(Source: Miss Fisher's Melbourne: A Potted History of 1928 – Sexual Politics, pp 10-12)
1928 MELBOURNE BOHEMIAN CULTURE The Alexandra Club, founded as the Wattle Blossom Club in 1903, provided a space in the city for establishment women. Strictly, the club was designed to function as a second home for its 800 members, offering rooms where they could dine, stay, rest and entertain.
The more prominent bohemians of the period organised into the Cannibal and Ishmael clubs, the latter meeting regularly at Fasoli's, an Italian café and wine shop located at 108 Lonsdale Street and, from 1907, at 140 King Street.
The Capitol Theatre seated 2137 when it opened on 7 November, 1924. The theatre pre- dated the Regent and the Forum by five years, and brought a taste of fantasy and architectural modernity to the city.
Permanent cinemas appeared in the suburbs from 1910. By 1919, there were 67 suburban cinemas and 11 cinemas in the city. These cinemas were modest in design and scale compared to the luxury cinemas built during the 1920s.
From the early 1900s until the early 1960s, the dominant Australian circus, Wirth Brothers
abc.net.au/phrynefisher Circus, visited Melbourne almost every year, its visit coinciding with the Melbourne Cup carnival.
The Palais was Australia's most palatial suburban cinema. Designed by Henry E. White, it replaced an earlier cinema destroyed by fire in 1926. The new Palais, accommodating nearly 3000 patrons on two vast levels, opened on 11 November 1927.
Dances and balls were a popular way of expressing support for religious, sporting or charitable organisations and for celebrating significant community events, and the role dance has played in the development of Melbourne's cultural and social life has often been overlooked.
In St Kilda, Carlyon's Ballroom at the Esplanade Hotel (c. 1920) initiated Popular Nights (evening dress optional) and Party Night (evening dress compulsory). Other dance palais during this period included the new and lavishly appointed Palais de Danse, Leggett's Ballroom, Prahran (1920), the Wattle Path Palais, St Kilda (1923), the Palais Royale at the Royal Exhibition Building (1923) and the Green Mill on the current site of the Arts Centre (1926). Jazz became a popular form of entertainment in Melbourne in the early 1920s, as the music became fashionable across the Western world. Melbourne has since remained an important (often the major) centre of jazz activity in Australia.
From the 1920s through to the 1940s “jazz” bands (usually dance bands, with variable jazz content) were popular at cabarets and dance halls like the Palais Theatre and the Green Mill.
Melbourne is also known for its crime, leading some to call it the “Chicago of Australia”. Underworld crime, violence and the bribing of police and juries are rife. The key underworld figure of the time is “Squizzy” Taylor until he is shot dead in 1927. Following Taylor’s death, the leading underworld figure is Henry Stokes, known as the “two-up king” for his control of illegal gaming.
(Source: Miss Fisher's Melbourne: A Potted History of 1928 – Culture, pp 19-22)
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Credits
Starring: Essie Davis, Nathan Page, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Ashleigh Cummings and Miriam Margolyes Based on the Phryne Fisher mystery series of books by Kerry Greenwood Producers: Fiona Eagger and Deb Cox The Australian Broadcasting Corporation presents an Every Cloud Production “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”, produced in association with Screen Australia and Film Victoria
© 2011 Every Cloud Productions Pty Ltd, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Film Victoria and Screen Australia