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. A glamorous and thoroughly modern woman of the late 1920s, with an acquired taste for the best, but impeccable working class origins, Phryne was an instant success with readers and 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 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 all from a very 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 out of her time, giving 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 Australian women whose lives had been dramatically impacted by the Great War. Through the enormous devastation of the war and the loss of so many men, women held the fort and new opportunities emerged for them.
With fewer men around after the Great War, many women missed out on partners and the convention of marriage. However women like Phryne Fisher embraced the opportunity. Phryne joined the war, driving an ambulance in France, so she had a taste of being a woman unhampered by reliance on men. Unique to this society was the combined effect of delirium at having survived the war and the blissful ignorance of the looming depression and the Second World War.
Central to the work is that despite the beautiful frocks, magnificent home, snazzy sports car and all the escapist elements of Phryne’s life, she is trying to change the world for people who are in serious trouble.
abc.net.au/phrynefisher 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 be anywhere near as interesting. Her working class past was a struggle, living in poverty on the streets of Collingwood.
Moreover, a gross injustice was visited on her younger sister, and Phryne is driven to resolve this issue for herself and for other people in similar plights. Her sister’s case was not investigated because she came from a poor family and because nobody cared enough. Those issues are still current. 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 is the interim capital of Australia 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 British parliament accepts female suffrage 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 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)
abc.net.au/phrynefisher 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.
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.
Occupations taken by women include factory work, nursing, teaching, clerical, secretarial and typing in offices and shop assisting.
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 stay on, as they work as efficiently as men and are paid less.
In 1928, the average male wage is £10 40s (shillings) a day, whereas the average female wage is £8 80s.
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. The washing machine and electric iron make cleaning and pressing clothes an easier process.
Gas and a small number of telephones follow from the 1880s.
Electricity comes 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 among men in public
abc.net.au/phrynefisher Women wear ‘revealing’ bathing costumes to the beach By comparison to 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 nonpolitical, 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 wineshop 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 predated 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 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 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 include 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.
abc.net.au/phrynefisher 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.
(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