Mary Ward Breheny (born 6 March 1915), credited professionally as Mary Ward, is an Australian actress of stage, television and film and former radio broadcaster. Ward trained in Britain and Australia, and worked in England on the stage circuit before appearing in film, returning to Australia she became one of the first female radio announcers at ABC in Australia. She is perhaps best known both locally and internationally though for her television soap opera roles including: "Mum" (Jeanette) Brooks in the cult series Prisoner, (known to international audiences as Prisoner: Cell Block H in The UK and USA and Caged Women in Canada), devious Dee Morrell in soap opera Sons and Daughters and briefly as Betty Withers in Blue Heelers.[1]

Career

Ward was born to a pearler in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1915.[3][5] She began acting professionally shortly after leaving high school, and later studied at the Perth drama school. She also studied in England, performing as a stage actress for several years. Ward worked in Britain in film and repertory stage theatre, before returning to Australia prior to World War II, when she became one of the first female radio announcers for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (then Commission) during the war as "The Forces Sweetheart". She returned to the English stage, and, in 1948, performed parts for the British Broadcasting Corporation, including a cameo role in the Chips Rafferty film Eureka Stockade.[6]

Ward returned to Australia, and made her first television appearance as a minor character in detective series The Vise originally titled Saber of London in 1954, and in the television movie The High-Flying Head the following year. She had starring roles in the television movies Marriage Lines and The Tower. She began working in television full-time in the mid-1970s, appearing in the series Rush, Homicide, and as Aunt Marian Castle in Don Chaffey's Harness Fever with Andrew McFarlane, Robert Bettles and Tom Farley (actor) in 1977. Harness Fever would later appear as a two-part episode, Born to Ride, on Wonderful World of Disney in 1979. She continued her stage work in the 1970s with the Melbourne Theatre Company, remaining with the company until 1983, performing in a David Williamson stage production.[8]

In 1978, Ward first appeared in one of her best known roles, "Mum" (Jeanette) Brooks, on the popular soap opera Prisoner. The series didn't go to air in Australia until February 1979. She portrayed an elderly institutionalised inmate, serving an eighteen-year prison sentence for the euthanisation of her terminally-ill husband. When the filming schedule for the series increased from one to two hours per week in 1979, she and co-star Carol Burns decided to leave the series. However, her character remained a popular one during the show's early years, and she reprised her role occasionally until her character died off-screen in 1983.[6] She starred with a number of her fellow Prisoner co-stars in the 1981 television movie I Can Jump Puddles as a character called Mrs. Birdsworth. Coincidentally, this was the surname of Sheila Florance's character Lizzie Birdsworth in Prisoner. After guest appearances on The Young Doctors in 1982 and A Country Practice opposite Prisoner star Lois Ramsey, she starred in Sons and Daughters as Dee Morrell during 1983. Ward starred in the short-lived 1985 television series The Henderson Kids and its 1987 follow-up series The Henderson Kids II. During the late-1980s, she had supporting roles in the films Jenny Kissed Me and Backstage as well as appearing in Neighbours in 1988. After starring in the 1989 television movie Darlings of the Gods,[10] she returned again to the theatre and, in 1991, appeared in the play Alive and Kicking.[8]

With the exception of an appearance in the television series The Damnation of Harvey McHugh in 1994, in the 1990s Ward remained largely absent from Australian television screens until 1998, appearing in the film Amy. Between 1999 and 2000, she played recurring character Betty Withers in the police drama Blue Heelers. Ward became a centenarian in 2015, and turned 102 in 2017. Although retired, she said she would still consider acting if the right role come about.[3]

Filmography

Film

YearTitleRoleNotes
1949Eureka StockadeLady Hotham 
That Dangerous AgeNurseReleased in the US as If This Be Sin
1976Cry Your Purple Hear OutMikeAlso known as How To Score With Girls
1986Jenny Kissed MeGrace 
1988BackstageGeraldine Wollencraft 
1997AmyMrs Mullins 

Television

YearTitleRoleNotes
1951I Was a StrangerOfficialTV film
1954The ViseMrs Diana CampbellTV series
1955The High-Flying HeadMrs TaylorTV film
1957Roundabout TV film
1958Captain Carvallo  
1959The LarkQueen YolandeTelevision play
1962Marriage Lines TV film
The Teeth of the Wind TV film
1965The Tower TV film
Otherwise EngagedDorothyTV film
1974RushMrs HawkTV series
1975-1976Homicide(3 roles) Mrs Parsons/ Margaret Lennox/ Mrs PhillipsTV series
1977Ride a Wild PonyAunt Marian CastleAlso known as Born to Run
1981The Young DoctorsMrs WilsonTV series
PrisonerJanette "Mum" BrooksAlso known as Prisoner: Cell Block H and Caged Women
I Can Jump PuddlesMrs BirdsworthTV series
1982A Country PracticeThelma ThomasEpisodes: The Seeds of Discontent (Parts 1 & 2)
1983Sons and DaughtersDee Morrell22 episodes
1984Hot Pursuit Episode: Steel Trap
1985The Henderson KidsMrs CathcartTV series
1987The Henderson Kids IIMrs CathcartTV series
1989NeighboursMrs Grainger3 episodes
G.P.Jessie McLeanTV series
Darlings of the GodsBarbara WardTV mini-series
1992The Late ShowLady Frontbottom1 episode of The Olden Days (edited from Rush)
1994The Damnation of Harvey McHughIvyTV series
1999-2000Blue HeelersBetty Withers3 episodes