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SHE is blonde, brassy and the bitch from hell.

Debra Stephenson is set to shock the nation when she stars in Bad Girls, the latest TV show from former Coronation Street producer Brian Park.

The pounds 5million ITV drama, set in fictional Category A closed prison Larkhill, explodes on to screens next month.

Making an impact in a revealing outfit Debra's character, Michelle "Shell" Dockley, shows off her glamour-girl looks at a fashion show staged by inmates.

But her cleavage and long legs belie the bad girl within.

And although blokes might wish they could be locked up with her it soon becomes clear that their lifespan would be limited.

Debra plays a woman serving a life sentence for murder after setting fire to a love rival.

Inside she ends up manipulating two lovers - a male warder and a lesbian prisoner - against each other.

Debra says: ''Shell's a complete bitch who bullies her way round Larkhill. She's not merely a man-eater - she devours women.

"She's a she-devil who embarks on a lusty affair with senior officer Jim Fenner but develops a relationship with lesbian Denny, an habitual offender.

"She loves the idea of displaying her assets on the catwalk. She'd love to be a page three glamour girl but she's too trashy for that.

"She's pretty in a sluttish way and she's a slapper in every sense of the word. They even had to paint roots on my blonde hair to complete the tarty look.

''I don't believe anyone is born evil, something has to make them that way, but it was hard figuring out just what started Shell on this path of destruction.

"She is wicked and mean to the girls in prison and just uses anyone to get what she wants.

"Shell is determined to be top dog in the prison - and uses her sexual powers to get on."

Before filming started the cast visited Winchester Prison.

Debra says it was a sobering experience. "We visited the men's and women's prisons and it gives you a jolt to see just how depressing it is behind bars.

"There was a really menacing atmosphere at the men's prison."

ITV bosses hope Bad Girls will be a major weapon in the ratings war with the BBC. Insiders have dubbed it Sex In The Nick - after Channel 4's American import Sex And The City.

It promises to be the frankest and steamiest prison drama ever.

The 10-part drama has been shooting in East London for the past three months on a purpose-built 10,000 square foot set.

Given that producer Brian Park was nicknamed Freddy Kruger for axing so many Coronation Street stars, it's no surprise that the storylines are set to shock. The seduction of two female prisoners by a married male warder, abortions, lesbian love triangles and drug abuse are all part of the series.

Brian says: ''This will be a very sexy programme. I was looking for something that wasn't just another cop or hospital drama.

"Passions and emotions are caged and confined in prisons - but they are dramatically expressed as well. There are stories of prison officers leaving their wives when certain prisoners are let out.

"These affairs do happen - it's not exclusively about that but it's a storyline we can exploit.

"It's worth remembering over 25 per cent of prison officers in women's jails are men - there are potential sexual problems.''

The cast includes Joanne Frogatt who was Zoe Tattersall in Coronation Street. She plays vulnerable Rachel who shouldn't be in prison and is preyed on by inmates and warders.

Debra says: "She's picked on by Shell. She's one of those unlucky people who end up in this world by accident. It makes you think 'There but for the grace of God'.

"That's what will make this show so realistic, the fact it could happen to anyone. I don't let work get to me but sometimes it's so dark on the set you feel down. But this is the way life inside is ... the writers and producer worked in conjunction with prison officers, prisoners and ex-prisoners."

Brian Park adds: "We've tried to get it right - though this is a drama not a documentary. And it will be funny - in prisons there is a real black humour. If you didn't laugh you'd go mad."
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Quinn, Thomas; Carroll, Sue
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 15, 1999
Previous Article:Justice with Jacobs column.
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