In today’s Farewell to Neighbors article, I thought readers might appreciate
a personal story of how 10 soap has been good for the industry.
You remember showing up in scenes with a young Kylie Minogue and Guy Pearce just as easily.
But I had completely forgotten that it was actually in 1986 when I was an extra in scenes of Neighborsrecalling that my links with soap go back 36 years.
Whether Neighbors has supported the Melbourne industry for nearly 4 decades so I guess I’m just one example of how.
You see, I was an extra in the 80s, a storyliner in the 90s and a journalist in the 2000s+.
In those early years, it was all about the Robinsons and the Ramsays.
When Kylie performed on location with Guy Pearce that day, she was still a newcomer. Pearce as Mike Young was more recognizable than the girl with the perm, the jeans, and the big earrings. A group of us loitered in the background as they delivered some pretty pedestrian dialogue.
I remember Anne Haddy as Helen Daniels running a limousine business, Peter O’Brien in a scene with Stefan Dennis at Lassiters, Geoff Paine as Clive serving in the coffee and darts inside the pub where Shane Ramsay was torn by a dilemma.
Extra work was long hours, mostly waiting in gloomy weather, hanging around for catering even though it was in the Channel 10 cafeteria. At the time it aired you were lucky if your elbow has reached an inch from the screen. Ahh showbiz.
Fast forward to the late 90s when I spent several months in Grundy’s writing department. It was the time of the Scullys, the Kennedys and this “House of Trouser”.
Australian soap has always been a great training ground due to its production. For this assembly line opportunity, I followed a single episode from the origins of the idea to the script, through the script, script editing, rehearsal/shooting, post-production until to broadcast.
Sitting around a table constantly coming up with ideas, I learned that I was more into creative writing. But soap is a collaborative beast, and every decision becomes an artistic challenge for someone else. I learned so much from the Grundy team here, constantly juggling the limitations of actors and sets available to tell their stories. Some actors were better at drama, others at comedy. You couldn’t use alcohol in angry scenes. It was usually orange juice in the pub, because of the classification. The BBC had to approve everything (and once faxed an apology for a misplaced comma on a previous missive).
About once a month, the writing department decamped from Grundy’s base in South Melbourne to studios in Nunawading to fit in with the cast and crew. Actors would have the opportunity to discuss story arcs with the people who held their characters’ fates in their hands.
I remember Jackie Woodburne (Susan Kennedy) being worried after Libby (Kym Valentine) left the family co-op, Susan and Karl (Alan Fletcher) becoming empty nests. In a show like Neighbors it’s a problem, and she knew it. She launched the idea of welcoming teenagers – which was already Far from homeis the grass. If I remember correctly, Jackie even suggested that they might consider aboriginal teenagers. Even in the late 1990s, the writing department knew it would struggle to gain support from producers and the network. I don’t remember how the Kennedys carried on with the storylines until Izzy (Natalie Bassingthwaighte) arrived, but we are all grateful to them.
In the mid-2000s, when I moved into TV commentary and journalism, I started reporting on the show, initially from an LGBTQI+ perspective. I remember stories with Lana (Bridget Neval) venting her sexuality as groundbreaking for a G-rated 6:30 show. This young Canadian-born actress handled the material with grace and class, even if it was light compared to prime-time heavyweights Queer as Folk, The L Word, Tales of the City. This was contrasted by Far from homeThe homosexual kiss between Esther Anderson and Kate Bell that caused Seven’s executives to crumble, cutting the pitch before it even aired. Performance would follow with Erinsborough characters including James Mason, Takaya Honda, Matt Wilson, Georgie Stone, among others.
Over the years, I’ve lost count of the interviews I’d file with the cast and creatives, but here’s a rundown:
I’ve chatted to stars on red carpets, watched studio shoots, attended church weddings, garden weddings, and even taken the Neighbors bus tour to interview UK fans about their passion for the show.
But it’s time to say goodbye.
Although there are criticisms, much has been said about the legacy of the series, finding stars, employing a team, bringing a slice of Australian suburban sunshine to the UK and to underpin the list of dramas of 10 for 4 decades.
If my time with the writers has given me anything, it’s the show’s unique generational mix. The way older characters helped younger characters talk about their issues, which in turn passed them on to those who followed. You always knew someone had your back on Ramsay Street….
Reg Watson’s vision, which shone brightly through a range of keepers, has stood the test of time and entertained millions.
A pretty perfect mix, indeed.
Neighbors final week:
Monday, July 25 6:30 p.m. – 8:10 p.m. Fishing
Tuesday, July 26 6:30 p.m. – 8:10 p.m. Fishing
Wednesday, July 27 6:30 p.m. – 8:10 p.m. Fishing
Thursday July 28 7:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. on 10 and 10 Fishing
Notice to UK fans: tv tonight will drop a final story after the Australian broadcast.