After 37 years and close to 9,000 episodes, the end is near for the Australian daytime soap Neighbours. The time has come to ponder its legacy and reminisce. I’m sure there are superfans out there who’ve followed the show from its beginning in 1985, but there are probably many more of us who did watch Neighbours for some time, enjoyed it, and then moved on for one reason or the other. This is my personal recollection of a TV series that’s had a remarkably nostalgic impact on me.
The clip above shows the opening titles of Neighbours from the period when I was watching the show. I’m not sure when I first got hooked and when I saw my last episode, but let’s say it was between 1987 and 1993. I grew up in a similar neighborhood, albeit in Sweden, so Neighbours felt like home to me. One of my closest friends lived in a house on my street; there was a connection and familiarity with other neighbors. I have many happy memories from this period of my life and Neighbours fit right in. This was a time in my teens when I was discovering classic American shows from the 1980s, but there was something comforting and enjoyable about spending 20 minutes a day with a few families in an Australian cul-de-sac.
Neighbours was created by Reg Watson, a TV executive who was inspired by the British soap Coronation Street and wanted to see something that depicted teenagers in a realistic way. Introducing several middle-class families who lived on Ramsay Street in Erinsborough, a fictional suburb of Melbourne, the series became a hit among younger audiences and has stayed true to its original idea throughout the decades; many young actors got their break on Neighbours.
In fact, part of the reason why the show is globally known even in countries that don’t air it is because of how many superstars it has spawned. This was the place where Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan began their careers (their characters’ wedding on the show was a big deal in the late 1980s, watched by a huge audience in Australia and Britain). Ben Mendelsohn showed up in 1986, Russell Crowe in 1987 and Liam Hemsworth in 2007. Margot Robbie and Guy Pearce had three-year runs on Neighbours while Natalie Imbruglia spent two years on Ramsay Street.
37 years is a very long time. For instance, when I stopped watching Neighbours, the Kennedy family had yet to be introduced on Ramsay Street. They are still there, almost 30 years later, including Karl and Susan, played by Alan Fletcher and Jackie Woodburne. Real Neighbours veterans, and yet I have no relationship whatsoever to these characters.
— Alan Dale (@RealAlanDale) April 27, 2018
The people I do remember and will forever see as Ramsay Street neighbors are the Robinsons, especially Paul (Stefan Dennis) who evolved into somewhat of a bad guy on the show. Dennis was there from the beginning, but quit Neighbours in 1993. Later on, he would describe it as bad decision and returned in 2004, a fixture on Ramsay Street ever since. Alan Dale played his father Jim who also left the show in 1993, his character killed off in a heart attack (a scene I remember as quite shocking). Dale subsequently opened up about his negative relationship with the production company, but did reunite with Dennis in 2018 and 2019 for brief appearances on Neighbours. And he had a successful Hollywood career afterwards, especially in television.
Other characters and actors who stood out during these years were Anne Haddy as the matriarch Helen Daniels. Suffering from many real-life health problems, Haddy once said that she would like to have had her funeral screened as part of the series. Over the years, Helen had her own difficulties, suffering a debilitating stroke. After 12 years on the show, Haddy retired from acting in 1997. The death of Helen was a genuinely emotional event.
On a lighter note, two of the most entertaining characters were Madge and Harold. Part of the fun was how different they were; Madge (Anne Charleston) was a fiery waitress with a sense of humor while Harold (Ian Smith) was a decidedly more stuffy and conservative man. Somehow, they fell in love and so did audiences; Charleston and Smith spent many years on the show. Adding to the fun was Lou Carpenter (Tom Oliver), one of the most enduring characters on the show, who was initially introduced as a rival for Madge’s affection; over the years, he and Harold became unlikely friends. In the clip above, Charleston and Smith reunited on Australian TV in February this year.
Neighbours survived decade after decade thanks to a loyal fan base and reliable funding from both British and Australian TV. In the end, there wasn’t enough of an audience or willingness from Britain’s Channel 5 to pay for Neighbours, which is why it was canceled. Who knows, maybe there will be a comeback some time in the future, but daytime soaps are in decline, generally speaking. What we do have, we who get sucked into one of these ”never-ending” endeavors, is nostalgia. For me, I guess the ten-year anniversary in the clip above sums up my years with Neighbours, intimately connected to memories of growing up with my family.