Arts & Entertainment

Neighbours: leaving after 37 years

Image: Neighbours.com

It would not be hyperbole to call Neighbours a phenomena. The half-hour episodes of this quintessentially Australian soap opera have fed the appetites of hungry young viewers (and more than a few adults) daily for almost four decades.

It has also been the incubator for literally dozens of acting and singing careers, some of which went on to super stardom. Tonight (July 28) the credits will roll at the end of Episode 8903 and the famous theme song will herald the end of an era. 

Neighbours was the brainchild of Australian writer and producer, Reginald J. Watson, arguably the king of Aussie soaps with a resume that includes Prisoner, The Young Doctors, Sons and Daughters, The Restless Years, among many others. Prior to this, he had a very successful career in the UK writing and producing some of its most popular soapies. 

Flush with his previous wins, Watson took his new concept to television powerhouse, Reg Grundy Productions in 1985 and it was readily accepted. Based on the trials and tribulations of residents in the fictional cul-de-sac, Ramsay Street, in the fictional Melbourne suburb of Erinsborough, Neighbours debuted on the Seven Network on 18 March, 1985.

It faired reasonably well in Melbourne, but Sydney ratings were unimpressive and it was cancelled in July the same year. 

Channel Ten jumped on it, screening it on their network for the first time on 20 January, 1986, starting a jewel-lined dream run and probably causing some executives at Seven to gnaw off their own hands. But Neighbours did not truly shine until it appeared on British TV screens. 

BBC executive, Michael Grade bought the show and included it in BBC1’s daytime scheduling where it garnered a passable viewership. Then, one day, his daughter advised him that she and her friends had been reprimanded at school for sneaking out to watch a daytime soapie – Neighbours. Apparently all the kids loved it. 

Grade was no fool. He repeated the 1:30pm episodes at 5:30pm each day. That was Neighbours’ watershed moment; its ratings curve went vertical overnight and the soapie’s then stars became idols. 

Kylie Minogue (Charlene) and Jason Donovan (Scott) were the first actors to reach apotheosis but a long list of names followed, including: Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce, Natalie Imbruglia, Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Chris and Liam Hemsworth, Margot Robbie, Delta Goodrem, Rob Mills, Alan Dale, Holly Valance, and (cough) Craig McLachlan.

The famous Ramsay Street cul-de-sac: setting for Neighbours.

Throw industrial-level popstar machines, Stock Aitken Waterman into the mix and you had Neighbours graduates all over the airwaves during the 1980s. 

On the subject of music, the Neighbours theme song was once voted the world’s most recognised TV theme. With music composed by erstwhile celebrity, Tony Hatch and lyrics by his wife, Jackie Trent, the song has been through eight iterations.

The first and perhaps most famous version is the one sung by Barry Crocker. Others who have performed it over the opening and closing credits include: Sandra de Jong, Daniel Boys and Stephanie Angelini, Garth Ploog, and Bonnie Anderson. 

Love it or hate it, Neighbours has figuratively placed its hands into the wet cement of Australia’s cultural walk of fame. It is embedded in the landscape. 

They have, indeed, become good friends.  

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