01 September 2012

Neighbours: A Brief History Of How It All Began

A young Kylie Minogue as Charlene Mitchell in her very first on-screen "Neighbours" appearance.

The road to Ramsay Street began when Brisbane-born Reg Watson, pictured above with the late Noele Gordon, left Australia for England in the 1950s. It was in 1959, according to Noele Gordon's autobiography, My Life At Crossroads, that Reg first suggested the idea of a daily serial to his boss at ATV, Lew Grade.

Reg was not instantly taken up on his idea, but in 1960 the next paving slab on the road to Ramsay Street was put in place when Granada Television's Coronation Street was first screened.

Interviewed in the 1980s, after Neighbours had begun, Reg stated: "I first got the idea in England watching Coronation Street."

Back to the 1960s, and in 1964 Reg became producer of Crossroads, a brand new soap set in a motel in the English Midlands, and made by ATV. Lew Grade had taken his time, but had not forgotten Reg's idea for a daily serial!

Reg gained valuable experience working on Crossroads, and, although often mocked, it became one of the most popular programmes on the ITV Network.

In the mid- 1970s, Reg returned to Australia, and, between then and 1984, created such memorable soaps as Prisoner (screened here as Prisoner: Cell Block H - late night cult viewing in the late 1980s) and Sons and Daughters.

In 1984, work began on Neighbours at the Australian Grundy organisation, where Reg Watson was head of TV drama. Although inspired by Coronation Street (humour and all), Neighbours was rather more youth-orientated than the Street of the 1960s-to-mid-1980s era. "Humour was to play a big part in it and the other important thing was to show young people communicating with older people," Mr Watson later explained, in answer to questions about the show's gestation period.

Cancelled by Channel 7, picked up by Channel 10, the early days of the Neighbours series were pretty turbulent off-screen. But what did we care? We'd never seen it. But then the BBC bought it...
"Neighbours" had debuted in Australia on 18 March 1985, and we got our first glimpse of Ramsay Street on 27 October 1986 - the first day of the BBC's daytime service. Des Clarke (Paul Keane) and Daphne Lawrence (Elaine Smith) are pictured.

Wild rumours that this new series would feature a stripper were rampant round where I lived...

A caring, coping female in the classic soap opera tradition, Helen Daniels took on the task of bringing up her four grandchildren when her daughter Anne died in childbirth.

Played by the late Anne Haddy, Helen was also a great support to son-in-law Jim (Alan Dale) - and was created with the notion of disproving the "interfering dragon" mother-in-law stereotype.

Helen was once described on-screen as "St Helen of Ramsay Street".

Anne Haddy spoke of her feelings about Helen to TV writer Hilary Kingsley in the late 1980s:
"She sometimes annoys me when she's always right. But she's a doer - and it's nice to show a grandmother can wear high heels and nail varnish, too."

Helen remains one of the fondest remembered of past "Neighbours" characters.

Daphne Lawrence was the non-stripping stripper at Des Clarke's bucks (stag) night.

A shaggy-permed, blonde-highlighted, twenty-something sticky beak - the original Julie Robinson, played by Vikki Blanche. I found her infuriatingly fabulous!

1985 - a scene from the first episode - and it looks like Paul Robinson (Stefan Dennis) is still in nappies. Father Jim (Alan Dale) is amused.

The original Scott Robinson (Darius Perkins) receives advice from father Jim.

Scott transformed - the move from Channel 7 to Channel 10 brought a new Scott to our screens - Jason Donovan, seen here with screen sister, Lucy (Kylie Flinker). Like Scott, Lucy changed faces - she was Sascha Close later in the '80s, and would undergo another transformation in the '90s.

The Channel 10 "Neighbours" episodes gave us the glorious Madge Mitchell/Ramsay/Bishop - played by Anne Charleston, seen here with screen nephew and original "Neighbours" character Shane Ramsay (Peter O'Brien). Just look at those shoulder pads! Just look at that mullet!

Gossipy Mrs Mangel, played by the English-born actress Vivean Gray, loved her granddaughter Jane Harris, played by Annie Jones. Of Hungarian parentage, Annie had formerly played roles in the film "Run Chrissie Run" and the TV shows "The Henderson Kids" and "Sons And Daughters". Jane Harris had originally been called "plain Jane, super brain" by her contemporaries at Erinsborough High School, but soon revealed herself to be one of the beauties of Ramsay Street.
Eileen Clarke, mother of Des (Desmond, if you please!) was, like Nell Mangel, played by an English-born actress: Myra De Groot made the most of a brief stint in "Neighbours", greatly impressed the production team, and Eileen became a regular character. She was gossipy, prudish, gullible and excitable, but always meant so well!

Myra's death in 1988 put an end to Eileen's stay in Erinsborough - nobody else could have played her!

The "Neighbours" theme tune was written by our very own Tony Hatch, creator of such memorable TV themes as "Crossroads" and "Emmerdale Farm". The lyrics were written by his wife, Jackie Trent, and sung by Australian actor and singer Barry Crocker.

Interviewed by the Neighbours Perfect Blend website in 2005, Reg Watson said:  

'In pitching the show to Seven and Ten I blithely said, “This concept can run for twenty years”. I knew from the looks on their faces that they thought they'd heard it all before.'

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