This week we celebrate the amazing success of Australia’s longest-running drama series Neighbours, which went to air in March 1985 and screened its final episode in July 2022, after over nearly 9,000 episodes and 38 seasons. This most iconic of soaps ignited the careers of such international stars as Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Delta Goodrem, Natalie Imbruglia, Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Margot Robbie, Daniel MacPherson, Holly Valance, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Dale, and Liam Hemsworth, and elevated the careers of local stars Craig McLachlan, Rob Mills, Natalie Bassingthwaite, Stefan Dennis, and Stephanie McIntosh. Below L-R – Reg Watson, Crossroads, Coronatiom Street

Originally created for Grundy Productions by Reg Watson (Neighbours, Sons and Daughters, Young Doctors, Prisoner) for the Seven Network, Watson had previously worked in the UK on the local soap Crossroads and was acutely aware of the success of the venerable Coronation Street, which had been enjoying a loyal following in the UK since 1960. He envisaged an Australian version of “Corrie” and gave it the working title Ramsay Street, after discarding several other options – People Like Us, One Way Street, and Living Together – and focused on the lives of three average families – the Ramsays, Robinsons, and Clarkes. Below L-R – Opening Image, The Original Neighbours Cast, Pin Oak Crt, Vermont South (Melb) aka Ramsay St.

Watson showcased the engaging ordinariness, humour and drama that abounded in this fictional cul-de-sac location of Ramsay Street, in the equally fictional suburb of Erinsborough, and the “neighbouring” environs of the commercial precinct of Lassiters which boasted a bar, hotel, café, police station, offices, and a park. In reality the street that would become a famous tourist attraction in Melbourne was actually Pin Oak Court in the solidly middle-class suburb of Vermont South, located in the city’s south-east corridor, where the actual residents were more than willing to allow their properties to be used for external scenes, while all the interiors were shot at the Global Television Studios in nearby Forest Hill. Below L-R -Marge Bishop (Anne Charleston) and Harold Bishop (Ian Smith), Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent, Barry Crocker.

The original  theme song was written by the then-husband and wife team of Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent, two Brits who had enjoyed great success in the 1960’s with Hatch churning out the hits for Petula Clark (Downtown, My Love, I Know a Place, A Sign of the Times, Colour My World, Don’t Sleep in the Subway), Jacki Trent (Where Are You Now My Love), and Scott Walker (Joanna), so they were very successful tunesmiths, who brought a wealth of experience to writing what would become the timeless Neigbours signature song. The couple agreed that the proposed series title of Ramsay Street was too similar to UK’s Coronation Street, so in one day they wrote the music (Hatch), and lyrics (Trent), which emphasized the feel-good, neighbourly vibe of the show, and so bestowed upon the series its name “Neighbours…everybody needs good neighbours…that’s when good neighbours become good friends”, and prevailed on local crooner Barry Crocker to record the song at 10.00pm in the studio that night, the next day the producers were delighted, and the song and the title Neighbours was a lock. Despite the music being rearranged, and revamped to embrace different genres – jazz, rock, pop, and funk – and recorded by many other singers over time, none could rival the level of affection enjoyed by the original which was used from 1985-92, and was embraced as a loveable albeit slightly daggy embodiment of suburban Australia, and was once voted the most recognized TV theme in Aust and the UK, beating out Coronation Street and Eastenders. Below L-R – Muriel Steinbeck, the “merry” widow of Autumn Affair, James Condon, star of The Story of Peter Gray, the cast of Bellbird (front is Helen Reddy’s mother Stella Reddy)

Neighbours wasn’t the first local TV series to capture the imagination of the viewing public, Autumn Affair (1958-9), The Story of Peter Grey (1961-2), Bellbird (1967-77) had all broken new ground in broadcasting with coverage of infidelity, small town politics and drama, Aboriginal and migrant characters, with Bellbird blazing a trail for local soaps when it was picked up by Thames TV and aired for two seasons in the UK. The 1970’s was the era of sex and sin in local soaps with the release of Motel, and the iconic Number 96, which brought racier plots, saucier femmes fatale, and regularly challenged viewers with the lifestyles of the denizens of an apartment block in Sydney. Synonymous with sex and nudity, No.96 broke new ground with the first inter-racial kiss, the first regular gay character, and the seductive Abigail, who was the breakthrough star of the show. Blond, bosomy, sensuous, and the most overtly sexy character yet seen in an Aussie soap, she never actually appeared nude, and cleverly promoted her image via teasingly revealing costumes, and a convincing cover of the erotic Serge Gainsbourg /Jane Birkin hit Je t’aime…moi non plus. Below L-R – Cast of No. 96, Promotional Teaser for The Show, Abigail Rogan 


Neighbours would become an iconic TV series but its launch was inauspicious, the Seven Network dropped the show after four months; despite solid ratings in Melbourne, it had not resonated with Sydney viewers, as there was considerable inter-city rivalry at the time, so much so that producers had tried to conceal the actual provenance of the show, however Sydneysiders remained unsupportive. But Channel Ten were not dissuaded from snapping up the series, and offered to buy the existing sets built by Seven, who in an act of churlish bastardry simply destroyed them. But by January 1986 Neighbours was back on air with a new focus on character-driven plots, as four young stars emerged to capture the imagination of viewers – Charlene Mitchell (Kylie Minogue), Scott Robinson (Jason Donovan), Mike Young (Guy Pearce), and Jane Harris (Annie Jones). This period would coincide with the launch of Neighbours in the UK in October 1986 on BBC1, airing twice a day (included a repeat screening) for five days a week, it became a ratings phenomenon in the late 80’s, and throughout the 1990’s, and forced the local soaps to move from two episodes a week to four to compete with it. Below L-R Guy Pearce, Jason Donovan, and Kylie Minogue.


By 1988 the viewer numbers for the twice daily episodes of Neighbours were garnering an audience of 16 million per day, which was actually more than the total population of Australia at the time! It would peak at 19.6 million for the episode that featured the wedding of Charlene and Scott in 1987, incredibly the whole cast was flown to the UK to attend the Royal Variety Performance for Queen Elizabeth, and upon greeting the cast back stage HRM remarked ‘There are an awful lot of you aren’t there …” The screening of episodes in the UK were appox.18 months behind Australia, and fans there were hungry for plot spoilers, and as there was no internet, cabbies were selling bootleg VHS copies from their taxis, and every Australian tourist would be expected to update the locals on happenings in Ramsay Street, or at least say something in “Australian”. Below – The cast perform at the 1988 Royal Variety Performance at the Palladium.


Neighbours was sold to over 60 countries, and became one of Australia’s best media exports, particularly in the northern hemisphere, where its popularity in the UK was unparalleled, partly attributable to the summery year-round vibe of the exterior location shots, as well as the casual, laid-back relatability of the cast, and the magnetism of its regular characters. This fact was not wasted on Network Seven who had ditched Neighbours after four months and now desperately needed a local rival to the all-conquering Ramsay St juggernaut. So in 1988 they developed the Palm Beach-based Home and Away, set on Sydney’s northern beaches, at the fictional location of Summer Bay, and created yet another iconic TV series, which is still running after 30 years, and also enjoys a healthy international audience with exports to more than 80 countries.

The impetus that Neighbours popularity in the UK provided for budding local singers cannot be underestimated, Kylie Minogue was the star of Neighbours in the late 80’s and quickly translated her soapie fame into hit records here and in the UK, after Stock, Aitken, and Waterman (SAW) signed her to a contract – Loco-motion (#2), I Should Be So Lucky (#1), Got To Be Certain (#2), I Still Love You (Je Ne Sais Pas Pour Quoi) (#2), Wouldn’t Change A Thing (#2), Hand On Your Heart (#1), and her duet with Jason Donovan Especially For You (#1), were all huge hits in the UK between 1988-90. Jason Donovan also dominated the UK charts at the same time with Nothing Can Divide Us (#5), Too Many Broken Hearts (#1), and Sealed With A Kiss (#1). Kylie would go on to sell 100 million records and top the UK charts no less than nine times in the next 20 years, in an illustrious career in music, that continues to thrive after more than forty years. Below L-R – Craig McLachlan, Natalie Imbruglia, and Natalie Bassingthwaite (Rogue Traders).

Other Aussie soap stars would launch careers from Neighbours and have UK hits including Holly Valance (Kiss, Kiss #1, Down Boy #2, and Naughty Girl #26), Natalie Imbruglia (Torn #1, Bad Mistake #2, Shiver #8), Delta Goodrem (Born to Try #3, Lost Without You #10), Natalie Bassingthwaite (Voodoo Child #3), Craig McLachlan (Mona #2), and Stefan Dennis ( Don’t It Make You Feel Good #16), There would also be those who would  take a shot at fame but fall short, the Blakeney Twins Gayle and Gillian signed to SAW and released All Mixed Up, Mad If You Don’t, and Wanna Be Your Lover which all stiffed, while Bruce “B-Man” Samazan tried his hand at rap with One Of A Kind, which it was, the worst record ever made by a Neighbours cast member. Below L-R the Kapoors – Menik Goonaratne, Coco-Coco Jacinta Cherian, and Sachin Joab.


A criticism of Neighbours by both black and Asian viewers in Britain and Australia, was that it was “too white”, which led to cast changes to correct the perceived ethnic/ cultural imbalance. An Indian family the Kapoors were introduced, and actors Sharon Johal (Dipi Rebecchi), Scarlet Vas (Mishti Sharma) and Menik Gooneratne (Priya Kapoor) become regular players. Asians Sunny Lee (Hany Lee), and David Tanaka (Takaya Honda), also emerged, as did First Nations actors Shereena Clanton (Sheila Canning) and Meyne Wyatt (Nate Kinski). But many of these actors complained of endemic racism on the set, as well as racist comments from online viewers, which these cast members felt the producers did not deal with adequately.  Below L-R – Paula Abdul, Michael Parkinson/Lily Allen/Emma Bunton, Shane Warne.

At its peak Neighbours attracted celebrities and guest stars like bees to a honeypot, the following all appeared on the show – Paula Abdul, Lily Allen, Russell Brand, Chris Lowe (Pet Shop Boys), Matt Lucas and David Walliams (Little Britain), Andre Rieu, Hanson, and ex-Spice Girl Emma Bunton.  Local celebs also lined up for their moment of Neighbours fame- Shane Warne, Clive James, The Wiggles, Molly Meldrum, Warwick Capper, The Veronicas, Courtney Act, Brendan Fevola, Matt Preston, and many others. The series aired on BBC1 for 21 years, 1986-2008 when it was sold to Channel 5 who would screen Neighbours until 2022, when Fremantle Media requested £300 million for eight years of shows, which was three times the show’s usual fee, and by that time it was rating under a million per day in the UK, and in Australia being outrated by Home and Away, so the writing was on the wall for this venerable soap.

For all its diversity, longevity, and controversy, Neighbours was first and foremost a soap, it enjoyed a dream run for over thirty years because viewers could relate to its people, places, and plots, which often held up a mirror to the fans themselves, in which they could see their own life’s challenges, dramas, and special events, played out in the homes of the denizens of Ramsay Street. Ratings aside there is no doubt that Neigbours left at the top of its game, still dispensing a kind of salve for our national conscience, a weekly free pass for viewers to take refuge within the lives of its beloved characters, who beguiled and intrigued us, and never betrayed the show’s guiding mantra – “that’s when good neighbours, become good friends.’ Bedlow L-R Charlene and Scott’s wedding, 30th. Anniversary Special Edition, Delta Goodren as Nina Tucker.

Please note that over the next few weeks 4TR will be blogging the hit songs of Neighbours alumni- Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Delta Goodrem, Natalie Imbruglia, Holly Valance, Craig McLachlan, and Natalie Bassingthwaite, we hope you enjoy this feature, and remember your continued support and feedback is always appreciated.

Graeme Davy


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