On behalf of Australia, I’m really sorry about Neighbours. Honestly, we had no idea that a little soapie based in a fictional place outside Melbourne would go for so long. We had no idea you’d love it as much as you do. To be honest, it took us a while to get on board (it was originally dropped by its first broadcaster here not only long after it began).
I have to confess that most of us have been pretty much over it since Scott and Charlene left. That’s not entirely true, but we’ve certainly been lukewarm about it for a long time. If you want proof, then look no further than the ultimate television audience feedback loop, the (Australian version) of Gogglebox:
Not long after Neighbours started we started our love/ hate relationship with it. And by that, I mean we started making fun of it. In the late 1980s and early 1990s Australian sketch show Fast Forward created its own mock soapie, “Dumb Street”, a tribute to Neighbours, Home and Away and other beachside badly written nightlies – the scripts for the parody weren’t that much worse than the originals. You might recognise young comedians Gina Riley, Jane Turner and Magda Szubanski here too, artists who’d go on to build suburban mockumentary Kath and Kim a decade or so later.
Your Lord, Stephen Fry, also had a crack with his man about the House Hugh Laurie. In A Bit of Fry and Laurie part Neighbours, part Monty Python Down Under dig came together beautifully
While it’s easy to blame the UK for Neighbours’ ascent, the little Aussie production has also made it across the globe. American online hub Hulu carries it for ex-pats and interested parties in the States, housing episodes a good few weeks after Australian air dates. Having to wait for international television is something we’re used to on our side of the pond, so it’s a nice piece of irony, actually.
What has been good about the birthday celebrations has been getting a chance to relive some of the show’s triumphs. I don’t know about you, but we’d forgotten that Kylie’s Charlene was actually a mechanic by trade – a bit of television gender diversity that we could do with a bit more of these days. And, I do have to acknowledge that Neighbours has also served as a right of passage for young audiences and actors finding their way from awkward tween and teendom into adulthood. There’s nothing like finding your first crush on the show (ah, Craig McLaughlan, you were lovely back in the day), and many local actors and production staff got their first professional start on the show. Its production company Freemantle Media Australia estimates that the program has featured over “25,000 cast members” during its 30 year run.
I guess what I really need to let you know is that we, here in Oz, know that this is all a bit ridiculous. We get a bit worried sometimes that you lot might not have worked that out. For the official 30thanniversary special put together here by local broadcaster Channel 10, old school cast members reminisced about bad hair and worse fashion. They laughed at how much Bouncer the dog appeared (perhaps as too central a character, for too long). And yes, it’s funny. We get that it’s funny. It’s also a bit embarrassing and a bit backward – even a bit bogan (that Australian for likeable chav, effectively).
Please make sure you’re laughing with us.
From Ramsay Street, With love.
Dr Liz Giuffre is a lecturer and researcher in Media, Music and Cultural Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Her work focuses on music and television in particular, including audience studies, fandom, cultural history and cultural industries in transition.