The End of an Era: Farewell, Neighbours
Everyone’s heard of Neighbours. If they don’t watch this Australian soap opera, they’re probably at least familiar with the theme tune. Or that one young couple who got married. Or maybe that dog who had a dream about marrying another dog. Or Harold going missing and returning from the dead years later. The only Neighbours events that exist as far as pop culture is concerned. Whilst the show may only dream of the viewing figures it reached back in the day, it still has a fiercely loyal fanbase and achieves impressive daytime ratings here in the UK. It regularly outperforms two of the British daily serial dramas and is frequently amongst its UK broadcaster’s most-watched shows. Sadly, after 37 and a half years, the serial will air for the final time. To mark this poignant occasion, I wanted to take some time to share my journey with this down-to-Earth, slice-of-life drama, which has been a constant throughout my entire life.
Neighbours was first broadcast in Australia on 18th March 1985 – a few years before I was born – but you could say I have been a fan since before my birth. My mum was a Neighbours viewer in the early years, as was my grandma. I think it helped them to feel connected with my uncle. He had emigrated to Sydney with his Aussie partner a few years prior. My mum and I would watch together since before I can remember. She is to blame (or rather, thank) for my exposure to and investment in this series from a young age. My mum’s favourite anecdote to tell people was that when she was pregnant with me, I would always start kicking whenever the Neighbours theme tune came on. Of course, it’s impossible to know if my kicking was just a coincidence. I prefer to see it as a sign, so I can say I’ve been a fan since I was in the womb. My mother was likely in labour with me in the run-up to the BBC One lunchtime broadcast of episode 378 – when the UK was still lagging 18 months behind Australia.
When I think of my earliest Neighbours memory, I always seem to think of Sky Bishop flooding No 32 with a hosepipe. So naughty! I have since discovered this event featured in episode 1538, aired on 6th October 1992 in the UK. This date made me realise it’s not my earliest memory after all. I have generic memories of characters who departed a whole year before this, such as Sky’s mother, Kerry Bishop. One episode sticks in my mind because of the real-life events surrounding it. It featured a random scene with Kerry in the No 32 kitchen. I recall my parents waiting (impatiently) for Neighbours to finish so we could go to the supermarket. I think they had learned that taking me away mid-Neighbours probably would have triggered a meltdown! Best to avoid that.
Ahh, Bouncer. I was absolutely in love with that beautiful dog. All my plush dog toys would get the honour of being named after him. I think he is what truly started my life-long obsession with golden Labradors. I loved how he was able to act and perform tasks like answering the phone and saving people from chip-pan fires. What a legend! Such a good boy. I desperately wanted a friend like Bouncer – I was so jealous of Toby Mangel! It makes me sad to think (the actor) Bouncer’s whole life revolved around Neighbours, from puppy to adult, only for him to pass away mere months after retiring. I love you, Bouncer. Never forgotten.
It was around the time of the Martin family’s arrival/”return” on UK screens when I reached an age where I could adequately follow and comprehend what was going on in the stories. The other day, I saw a post saying the Martin family’s return episode was 30 years old. My memories of it came flooding back. I remember feeling scared for Helen, who had been abandoned in the middle of nowhere. The Martins had (conveniently) driven past her, but only Hannah had spotted her. Hannah was desperately trying to get her family to turn the car around to save her grandmother – but nobody would believe her that it was Helen! It all came good in the end. I enjoyed the Martin family – they were a good mix. I was fond of Julie – I thought she was funny and scary all at once. I related to Hannah – even though she was a little older than I was. It was nice to grow up ‘alongside’ her for those few years. I remember thinking Michael was so evil – but now I can recognise he was a bit more complex than that. Between Neighbours, The Girl from Tomorrow, Round the Twist and The Finder (known as Finders Keepers natively), I quickly learned that Australian TV was the best.
I always remember an incident in my school playground where I argued with my friend Luke over the spelling of Phoebe Bright’s name. He insisted it began with “F”, but I said it started with “Ph”. Spelling is a strange topic to have an argument over, but kids will be kids. I refused to drop it – being the pedant that I was. I was a confident speller and had taught myself the correct spelling by studying the closing credits. Thankfully, I’ve since grown up and can (attempt to) ‘let it go’ in situations like that. Most of the time…
Speaking of the credits, I used to love when writer Lois Booton’s name would come up on the screen at the start of an episode. I had a friend named Lois, so it felt special – like a personal shout-out to her.
I hated being forced to miss episodes of Neighbours. I probably at least once threatened to phone ChildLine to report my parents attempting to take me on holiday. Holidays in my family meant either a fortnight visiting family in Belfast or a week visiting family in Blackburn. In theory, it’s not like I couldn’t have still tuned in from either of those locations. I’d often attempt to, but the adults’ plans usually overthrew mine. How selfish of them to disrupt my routine! Of course, I understand their priorities now… I just didn’t like it. Neighbours should have come first! I wasn’t allowed to leave the VCR plugged in whilst we were away from home, so I couldn’t even record them to binge upon my return. Such a tough upbringing(!). Kids today don’t know how good they have it.
On one particular trip to Belfast, I remember being taken to visit my dad’s great aunts, having been told they loved watching the soaps. I was so excited to be able to talk about Neighbours with them. To my disappointment, they only watched Coronation Street and Emmerdale. Apparently, there were “too many kids” in Neighbours. I was heartbroken. How could they not like Neighbours?! Neighbours was great!
There was one story that really haunted me as a young viewer, and that was Lauren Carpenter being taken in by the Children of Barabbas cult. I was too young to fully understand what was happening. Whilst it wasn’t exactly a horror film on-screen, something about it unsettled me. Probably the white robes, creepy lighting and weird rituals.
As a kid, I looked up to the teenagers of Erinsborough. I wanted to hang out at a coffee shop with my friends before, during and after school, drinking awesome milkshakes. I genuinely thought that would be what my high school years would be like, perhaps with a dash of Grange Hill here and there. I’m gutted my high school years ended up being boring in comparison.
One strange little observation that always stuck with me was a character who used to sit on the sofa with a cushion on her lap. I want to say it was Anne Wilkinson, but I can’t be 100% sure. For some reason, I thought this looked like a really stylish way to sit, so I would occasionally try and mimic that behaviour. I absolutely recognise how odd that is, in hindsight.
Tuesdays were a good day for me back in the ’90s. It was Radio Times day! I’d get home from school and immediately go and seek out the 5 glorious new Neighbours spoilers it had to offer me. It was frustrating when the synopses were vague. Occasionally something really juicy would fill me with excitement and leave me counting down the days until I could see it. Ahh, simpler times.
In early 1998, my household first connected to the internet (after years of me begging). This was the penny-per-minute era, where it blocked the phone line. You could only use it after 6 pm or face huge peak-rate charges. Needless to say, I would spend hours searching for Neighbours websites, saving all the pictures for use on my own website, such as stills from the opening titles. Samsite, in case you weren’t lucky enough to visit it at the time(!). All you could ever want to know about Neighbours and Byker Grove. My parents forbade me from launching it publicly for safety reasons, so it was just a bunch of webpage files on the family computer. It was all good experience, though. I seem to recall my favourite Neighbours website to peruse was “Neighbours Worldwide Fanpages“. This was run by a fan called Noel, who is still an active part of the community today. I’d learned the URL off-by-heart because I didn’t know how to use bookmarks: www.baxendale.u-net.com/ramsayst. I’d often show this website to school friends who were Neighbours viewers… however, I think they must have only been casual viewers as they didn’t appreciate how amazing it was. Crying emoji.
Missing an episode back then was a nightmare. Especially if it was a massive cliffhanger. One literal example is when Sarah Beaumont falls off a cliff and is left clinging on for dear life as the credits roll. I never got to see the episode where she was saved. It was the day after my brother’s birthday, so I assume there was some family event that prevented it. I had to ask my grandma to tell me what had happened. Apparently, Dr Karl saved her. I wonder if he regrets that?
My first high-school English teacher was a massive Neighbours fan. Mrs Radford. She was an absolute delight – a proper bookworm. Loved getting lost in stories. I imagined she had bookshelves full of fantasy and romance novels at home. She would often jump out of her store cupboard in the classroom and proclaim that she had just returned from Narnia. We constantly questioned her sanity, but her passion and eccentricity made her a brilliantly engaging teacher. Her favourite topic of discussion was how Susan Kennedy is a school teacher yet is never seen marking homework. As a teacher, this is what Mrs Radford’s free time was dominated by. I guess Susan just uses her ninja skills to whizz through it all.
In December 1999, I found a website offering actual downloadable video footage of Australian Neighbours episodes yet to air in the UK. I’d hit the jackpot! I watched the 1999 season finale where No 26 Ramsay Street caught fire almost 3 months before it aired in the UK. It was a low-resolution, low-bitrate, low-brightness RealMedia video that took about 3 hours to load, and you could barely determine what was happening. It was great to eventually see it on TV and correctly identify the details.
Around this time, my family began to dabble with pay TV, having been free-to-air peasants up until that point. They’d bought a new widescreen TV to replace the broken one they’d had since before I was born, and the shop had up-sold them an ONdigital set-top box and subscription to go with it. I was excited to see the UK Gold channel logo on the packaging. I’d be able to watch old Neighbours episodes! Sadly, they were always scheduled at a really awkward time when I was either at school or didn’t have control of the TV, so it was a rare treat to catch one.
In my teenage years – around 2000-2001 – my interest started to be pulled away from Neighbours, and I began to invest in other things. Whilst I hoped to maintain a new routine recording Neighbours on VHS to catch up at a more convenient time, it quickly became a considerable effort. I gradually (and sadly) slipped out of the routine for roughly 3-4 years. I’d still occasionally catch the lunchtime BBC One broadcasts if I was off school sick, which felt like a little treat every now and then. It was like I was one of the characters’ children popping back for a rare visit, trying to piece together what had happened since my last stopover.
When I was in college, one of my classmates told me he’d recently become invested in Neighbours due to the Sky and Lana romance story. I decided it might be a suitable time to try and jump back in. I was intrigued by the Lassiters inferno, which I had just missed. Soon afterwards, I heard the show was celebrating its 20th anniversary. I enjoyed getting back into things and reading up on what I’d missed over the past few years. I loved watching all the returnees and the (very meta) ‘documentary’ featuring past residents. A short while later, I heard about a plane crash storyline that had just aired in Australia. I was keen to watch it immediately – I wasn’t a patient person and couldn’t wait three months. What was supposed to be just a one or two-episode peek ahead to Aus-pace quickly became my default pace. For a while, it was really hard trying to watch both UK-pace AND Aus-pace simultaneously (which I planned to do for 3 months until the UK synced up with the plane crash). Eventually, I had to cut my losses and accept that there would be a few months of episodes that I would be skipping and that stories might contain some holes for a while. I enjoyed being able to watch at leisure, rather than having to adapt to suit a TV schedule – something that would eventually become the preference for most of society. I remained an Aus-pace viewer for the next decade until 2016, when the UK committed to delivering same-day episodes. It felt pretty exciting to watch Neighbours ‘live’ on TV again.
Jumping back to 2005-2006 briefly, where I first met my partner. A month into our relationship, I realised it was the day the plane crash was airing on BBC One. We were using his housemate’s computer in their bedroom when the lunchtime broadcast was airing. I tuned their portable TV to watch it, hoping I could show my partner what epic drama he was missing. He’s sadly not a fan, although sometimes I think he sneakily watches over my shoulder as he seems to know a lot about the characters.
I was well and truly back on board the ‘fun bus’ this time around. Neighbours was experimenting with a new sensationalist approach to try and meet changing audience needs. I enjoyed the heightened drama it offered at the time and was thoroughly obsessed with the show once more. I was constantly sneaking references into discussions with friends and family. I’d try numerous times to ‘accidentally’ be watching an exciting episode of Neighbours when people were around, hoping it naturally piqued their interest without pushing it on them. I’d have loved to be able to share my obsession with the people already in my life. Sadly, my efforts to spread the love never worked out, so I continued to obsess with fellow fans online instead. Despite my enjoyment, I was aware that the blend of sensationalism and soap is rarely sustainable long-term. But let’s not delve too much into that..!
From October 2014 to October 2017, I was part of the Ipsos MORI iCount research panel, which had a contract to conduct market research on behalf of Neighbours. It was honestly an honour to be a participant in this panel. I’m very opinionated, and (I think) one of my strengths is giving unbiased, constructive criticism, so I enjoyed having my say on the show. I felt like I was helping to shape its future. It was always so lovely when I’d see my feedback reflected in the show, although I can’t be sure those weren’t just coincidences. They would often ask for a “no holds barred” opinion of recent stories, regular and guest characters, household set-ups, couples, and your viewing habits. Unfortunately, one of my suggestions in mid-2016 was that I’d seen potential in a romantic pairing between Gary and Amy. I can only apologise to viewers if I influenced that!
I’m not going to lie. It would hurt whenever I’d casually mention Neighbours to somebody, and they’d be genuinely shocked to hear it was still going. To me, that’s a sure sign that Channel 5’s advertising campaigns to help grow the audience were failing miserably. Always targeting the people who already watched Neighbours or Channel 5 instead of those who didn’t. Derp. I remember going away to Cornwall with my in-laws in 2016. As a family, we were watching something on Channel 5 and a trailer for the “Hotel Death Trap” week came on. My sister-in-law asked loudly, “IS THAT NEIGHBOURS?!” as if she was genuinely shocked to see that it still existed. Obviously, I tried to do my bit and pique her interest with a rundown of what was going on. I don’t think I did a good job of it, sadly.
After 4 years of delightful synchronised harmony between Australian and UK fans – not to mention a monumental 35th-anniversary celebration event – uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 meant the UK broadcasts started to fall behind Australia. It suddenly became impossible to interact with friends in the community who were all watching at different paces, with some not wanting to see spoilers in regular discussions. Social media has minimal tools for controlling this, short of muting your friends and keywords at a time when good friends were vital. Even then, that relies on foresight and the trust that others would remember to use the correct content warning labels and hashtags. I recognised a huge problem and landed on a solution: Discord. It’s essentially a chat platform. I’d recently been learning how to use it for other means before I realised that some of its features could be used to solve this problem. To allow spoiler fanatics and avoiders to interact safely in the same space with minimal effort, separating discussion into appropriate sections. I researched to see if anyone in the community would be interested in such a thing. To my surprise, there was a fair bit of interest. On 30th November 2020, I finally launched the “Neighbours Discord“, which has continued growing beyond what I ever expected. We even considered a brand partnership with Ribena Winter Spice at one point (if you know, you know). I initially thought there’d be about 5 of us talking in an echo chamber, so I am pleased that people genuinely gain something positive from it. We have built a lovely, friendly, diverse community with members from many different countries with all sorts of differing opinions who simply share a love for Neighbours.
On 17th May 2022 (my Bouncer-coloured Labrador Blue’s first birthday!), I got a surprise message from Joe Julians – best known for his Neighbours community work, journalism with Radio Times and Digital Spy and as an organiser of “Neighbours: The Farewell Tour“. He informed me that the upcoming guest character, Sam, had been named in my honour. An incredibly thoughtful gesture from Script Producer Shane Isheev. Shane is a lifelong fan of Neighbours who went on to join the show and wanted to celebrate some of the fans over the show’s final months. As the show already practised naming their guest characters after crew members (particularly villains), they began extending that to a selection of fans. I couldn’t believe I had made the cut – little old me! With such massive personalities in the fandom doing amazing things to celebrate the show’s history, I never expected to be recognised. I couldn’t have picked a better character to be named in my honour. I consider myself an advocate for diversity and inclusion, so Sam – played by Henrietta Graham – was a perfect choice and one I take great pride in. [Finale spoilers are ahead, so highlight the black blocks if you want to read it:] Fans have suspected (with the aid of a behind-the-scenes interview) that the initial omission of a surname for Sam suggests she is to be revealed as the daughter of returnee Mike Young – played by Guy Pearce. A legacy character responsible for bringing my beloved Bouncer to Ramsay Street! If that is the case, it has all worked out perfectly. I have only told a handful of people about this so far – my partner, my mum and some friends. I don’t cope well with attention – so this is my first time publicly discussing it. Thank you once again, Shane. I will never, ever forget this. And a special thank you to Henrietta for bringing Sam to life.
I’ve loved a lot of characters over the year. I tend to gravitate more towards strong female characters with powerhouse actors behind them. Sonya Rebecchi is my all-time favourite. Sonya’s actor, Eve Morey, could make watching paint dry engaging. I love empathising with a vulnerable character – especially a heavily flawed one. I don’t want to watch squeaky clean or super evil; I want to watch characters that fall between – real, layered humans. Eve, through Sonya, could make me laugh or cry and turn even the most generic of scripts into a masterpiece. I was heartbroken when logistics meant she had to leave the show, but at least we got a fantastic, heart-wrenching and emotional story out of it. It’s interesting to note that I didn’t care much for Sonya for her first year or so. I was still pining for Toadie and Kelly. However, I felt awful for how poorly she was treated during Steph’s baby lie. Something clicked around the time they retconned her into being Callum’s mother. From then on, she never stopped climbing until she reached peak ‘all-time favourite character’ status.
Susan Kennedy is another one of my favourites. Everyone always says this about Karl and Susan, but to Neighbours fans, they are like your TV parents. You grow up with their constant daily presence and parental influence that you don’t get from regular TV shows. Jackie Woodburne is an absolute legend. She is magnificent. When that woman wants Susan to feel fury, you feel it too. When she cries, you cry. Susan has made many questionable choices over the years, but she embodies everything I love about the show. There is no Neighbours without Susan.
I don’t often engage well with the younger characters, but I instantly liked Piper Willis, played by Mavournee Hazel. She felt like a realistic representation of a modern young woman. Torn between the laid-back approach to life passed down from her father and the ambitious determination of her mother. I loved that we followed her life off-screen through the (excellent) Pipe Up vlogs on YouTube. I was really impressed with the natural realism of Mavournee’s acting. I genuinely believe Mavournee has what it takes to go far in this industry – if she chooses to pursue it.
Growing up, I was always fond of Madge Bishop. I vividly remember being about 3 years old and waking up from a Neighbours-related nightmare screaming “MADGE!”. Maybe I’d been swept away at the seaside and was calling back to her? Or perhaps something awful had happened to her in the dream. My parents must have been concerned that their 3-year-old had such grown-up nightmares. I loved Madge. I think I was drawn to her gravelly voice and her no-nonsense attitude.
Other notable favourites from over the years include Izzy Hoyland, Sam Fitzgerald, Donna Freedman, Lucas Fitzgerald, Vanessa Villante, Julie Martin, Pam Willis, Libby Kennedy, Rebecca Napier, Lyn Scully, Elle Robinson, Sky Mangel and Stingray Timmins. I feel like there should be more from the early years in that list, but perhaps the later characters are just more memorable to me.
I mostly enjoy Neighbours when it makes me smile, but I also love it when I’m on the edge of my seat, eager to find out what happens next. With my keen interest in storylining, I am often hard to please – but Neighbours has given us many incredible, iconic, memorable storylines over the years. Special shout-outs to the Sarah/Izzy-related Kennedy family dramas, the courtships of Libby and Drew, and Billy and Anne, the Lassiters fire, the plane crash, Rob’s revenge, Sky being conned, Susan’s MS diagnosis, Lucas and Vanessa’s reverse relationship, and mostly anything to do with Sonya (relapses, surrogacy, rebuilding her life). There have been death storylines where I’ve grieved like I’d lost a relative – particularly Helen, Madge, Stingray and Sonya! Sonya’s death was utterly heartbreaking to watch but provided all of the feelings I like being made to feel. It was particularly hard for me as my grandmother – a fellow Neighbours viewer – was given an almost identical diagnosis around the same time and passed away just a month before Sonya. Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art? I can’t forget to mention the fantastic non-canon zombie and time travel webisodes, too! Again, I feel there should be more in that list from the early years, but as Neighbours grew, so did the way it developed and told its stories. There is too much to list, but I think early 2017 to mid-2019 has to be my favourite era for stories. I don’t want to focus too much on just one short period of the show when I’m celebrating its entire legacy, but there was so much I loved about it:
- The original Andrea storyline when she was masquerading as Dee. Gripping. My favourite moment was when Sonya watched her have sex with Toadie live on Skype. This pushed Sonya over the edge (already fragile following the surrogacy tragedy), and she relapsed again.
- David and Rafael’s relationship. Loved how they helped each other grow and move forward.
- Toadie’s 21st, where Izzy returned and tried to steal Karl’s sperm. Loved their deep and meaningful chat.
- Tyler’s false imprisonment for the murder of his father, including the failed plan to run away and the real culprit worming his way into the lives of his nearest and dearest.
- Steph fighting to overcome her past and be a mother to both of her boys.
- Finn’s reign of terror. Plotting against Elly, Xanthe and Susan. Pretending to be Patrick to Bea. His cunning scavenger hunt plan to frame Elly for running Xanthe over. Being pushed off a cliff by Susan, who was then arrested for attempted murder. It was all very Hollyoaks, and you wouldn’t expect it to work so well in down-to-Earth Neighbours, but it did.
- Aaron and David’s wedding, which also celebrated fundamental change in Australian law.
- The Nanny Alice drama! It was a teeny bit OTT for my usual tastes, but so utterly delicious (no pun intended) to watch.
- Chloe falling in love with her best friend, who also happened to be her brother’s fiancée.
- Chloe’s ex, Mel, causing trouble and setting the garage on fire.
- Sonya’s late-stage terminal cancer diagnosis and untimely death.
- Elly’s downward spiral. Elly was a character I had never rated before, but suddenly I was fully invested in her story. I loved that she was a selfish character, out to please only herself, but wasn’t a terrible person at the same time. She reeled me in with those little lies she told to cover herself, each one getting bigger and bigger. I actually wish that story had pushed her even further.
- Piper and Tyler reuniting. A controversial pairing, I know, but the actors had beautiful chemistry. The closest I felt the show had got in years to getting young soulmates spot-on.
So yeah. That’s probably my favourite era for the show. Heightened but still realistic drama. Not too over-the-top. Paced well. Fantastic performances which make me feel the full spectrum of emotions through relatable and familiar characters. Whilst also making me laugh. In a nutshell, that’s the perfect blend when it comes to Neighbours.
It’s not fair that Neighbours has to end when it’s still so strong. This isn’t a show that has slowly been dying and decreasing in quality for years. It’s better than it has ever been right now. There is no counter-argument. I’m at least grateful it gets to end with dignity, with a massive celebration of its legacy, as a gigantic, heartfelt love letter to the fans.
How amazing is it that “Neighbours: The Farewell Tour” is selling out arenas and having to add new dates? That’s a fantastic achievement for the show and the organisers. I would love to attend one of these events, but due to health/personal reasons, I have come to terms with knowing that’s something I can’t do. I hope the content will be archived for fans to enjoy in the future. Of course, nothing would beat actually being in the room. I can’t wait to hear all the stories from my friends who attend, although it will be bittersweet. Some venues might still have available tickets, so don’t miss your chance!
Thank you to everyone who has ever had a hand in bringing Neighbours to our TV screens. Your contribution to history is valued by all of us. My relationship with the show of over three decades will very soon end, and fans worldwide will collectively begin the grieving process. It will be difficult adapting to not having the constant safety net and comfort of Neighbours to rely on during the hard times (or indeed the good times). I will miss it so much but will find solace in my collection of classic episodes. I have made many good memories and met many lovely people through this show. Good Neighbours fans have truly become good friends, and now it’s our turn to keep the Neighbours legacy alive.
The final episodes of Neighbours air in Australia on Thursday 28th July 2022 at 7:30 pm (AEST), simulcast on 10 and 10Peach. In the UK, they will air on Friday 29th July 2022 at 9 pm (BST) on Channel 5.