I work in a university, a place packed with students all eagerly trying to avoid work and disguise a good hangover. A place that, at times, makes me feel quite old. I can remember when Blackadder first started, as well as where I was when Red Dwarf hit our screens over 21 years ago, a time before most of the student body were born. So it came as no surprise to me that, while chatting to a student the other day, when I happened to say, “Rack off, Bouncer,” to him, he looked back at me blankly and said, “What?”
Yup, this made me feel old as, for me and a generation growing up in the late 1980s, this was an ultimate insult, thrown across the playground with such abandon and shouted from school rooftops everywhere (replacing the age old ‘Joey’ insults). For this was an insult that came from the other side of the world, from a little street in a little suburb that was located in the very big land of Australia and was just one of many things that a little show called Neighbours bought to the public consciousness.
Like Paul Hogan and the great Rolf Harris, Neighbours showed us rained-on Brits that there were people who spoke the same language as us, who lived on the other side of the world, a little bit like England but with more sun and, quite frankly, more attractive people. It was a show that kids and adults alike could enjoy, a show that defined a generation with board games, would-be film stars and, of course, Kylie and Jason.
Airing here in the UK in 1986, my first taste of Neighbours was when I was off school with mumps. Seeing this show, (which was first aired in the morning and then repeated again in the afternoon) full of sunny happy people, I was sort of intrigued, watching it to fill in the time while the VHS tape of Ghostbusters rewound itself to be played again, and it didn’t really register that it would be a must-see show.
That is, until I went back to school, and everybody in the playground (well, those kids who went home for lunch) was talking about this cool show that I had stumbled on. From this hype these said kids were pestered to record it for those who didn’t live close to school, that is, until the Beeb also saw that viewing figures were going through the roof and decided to move the show from early mornings to 5:35 every day, just after Phillip Schofield’s Broom Cupboard kids TV finished.
All these memories came flooding back when I was recently given Neighbours – The Iconic Episodes to review. This DVD was a crash course on the best of Neighbours and a chance to once again relive all those fond memories. While the DVD is lacking in certain areas (no Kylie wedding or Bouncer’s dream episode and a distinct lack of Mrs Mangle) it was a good place to begin to get to grips with the 4000+ episodes of the show and a good place to start thinking about just how good the show was and what an impact it had.
The show brought us the musical talents of Kylie and Jason, not to mention Stephan Dennis, Holly Valance and erm… Craig Mclachlan (and the rest of Check 1-2) and, of course, the king of one-hit-wonders, ‘Angry Anderson’, whose song, Suddenly, was used in the Kylie/Jason wedding and is still adored by some of a certain age.
It wasn’t just in the field of music in which Neighbours had an impact, as the soap has provided numerous film and TV careers for the good acting folk of Australia. From the obscure – Ian Smith aka Harold Bishop appearing in shlock horror pic, Body Melt – to more successful actors like Guy Pierce, carving a very nice niche in Hollywood, and the almighty Alan Dale, whose appearance on nearly every American TV show in recent years really shows that, over the two decades, Neighbours has produced more than its fair share of well-known Hollywood faces.
While the heyday of the show has gone and classic characters like Joe Mangle, the Alessi twins, Daphne, Des, Madge and Stonefish have all disappeared into TV obscurity and with a cast that, from what I can tell, all look far too young and pretty for their own good, Neighbours continues, albeit on Channel 5 rather than the BBC (and with much lower viewing figures).
While the show will, in all likelihood, never get the 10 million plus viewers it used to and the students I mentioned right back at the beginning of this rant will probably have never really watched the show, it’s worth remembering the legacy of Neighbours and all the fun, excitement and drama that our antipodean cousins and Reg Grundy gave to us. If it wasn’t for them, we would never have known the pleasures of every family having a swimming pool in the garden, that gorgeous girls can be mechanics, that Lassiters would be the place to be and, of course, that Mr Utagawa is one of the most ruthless businessmen on the planet.
30 January 2009