NEIGHBOURS

Australian Soap Opera

"Get back to Ramsay Street" is the 1995 promotional line used by the Ten Network, home of Neighbours since late 1985. The marketing strategy seeks to re-orientate both the program itself and the audiences who have followed it through uncertain beginnings, extraordinary local and international success, and continuing quiet domestic popularity. The message is clear and reflects a key element in the program's enduring popularity: a decade after it began, after attracting millions of viewers around the world, Neighbours is home.

Neighbours is almost without doubt the Australian program with the highest international profile in the 1980s. Well over 2000 episodes into production, it still commands worldwide audiences of over 50 million and has helped transform its production company, the Grundy Organisation, into one of the world's most successful television production groups.

The program's success, both in Australia and overseas, has always been attributable to a mix of textual and industrial factors. This success lies both in its qualities as a well-developed and executed Australian soap opera and in the ways it has been scheduled both in Australia and in the United Kingdom. The premise for the show, the daily interactions of the people living in a middle-class street in a suburb of Melbourne is simple in design, yet in itself allows for any number of narrative possibilities. Significantly, it is the limiting of these possibilities to the realms of the ordinary, the unexceptional and non-melodramatic that has ensured its success for so long.

Stephen Crofts' detailed analysis of program form and content identifies several key aspects which support and specify these general speculations. These include Neighbours' focus on the everyday, the domestic and the suburban; its portrayal of women as doers; its reliance on teen sex appeal and unrebellious youth; its "feelgood" characters and wholesome neighbourliness. Social tension and values conflict are always resolved, dissolved, or repressed and the overall ideological tone is of depoliticised middle-class citizenship.

Ramsay Street and its suburb of Erinsborough have provided a pool of characters drawn from the ranks of home-owners and small business people, school kids and pensioners. Textually, the program firmly roots itself in the domestic--in the family and the home, friends and acquaintances, and the immediate social contexts in which they are located. The mundane nature of the domestic storylines extends to the geographical reach of the show. Erinsborough is a fictional suburb which constructs the family homes as its hub and the local shops, hotel, surgery and school as the domain of its characters. While it has been known to send its characters overseas, it has also become notorious for sending its popular players off into the far reaches of Brisbane or the Gold Coast (indeed, it seems that "overseas" is a place from which it is easier to retrieve its characters from than the depths of Queensland). In keeping with the show's philosophy of "the everyday" it is the impact that the characters' interactions with such places produces on other characters that is important to the narrative.

Initially based around the three families of the Robinsons, the Ramsays and the Clarkes, with other local residents thrown in both for romance and for a touch of conflict, the narrative structures of the program were nevertheless sufficiently loose to allow for a considerable turnover of characters. In this respect, while the idea of the series is simple, the specifics of the houses in Ramsay Street and the families which inhabit them necessarily change and adapt. The element of continuity lies in the central institutions of the house and home and supporting institutions like small business and public education, and in the performance of small-scale romance and tragedy.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the show is its foundations in the "neighbourliness" of (albeit select segments of) the local community. This means that the households and the living and working arrangements of the residents of Ramsay Street take precedence over the establishment of any strict boundaries which mark out the "family" and the roles of family members. Intergenerational conflict abounds and while resolution is almost unfailingly the order of the day, in its focus on the interaction of family, friends and neighbours, the show provides an interesting mix of the nuclear and the non-nuclear family. In its current form, there is not one complete nuclear family unit--a significant reflection on the boundaries for the exploration of the "social" within the program's narrative framework.

These characteristics intertwine with the industrial features of the program's success. When the Seven Network axed the show in the second half of 1985--one of the monumental mistakes of Australian network programming-- Grundys' managing director, Ian Holmes offered it to the Ten Network. Ten was able to revive the show with new, sexier characters and shining, enviable domestic sets. The focus on family and community life continued, this time with a little more glamour and in a later time slot--shifting the program from 5:30 P.M. to 7:00 P.M., Monday to Friday. When the show again ran into troubles in 1986, the new network embarked on a massive selling campaign aimed at reviving flagging Sydney ratings. It worked: ratings in Australia soared along with the developing relationship of its stars, Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan. This in turn led the program into the period of its phenomenal success in the United Kingdom.

Clearly, the amiable middle-class "struggles" of the Ramsay Street residents make for a markedly different narrative to those of the Eastenders or the residents of Coronation Street. Neighbours was the first television program in Britain to be screened twice daily and stripped across all five week days by the BBC, recently commanded into greater economic accountability by the Thatcher government of the 1980s. This strategy, followed soon after by Home and Away, was to transform the nature of the program as its cast became international stars: in Australia, the already popular Minogue and Donavon as well as Craig McLachlan and Guy Pierce were constructed as cultural exports, with the pop music careers of the first two building a star status unknown by Australian television actors. Morally unproblematic, the program fitted well into a conservative U.K. government agenda that sought a new degree of competitiveness from the BBC at the same time that it valorised conservative themes. The BBC found that this product provided a counterpoint to other television drama like Eastenders and Coronation Street--and it did so at far less expense. It has long been known that a week's worth of Neighbours could be acquired for around 27,000, compared to 40,000 per half hour episode of Eastenders.

While Neighbours was winning U.K. audiences of 20 million by the end of 1988 and has consistently challenged the two English soaps for the position of highest rating drama on British television, it has also been criticised for its bland representation of life in a sunny, relatively trouble-free, seemingly egalitarian Australian suburb. Eastenders, particularly was attracting commendation for the range of its social representation and while Neighbours had always had its share of strong female characters, it casually overlooked the aspects of multiculturalism fundamental to both Australian and British society as well as other important social subjects like unemployment. With a growing list of Australian film and television exports, Australian television became the target of arguments addressing issues of British cultural maintenance. And while some of these criticisms may be well-deserved, Neighbours, along with Home and Away, was in turn important to an Australian film and television industry which was itself accustomed to being seen as an import culture dominated by American and British products. It was the leader in a new wave of audiovisual export successes in the 1980s and 1990s which has invigorated and re-directed the local industry.

Finally, the program remains a popular domestic soap opera. The Neighbours of 1995 fit well the Ten Network broadcasting ethos based around the appeal of a global "youth culture." Ten works at building a sizeable teen demographic in place of achievements based strictly on topping the ratings and its success in this respect has seen a turn-around in profits--its level of returns to expenditure now exceeds that of its long-term rival, the Seven Network. With another cast of sexier young stars and well-chosen older, more experienced actors along with a hip new promotional jingle, Neighbours continues as the country's longest running soaps and one of its most successful television exports.

-Stuart Cunningham


Neighbours |

Photo courtesy of Grundy Television

CAST

Melissa Jarett........................................... Jade Amenta Josh Anderson................................... Jeremy Angerson Luke Foster........................................... Murray Bartlett Faye Hudson........................................... Lorraine Bayly Michael Martin......................................... Troy Beckwith Lucy Robinson........................................... Melissa Bell Gaby Willis ............................................Rachel Blakely Christina Alessi-Robinson ......................Gayle Blakeney Caroline Alessi .....................................Gillian Blakeney Brett Stark................................................. Brett Blewitt Cody Willis.................................................. Peta Brady Gemma Ramsey.................................... Beth Buchanan Madge Ramsey-Bishop......................... Anne Charleston Rosemary Daniels................................... Joy Chambers Gail Lewis-Robinson................................... Fiona Corke Melanie Peason-Mangel........................ Lucinda Cowden Luke Handley........................................... Bernard Curry Jim Robinson................................................ Alan Dale Sassy ......................................................Defah Dattner Annalise Hartman ................................Kimberley Davies Dorothy Burke .........................................Maggie Dence Paul Robinson......................................... Stefan Dennis Jamie Clarke ..................................................S. J. Dey Scott Robinson...................................... Jason Donovan Doug Willis......................................... Terence Donovan Rick Alessi................................................. Dan Falzon Karl Kennedy ............................................Alan Fletcher Cody Willis.................................................. Amelia Frid Bronwyn Davies .......................................Racher Friend Sky Bishop ..............................................Miranda Fryer Toby Mangel............................................. Ben Geurens Cheryl Kratz-Stark................................. Caroline Gillmer Nell Mangel................................................ Vivean Gray Toby Mangel................................ Finn Greentree-Keane Sam Kratz.............................................. Richard Grieve Helen Daniels............................................. Anne Haddy Kerry Bishop .............................................Linda Hartley Arthur Bright................................................... Barry Hill Serendipity Gottlieb...................................... Raelee Hill Andrew Robinson................................ Shannon Holmes Glen Donnelly....................................... Richard Huggett Kris Hyde............................................. John Hugginson Beth Brennan-Willis............................ Nathalie Imbruglia Jane Harris................................................ Annie Jones Pam Willis................................................... Sue Jones Des Clarke................................................. Paul Keane Len Mangel..................................................... John Lee Brenda Riley....................................... Genevieve Lemon Joe Mangel (1987-1990)................................. Mark Little Darren Stark............................................... Scott Major Henry Ramsey ......................................Craig Mclachlan Malcolm Kennedy................................ Benjamin McNair Brad Willis (1991-1994)....................... Scott Michaelson Charlene Ramsey-Robinson ......................Kylie Minogue Katerina Torelli (1994- )...................... Josephine Mitchell Andrew Mackenzie (1994)........................ John Morris (II) Julie Robinson-Martin (1992- )......................Julie Mullins Lou Carpenter............................................... Tom Oliver Marlene Kratz....................................... Moya O'Sullivan Matt Robinson......................................... Ashley Paske Mike Young ...........................................Guy Pearce (II) Jen Handley................................................. Alyce Platt Philip Martin (1992- ).................................. Ian Rawlings Debbie Martin (1992- ) .................Marnie Reece-Wilmore Hannah Martin (1992- ).......................... Rebecca Ritters Phoebe Bright-Gottlieb ......................Simone Robertson Jesse O'Connor (1994) ...............................James Ryan Mark Gottlieb (1993- )........................... Bruce Samazan Todd Landers........................................ Kristian Schmid Harold Bishop................................................ Ian Smith Billy Kennedy......................................... Jesse Spencer Aaron O'Connor (1994)................................. Greg Stone Ken Naylor................................................ Peter Tabour Danni Stark (1994- ).................................. Eliza Szonert Sally Pritchard (1994- ).............................. Brenda Webb Libby Kennedy ........................................Kym Valentine Guy Carpenter..................................... Andrew Williams Adam Willis............................................... Ian Williams Susan Kennedy .................................Jackie Woodburne Logie Nomination.............................. Anthony Engelman Lauren Carpenter............................. Sarah Vandenbergh

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

Seven Network
March 1985-November 1985           Weeknights 6:00-6:30

Ten Network
January 1986-March 1992              Weeknights 7:00-7:30 March 1992-                                  Weeknights 6:30-7:00

PRODUCERS

The Grundy Organization

FURTHER READING

Crofts, Stephen (1995). "Global Neighbours?" In Allen, Robert C., editor. To Be Continued....Soap Operas Around the World. London and New York: Routledge, 1995.

Cunningham, Stuart, and Elizabeth Jacka. Australian Television and International Mediascapes. Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Cunningham, Stuart, and Toby Miller. Contemporary Australian Television. Sydney, Australia: University of New South Wales Press, 1994.

Kingsley, Hilary. Soap Box: The Australian Guide to Television Soap Operas. South Melbourne, Australia: Sun Books, 1989.

Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia: Allen and Unwin and the Australian Film Television and Radio School, 1993.

 

See also Australian Programming; Coronation Street; EastEnders; Grundy, Reg; Soap Opera