Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
ABC News
ABC News
Margaret Paul, Ben Knight, Mawunyo Gbogbo and Yara Murray-Atfield

Neighbours is coming to an end after 37 years, but the Australian soap's legacy is far from over

Scott and Charlene's wedding (Supplied: Network 10)

For 37 years, Melbourne has had an extra suburb.

Welcome to Erinsborough.

The real-life Ramsay Street is Pin Oak Court in Vermont South, with the Neighbours set a short drive away. (Supplied: Network 10)

It's been the site of murder, amnesia, arson, sordid love affairs, unexpected family reunions, drownings and disastrous car crashes.

Only none of it has been real.

The fictional neighbourhood is home to Ramsay Street, an idyllic cul-de-sac set somewhere in Melbourne's east.

It's housed beloved characters and launched the international careers of some of Australia's biggest names.

Over the years, it's evolved — reluctantly at first — from a street of all-white residents into a diverse neighbourhood.

Most of all, it's kept a lot of people in a notoriously boom-and-bust industry in work for a long time.

And now, after nearly 9,000 episodes, 63 weddings, 20 births and 68 deaths, Australian soap opera Neighbours is coming to an end.

A burst of sunshine

Neighbours creator Reg Watson learned his trade on British soaps.

"It was a brilliant concept," says Anne Charleston, who played Madge Bishop.

"And he had the age range from children through to grandparents. So there was something, somebody there for every member of the audience."

"He kept it simple," says Ian Smith, who played Madge's husband and neighbourhood fuddy-duddy Harold Bishop.

The influence of the UK's long tradition of soap operas on the Neighbours canon is clear — a large cast, dramatic storylines and simple suburban sets are the foundation of the show.

"[Reg] understood that audience, he understood that kind of storytelling, and understood how to make that sort of drama, that fast turnaround," former scriptwriter and editor Philippa Burne says.

Watson's idea for a show was knocked back by Channel 9 in 1982, but picked up by Channel 7 as Neighbours in 1984. It was then axed a year later, and picked up by Channel 10.

It was a rocky start for the revamped show.

Guy Pearce and Annie Jones played a couple in the show. (Supplied: Network 10)
Annie Jones played Jane Harris in Neighbours. (Supplied: Network 10)
Guy Pearce played Mike Young in the show's early years. (Supplied: Network 10)

"Ratings weren't flash," TV historian Andrew Mercado says.

The publicity team worked flat-out to promote the show, taking the cast to shopping centres and, according to Mercado, "basically begging people to watch the show".

"And it worked," he says.

The addition of then-unknown actors Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan in 1986 helped power the juggernaut.

This year, Minogue said she would be "forever grateful" for her time on Neighbours.

"We had no idea how big the show would become and how passionately viewers would take it to heart," she said.

Scott and Charlene were fan favourites. (Supplied: Network 10)
The couple's nuptials were dubbed the greatest soapie wedding of all time. (AAP/Network 10)

None felt that passion more than British fans.

In October 1986, the show was bought by the BBC. It was first screened at 1:30pm, but soon made its way to a higher-rating timeslot with a repeat screening at 5:35pm.

"And boom," Mercado says.

It was a bleak time in Thatcher-era Britain. The year prior, 1987, started with a cold wave so chilly parts of the sea froze over, then was marked by the deadly sinking of a ferry, the Hungerford massacre, an extratropical cyclone, the Remembrance Day Bombing and the King's Cross Fire.

"This happy-go-lucky Australian show with people who live in beautiful houses with huge backyards and all this space to go outside and play cricket in the street all year round."

Gaby Willis (Rachel Blakely) , Mark Gottlieb (Bruce Samazan) and Annalise Hartman (Kimberley Davies) in the 1990s. (Supplied: Network 10)
Stefan Dennis, who plays Paul Robinson, circa 1988. (Getty Images: Tim Roney)

Since moving to Channel 10, this suburban Australian dream has been filmed on a studio lot in Nunawading in Melbourne's outer east. The outsides of the houses you see on Ramsay Street are real — they're just on Pin Oak Court in Vermont South, a short drive away.

Ian Smith reflects that it was everything English people thought Australia was — living next door to your doctor, calling him by his first name.

"And a pool in your backyard?" he adds.

The show's most famous episode – Scott and Charlene's wedding – had 2 million viewers in Australia when it aired in 1987.

In the UK, about 20 million people tuned in.

A month later, Minogue released her first single.

By 1989, Neighbours was pulling 20 million viewers every single day in the UK — a third of the population.

Its young cast became superstars. There was even a Neighbours video game.

It has since been exported to more than 60 countries around the world and the format has been reproduced in other languages.

It was appointment viewing. Current cast member Takaya Honda remembers family evenings built around dinner and Neighbours on the TV. It was, as he says, "a thing".

Kylie Minogue's career soared as the show gained popularity. (Getty Images: Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive)

"It's bizarre to think about Neighbours going for as long as it has, because when you break it down, the premise of the show is a dead-end street," Mercado says.

But the Neighbours writers' room has pumped out five episodes per week for the better part of four decades, and that has delivered more drama than any suburban street should ever have to deal with.

Writing for the show involves knowing multiple characters, their story arcs and how the actors can be used. (Supplied: Shane Isheev)
Filming a soap opera requires organisation and logistical nous. (Supplied: Shane Isheev)
The writers themselves know certain soapie tropes are seen as cliches. (Supplied: Shane Isheev)

Like when Dione "Dee" Bliss died after a car driven by her new husband went off a cliff on their wedding day.

When the show decided to renovate its back lot in 2004, it turned it into one of the soap's biggest moments — the arson of a popular Erinsborough pub.

The Lassiter's complex burning down was a dramatic storyline on the show. (Supplied: Network 10)

"[It was a] huge day in the writing room, when they came in and said 'you can burn down Lassiter's'," Burne says.

"Like, oh my God it's like a gift."

It's one of the many storylines brought about by off-set circumstances.

Sometimes, if the show is running under time, writers are given characters, a set and just minutes to come up with what's known as a "filler scene".

And if you've ever wondered why characters choose to break up or have very private conversations at somewhere like the pub? It's because that's the set that was available.

The plane crash is one of Neighbours' most iconic storylines. (Supplied: Network 10)

"I was involved with the Neighbours plane crash," former scriptwriter and editor Peter Mattessi says.

"Basically we had a situation, we had too many cast and so we need to kill some off …

"Let's do a plane crash!"

The infamous 2005 storyline ended with a plane submerged in Bass Strait. In reality, the actors were splashing around in the pool from the set of 1990s game show Man O Man.

It's a reflection of the fact doing big scenes on a soap opera budget isn't easy.

Anne Charleston remembers the day Harold drowned at sea in 1991.

"I mean, that was sad because it was supposed to be a roaring, waving, sea, and it was like millpond," she says.

"They were throwing rocks in there to make it look as if it was rough," Smith replies.

Characters Madge and Harold Bishop got married in 1988. (Supplied: Getty Images)
Ian Smith played Harold Bishop for two decades. (Supplied: Getty Images)
Actress Anne Charleston played Madge Bishop on Neighbours. (Supplied: Getty Images)

Of course, it wouldn't be a soap opera if the plotline that engineered his return to the show years later didn't involve amnesia.

There was also the time Bouncer the dog inexplicably had a dream he was marrying the pooch next door.

And, true to the genre, there have been so many weddings.

Dee Bliss (Madeleine West) and Toadie's (Ryan Moloney) iconic wedding ended in disaster. (Supplied: Network 10)
Kyle Canning (Chris Milligan) and Roxy Willis (Zima Anderson) say "I do". (Supplied: Network 10)
Even Ramsay Street bad boy Paul Robinson (Stefan Dennis) took a trip down the aisle on the show, marrying Terese Willis (Rebekah Elmaloglou). (Supplied: Network 10)
Kylie Minogue wasn't the only future pop star to get a Neighbours wedding. Natalie Imbruglia had several. (Supplied: Network 10)

Burne says she still sometimes feels guilty about killing off beloved Madge in 2001.

Charleston says the death of her character was "a mutual arrangement".

"They wanted rid of me. And I wanted rid of them," she says.

But she still remembers it being "really difficult" to say goodbye.

Neighbours University

Shane Isheev, who has been writing for the show since 2015, says he's "known to be a lover of the more heightened, crazy stuff that we do on the show".

Isheev started off as a junior writer and now holds the demanding role of script producer.

Even the current executive producer, Jason Herbison, worked his way up through the ranks.

Neighbours executive producer Jason Herbison was a fan before he worked for the show. (Supplied: Network 10)

His entry point to the show was off the back of a letter he wrote to the show when he was in Year 11, saying "this is what I think is wrong with the show".

He returned home from school one day to a phone call from a Neighbours producer who told Herbison he had some good ideas and there might be a job for him when he finished school.

"And I looked to the people that were older than me, to train me, and that spirit is very much alive today."

Susan and Karl Kennedy, played by Alan Fletcher and Jackie Woodburne are staples of Ramsay Street. (Supplied: Network 10)
Natalie Bassingthwaighte and Jackie Woodburne played love rivals Izzy Hoyland and Susan Kennedy. (Supplied: Network 10)
The Kennedy household has always been full, even after Susan and Karl's original brood left the nest. (Supplied: Network 10)

The Neighbours machine is powered by writers, producers, editors, sound technicians, camera operators, hair and makeup artists, caterers and many more roles.

"We produce two and a half hours of television in a week. And we do it, you know, for 48 weeks of the year," actor Ryan Moloney says.

Moloney has played Jarrod "Toadfish" Rebecchi since 1993 — for more than half his life.

Ryan Moloney has honed his acting craft while playing Jarrod "Toadfish" Rebecchi for decades. (Supplied: Network 10)
The character affectionately known as 'Toadie' has had his share of dramatic plotlines. (Supplied: Network 10)

"I think the level of ability, and what we bring to the table is far beyond what most people really know or understand," he says.

At any one time, there are usually at least two crews shooting different scenes and production in train for all different stages of an episode.

Paul pushes Pierce to the limit with his suggestions about Naomi and Chloe's relationship. (Supplied: Network 10)
Freya plucks up the courage to tell Levi how she feels about him (Supplied: Network 10)
Neighbours characters Kiri and Nicolette. (Supplied: Network 10)
Hendrix gets flirty with Mackenzie in a scene. (Supplied: Network 10)

Only one original cast member is still on the show — Stefan Dennis, who plays neighbourhood villain Paul Robinson.

Many who have left Ramsay Street have been launched into international stardom. Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce, all three Hemsworth brothers, Russell Crowe, Natalie Imbruglia and Ben Mendelsohn all appeared on the show.

"You just learn an incredible discipline and you can work really, really fast. You're just really conscious of everybody else's jobs," Robbie said in 2020.

Margot Robbie, Ryan Moloney and Kym Valentine on Neighbours. (Supplied: Network 10)
Margot Robbie in Neighbours. (Supplied: Network 10)

Representing Australia

The list of the show's most famous exports has a notable feature — the biggest stars in the early years were white.

"It didn't reflect really any version of Australia at that time in terms of diversity," scriptwriter Peter Mattessi says.

Charleston sums it up: "It was vanilla."

In 2006, a nationwide search to find new cast members delivered two more white actors. (Getty Images: Kristian Dowling)

A groundswell of criticism about on-screen representation first came from the UK, where media is generally more diverse.

As current executive producer, Herbison concedes the criticism of the early years is fair.

The key cast members promoting the show's 35th anniversary in 2020. (Supplied: Network 10)

He is keen to highlight the progress made over the last decade, and the diversity of the current cast and crew.

But that change didn't happen easily or quickly.

The first Asian family was introduced to the show in 1993. Their short-lived appearance involved a storyline in which the Lims were accused of barbecuing a pet dog after it disappeared.

Nearly two decades later, the first South Asian family was introduced in 2011. The Kapoors were broadly celebrated in the UK but received vicious online backlash in Australia.

The family was written out by 2013, with one character dying and the other two "going back to India" — despite the family being from Melbourne.

"You can't just parachute in an Indian-Australian family or a Chinese-Australian family and go 'cool, we're diverse now'. That is a process that begins with who is telling your stories," Mattessi says.

That meant more of an effort to bring people from a range of backgrounds into the writers' room.

A cast more reflective of real life in suburban Melbourne has followed.

But last year, a growing number of actors came forward to say they faced racism on set, alleging management turned a blind eye.

Former Neighbours actors Sachin Joab, Shareena Clanton and Remy Hii risked damaging their careers by speaking out. (ABC News: Jason Om)

The allegations saw the media union intervene and insist on mandatory anti-racism, sexual harassment and discrimination training for all staff.

At the time, the former race discrimination commissioner said the response showed Australia still had a long way to go when it came to dealing with allegations of racism.

Takaya Honda joined Neighbours in 2016 in the role of doctor David Tanaka – whose gay wedding was the first on Australian television following the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

David and Aaron are two of the show's key characters. (Supplied: Network 10)
Aaron and David became fathers on the show. (Supplied: Network 10)
Magda Szubanski officiated Aaron and David's wedding. (Supplied: Network 10)

Honda says he would not still be on the show if he had experienced or seen racism on set.

One of his favourite things about playing David is that he has Asian heritage and is gay, but those parts of his life are not his defining features.

He says the cultural impact of the show has been "massive".

He says he hears from fans who tell him the storylines have helped them come out as gay, or empowered them to live more proudly. A plot point about his character needing a kidney transplant resonated with viewers who experienced the same thing.

Rebekah Elmaloglou (centre) says Neighbours has been a constant in Australian life. (El Pics/ Getty Images)

Actress Rebekah Elmaloglou says the trials experienced by her character Terese Willis, including alcoholism and breast cancer, also resonated with viewers.

"It's always been on TV somewhere in the background.

"And I think it's relatable."

A blueprint until the end

The soap's status as a constant was challenged in March 2020 when the pandemic hit and production had to shut down.

Filming resumed about a month later with a very different environment — there was no kissing or holding hands, the cast and crew were siloed into different groups, and camera magic made physically distant actors look more intimate.

The show employs strict COVID-safe protocols. (Supplied: Network 10)
Outside scenes and masks became a common feature of the show during the lockdowns. (Supplied: Network 10)
Behind the scenes of an episode of Neighbours. (Supplied: Network 10)

It was one of the first productions in the entire world to return to filming.

"And suddenly the phone began to ring and ring and the New York Times, were on the phone and productions all over the world wanted to talk to us," Herbison says.

Their model became a blueprint for other shows.

While Neighbours survived COVID, it has now reached its final days.

Ratings have been steadily declining in Australia for years now, and in 2011 the show was punted to 10's secondary channel 10 Peach.

Its steady UK viewership has kept it afloat and more than a million people still tune in to Channel 5 to watch Neighbours every night.

But the British network has pulled the pin, saying it instead wants to spend more money on UK productions.

The final episode will air in August. Filming will wrap up even sooner.

Ryan Moloney says it's been an incredibly sad time.

Pin Oak Court has doubled as Ramsay Street for decades.
The houses you see on Neighbours are real homes. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)
Some of Neighbours' most beloved characters have walked on this footpath. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

The about 200 people employed by the show have been polishing their resumes and updating their headshots as the soap draws to a close, leaving an already unstable industry with one fewer source of reliable work.

Some of the show's biggest names have been brought back to Melbourne to film scenes for the finale, including Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue reprising their iconic roles of Scott and Charlene.

Mattessi hopes even after the cameras stop rolling, it won't be an end to life in Erinsborough.

"Karl and Susan are still going to be there," he says.

"Toadie is going to still be popping in for a cup of tea here to talk about his problems.


Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.