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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Ammar Kalia

‘Our love triangle was outrageous!’ Neighbours legends remember the good, the bad and the very silly indeed

Especially for you … Neighbours bows out after 37 years.
Especially for you … Neighbours bows out after 37 years. Photograph: Freemantle/Fremantle

On 18 March 1985, Australian viewers were introduced to a suburban cul-de-sac. Over the course of an unremarkable pilot, a noisy stag do disrupts the sleep of Ramsay Street residents and one of them decides to take matters into his own hands. Four months later, the show was cancelled and its network, Seven, destroyed all the sets to make sure it couldn’t be replicated.

But by 1986, Neighbours had been revived and rebuilt by rival studio Network 10 and become a surprise hit in the UK. A daytime staple for students, the sun-kissed scandals of Ramsay Street lent an exotic glamour to the murky TV schedules of Coronation Street and EastEnders. Despite a declining viewership since its late-80s heyday, Neighbours has become Australia’s longest-running soap, launching the careers of the likes of Kylie Minogue, Margot Robbie and Guy Pearce.

With its final episodes airing this week, after Channel 5 announced it was axing the show, we meet its longstanding cast members who reveal the joys and challenges of playing the same characters for decades – and their most memorable moments.


‘I didn’t really want the part’

Stefan Dennis (Paul Robinson)

End of the road. Stefan Dennis in 1988.
‘I’ll never escape Paul’ … Stefan Dennis in 1988. Photograph: Shutterstock

I starred in the very first episode of Neighbours in 1985 and I remember saying the show would only last about six months, because I didn’t really want the part. I was right. It only lasted four months before it was axed, but then it was picked up by Channel 10 two months later.

Towards the end of 86 and into 87, we became aware we were working on a phenomenon. Australian soap had never had adulation and hysteria before so we were not prepared. To this day, we still don’t know how it became so popular so quickly. But we ran with it as best we could.

I got to play Paul as deliciously evil in the mid-2000s. The mischief I got up to then with Izzy [Natalie Bassingthwaighte] was fantastic. Paul isn’t evil any more – he’s just a bit of a prick. He’s like Basil Fawlty, trying to do the right thing then making situations 10 times worse.

When I was out of the show for 12 years and Paul was on the run in South America, I always maintained that he must have got tied up with some Colombian drug cartel because he came back dauntingly rich, to the tune of A$150m. I once said to the producers we should explain that he made his money from a cartel. They said we wouldn’t be able to get away with it on daytime television.

A while ago, there was an inkling that we may not get picked up for another year, and then the bombshell hit some months later that the show is over. After the disbelief, we accepted it – shows come and go, and this one came and stayed around for a very long time. Now it’s time to go and it’s nobody’s fault, but it’s very sad.

I’m saying goodbye to my castmates and crew after nearly 40 years. Even though I was out of the show for 12 years, I was never allowed to escape Paul. I know I’m going to be “that guy off Neighbours” for the rest of my life. That comes with the territory.


‘I didn’t think I’d still be here 28 years later’

Jackie Woodburne (Susan Kennedy)

Nude kids on the block… Jackie Woodburne with her screen husband Alan Fletcher.
Nude kids on the block … Jackie Woodburne with her screen husband Alan Fletcher. Photograph: Fremantle Media/Shutterstock

I joined the cast along with Alan Fletcher a few weeks before the show’s 10th anniversary. There was a hope the Kennedy family would invest some energy, which thankfully we did because of an instant connection we had with the actors playing our children. It’s something I’ve never experienced before – it’s like we’d been playing these characters for years, and we came across as a real family straight away.

I don’t think Alan or I could have anticipated we’d still be here 28 years later. We were both jobbing actors who felt that this was going to be a great year or two. The fact that the writers have kept coming up with stories for us is testament to the richness of the show. I began as a mum of teenagers and now I am a grandmother; I think that’s sensational.

I’ve had some fantastic storylines: I was diagnosed with MS, I was abducted – which was a good opportunity to explore a more vulnerable and less capable Susan – and the Karl and Susan love triangle with Izzy will always remain a favourite as there was so much comedy, drama and tragedy. You don’t go through your husband almost fathering a child that isn’t his and come out the other side the same person!

The show has such a wonderful place in the landscape of television, so for it to end is obviously very sad. But the atmosphere is one of determination. The writers have this opportunity to cram in every loose end, so there’s a lot going on. We’re excited to really go out with a bang.

When it’s all over, I will need some time to reflect on this big change. I want to remember what a great time it’s been, then start thinking about what’s next.


‘I want to keep the show alive’

Alan Fletcher (Karl Kennedy)

I’d already been on a show with Jackie a few years before we started Neighbours, so we were happy to be working together again and knew we’d have a good time. In real life, we often don’t feel like we’ve changed very much. The writers have been very clever to document the change that does happen to people over time.

I’ve always treasured the comedy moments. I loved it when Karl became a backyard farmer and got himself a rooster called Springsteen that he used to cart around. There was a great scene where we were on the sofa watching TV and I was feeding him crisps. But the Izzy love triangle remains my favourite. It was outrageous. Izzy is pregnant with someone else’s child, so she accepts Karl as a lover – even though she has no interest in him – then fakes the medical records to make it look like he’s the father, but then loses the child and gets dropped by Karl at precisely the time she’s actually fallen in love with him! It was divine.

Unlike Jackie, I’ve planned a very packed time after Neighbours. Maybe I’m striving to keep the show alive. I’m heading to the UK to do my Dr Karl Show in September, and in October I suspect I will have some time for reflection and to sort the garden shed, which is a complete mess.


‘Neighbours is the antithesis of straight, white television’

Takaya Honda (David Tanaka)

Takaya Honda and his onscreen husband Aaron during the show’s final episode.
Takaya Honda and his onscreen husband Aaron in the show’s final episode. Photograph: Fremantle

I’ve had an extraordinary ride playing David the past six years, because my storylines haven’t been the usual soap-style scandals. David is a really layered character; we have explored his sexuality and him coming out as gay, as well as his marriage to Aaron – the first same-sex marriage on Australian TV since it was legalised in the country. I’ve also had the fortune of having a kidney transplant storyline which touched so many people, as well as surrogacy and foster care plots that raised awareness for kids who need help.

In the past, Neighbours has been seen as straight, white television, but for a long time it has been the antithesis of that. Georgie Stone plays Mackenzie, our first trans character, Nathan Borg plays Curtis Perkins, our first actor with a cochlear implant, and we’ve recently had a non-binary actor, too. It’s a privilege to be a part of putting these characters who aren’t tokenised at the forefront.

The end of the show has hit me slowly. There’s a certain amount of grief that everyone’s going through. I don’t know if I’ve forgotten what it’s like to not be David. I’m not sure how much of a shock it’s going to be once I really do stop, but I’m mainly excited for fans to see the final episodes. I’m hoping they’re going to love it right till the end.


‘I was only meant to be in one scene’

Ryan Moloney (Toadfish Rebecchi)

Toadfish Rebecchi, played by Ryan Maloney has been one of the show’s most enduring characters.
‘I’m excited to play new characters’ … Toadfish Rebecchi, played by Ryan Maloney, has been on the show since he was 15. Photograph: Neil Genower/Shutterstock

It has been incredibly sad shooting the final episodes. There were times where I burst into tears, as well as feeling so appreciative. It was happy, it was sad, it was everything in between. I still haven’t had a chance to soak it all in.

Playing Toadie has been my life. I was only meant to be on Neighbours for one scene when I debuted as a 15-year-old in 1995. They shoot incredibly fast – you come in, do a couple of rehearsals, then you’re shooting your wides, mids and tights, and you’re done. I finished so quickly, I thought I was just going straight back to school. Luckily they called me again and I’ve been here ever since.

Being in Neighbours is like being in a giant family, and that’s what makes people stay and come back. My favourite storyline was the two-hander episode with Eve Morey [Toadie’s wife Sonya] when she died of cancer. That was devastating and so special to film together. By contrast, my favourite scene was the 6,000th episode where Toadie has a nude lunch and Karl crashes it to find a scratchcard he lost at Toadie’s place. He has to get naked to come into the house, and the vision of Alan Fletcher stripping down in front of us was absolutely hilarious.

Now the show is ending, I’m excited to play new characters. If somebody throws something interesting in front of me, I’ll do it. If not, I’m more than happy to be dad to my kids!

‘We’re devastated the show is ending’

Rebekah Elmaloglou (Terese Willis)

Soulful survivor…Rebakah Elmaloglou.
‘We thought someone would swoop in and save it’ … Rebakah Elmaloglou. Photograph: Channel 5

Even though I didn’t grow up watching Neighbours, everyone knew characters like Paul Robinson, the Kennedys and Scott and Charlene. The day I stepped on set in 2013, I was being completely starstruck. It’s an iconic street, and I was thrilled to be there.

I got Neighbours at the age of 38, and, as an older actor, it has been a dream. Playing Terese Willis is the highlight of my life. There have been so many great storylines with Terese and I’m really lucky the writers never got bored with her. She’s had a breast cancer storyline, her son Josh died, and she became an alcoholic. Her divorce from Paul has also been a great sparring opportunity for me and Stefan onscreen.

We’re devastated the show is ending now – there’s a part of us that was hoping somebody would swoop in to save it, and there was a lot of denial. I have moments of breaking down in tears about it, but at the same time it’s exciting because it opens the door for the next chapter.

Once the show is over, I will probably sleep for a month! I keep being asked if I’m interested in going back to Home and Away, which I was in during the early 90s and 2000s. I’d never say never …

The final episode of Neighbours airs on Friday 29 July, 9pm, Channel 5

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