Since 1986, I’ve been hooked on the Australian soap opera, which has become an important part of my daily routine – even when I didn’t have access to a television set. You will be missed, Ramsay Street.
Neighbours was a breath of fresh air on British television screens in 1986, from the cheery opening notes of its theme tune to the proclamation that “Everyone needs good neighbors.” This was a show that aired twice a day on BBC One, first at midday and again in the late afternoon. This was back when Netflix was just a glimmer in Reed Hastings’ eye, and a “streaming service” was most likely a landscape gardener’s water feature option. You either watched or didn’t watch Neighbours.
It was quickly a must-watch for students in the UK because – despite being watched “ironically,” however one defines that – it had young people at its heart. It was centered on Ramsay Street, the Lassiters hotel complex, and the lives of the Ramsays and the Robinsons (think Jim Robinson and mother-in-law, Helen Daniels). Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Guy Pearce, Panda from The Masked Singer, Natalie Imbruglia, have all been on this episode. This is the definition of a hit factory. But we were joined by Harold and Madge, Dr. Karl and Susan Kennedy, “Toadfish” Rebecchi, and others as we wandered the banks of Lassiters Lake. But suddenly the curtain is drawn back. Neighbours are coming to an end after nearly 9,000 episodes.
Neighbours became an integral part of our daily routine for those of us who have been working from home long before Covid foisted it on the masses. Being an author has the advantage of having no one telling you what to do. You may imagine that this meant that instead of knuckling down on our typewriter, Amstrad, or, later, PC, we were in risk of putting our feet up and watching Homes Under the Hammer or Bargain Hunt back in the day. In fact, it was the polar opposite for me. It was knowing when to put down the pen.
The arrival of Neighbours was both an excuse and a motivation to take a break. I’d take a break from work, eat a sandwich, and binge-watch Neighbours. I became addicted to my TV “good buddies” very soon. Philip Pullman, a fellow children’s novelist, was in the same boat. People were tuning in and falling under its spell all around this beautiful and pleasant land.
When Neighbours was moved to Channel 5 in 2008, a disaster occurred. Channel 5 did not reach the entire country, which is hard to comprehend now. I was living in Bexhill-on-Sea at the time, and if the channel’s analog signal reached us, it would interfere with French broadcasts across the Channel. As a result, Channel 5 was forced to be turned off.
Suzy, my then-editor, would record every day of Neighbours and mail the tape to me on Saturdays. That way, I’d be able to watch an episode every day, albeit a week behind schedule.
After that, my reader, I ended up on Ramsay Street. I was invited to speak at literary festivals in Australia, and I agreed on the condition that I would be allowed to visit the set of Neighbours. That is exactly what I did. In the company of Jackie Woodburne, better known as Susan Kennedy, I went to the studio, the lake, on-site filming, and Ramsay Street. She was fantastic and welcomed us to dinner at her house at the end of our vacation. That is when good neighbors become excellent friends, as the song has guaranteed us for all these years.
Ramsay Street has passed away. It’ll be gone in no time. It will never be forgotten.