Former actor Colette Mann says she’s heartbroken for the cast and staff of one of Australia’s most popular operas, Neighbours, but she’s looking forward to the future.
“I like to think it couldn’t go on without Sheila Canning, but I don’t quite think that is the case,” jokes Colette, whose beloved character went off-air around the same time the cancellation was made public.
Colette claims that producers informed the Neighbours team of a probable cancellation in June 2021, months before the recent reports.
“I’ve been in the industry for 50 years – I know I only look 35, but I’m a realist. When they told us that last year … I knew it would come to an end,” says the actress, who admits the announcement “wasn’t a huge shock”.
Colette is possibly the greatest person to reveal what really spelled the end of the series, with a career spanning five decades that includes acting, theatre, and producing work.
“The show is 37 years old. The reason I think it’s finishing is that Channel 5, who has been an amazing supporter of the show, has decided to spend its money on UK content. As Australians, we can’t complain about that … we’re always pushing for homegrown content,” she reasons.
“They were the lion’s share of the funding and so when they pulled out, the show couldn’t continue. It’s been cut back a lot in recent years – it couldn’t be made with what is left. Nobody would want to see the show die like that, so it’s probably the best thing that could happen,” she says.
While Colette’s character, Sheila, is obviously different, she admits there is some commonality.
“When I moved into my house, Colette’s house, in Richmond, I said: ‘You’ll be taking me out in a box,’” she laughs. “I didn’t want to ever move, and I think Sheila was the same.
“They didn’t want to kill me off and I didn’t want to leave Ramsay Street in the taxi … I just sort of disappeared! That was the best way for me to go,” she insists.
The current condition of Australian television unmistakably favors reality programming, and Colette says it’s fascinating to observe the shift in viewer preferences since she began her career in the 1970s.
However, Home and Away, Neighbours’ soap ‘rival,’ has long maintained a robust fan base and ratings — something Colette believes “makes sense.”
“It’s on the main station, that’s why!” Colette adds, noting Neighbours has long played on Network Ten’s subsidiary channels.
“They’re also on at prime time! Look, the shows are both different and extremely good in their own ways. Home and Away is on later, I guess they could do more, have guns and blood…” she suggests.
“They both had their place. I’m thrilled Home And Away keeps going – it’s now the only place for full-time acting work in TV.”
Colette, who has always been a supporter of younger actors, said she would miss coaching the up-and-comers whose careers are typically established on the soap. However, there is one aspect of the set that she will not miss.
“This is going to make me sound like a grumpy old woman, but the difference between working then and now – it’s phones! The unbelievable number of selfies taken on set, the scrolling … there’s no room for that,” she says, admitting you can always spot who has come under her mentorship program, as they will never be wielding a phone during filming.
“Mind you, it’s not just the young ones,” she clarifies.
Colette believes her next chapter will be bright; she is presently on the lookout for dynamic roles and aspires to land a character she has never played before.
Doreen Anderson’s part on Prisoner is one the actress will never forget. Colette’s performance of the callow convict opposite Val Lehman and Sheila Florance made him renowned.
While Doreen was beloved by fans, Colette admits that her favorite experience on set was a brief three-month return after a three-year absence.
“Coming back, I wasn’t part of the politics,” she admits. “Like any show, Prisoner became very political … And there were arguments and, you know, it was a hard three years,” she reveals, maintaining she’s forever grateful for being part of the hit series.
Colette says she’s looking forward to focusing on her health as well as writing another book and enrolling in a screenwriting course.
“I’m about 20kg lighter than I was coming into Neighbours 10 years ago. When I came on to the show, I was going through a rough patch … a marriage breakdown – I think I’m an emotional eater,” she quips. “By the time my first episodes went to air, I just thought: ‘I have to do something about this.’”
Colette says that over a “slow and gradual” amount of time, she fell in love with exercises like yoga, Pilates and walking.
“When COVID-19 first hit, I found an app – didn’t we all – and I started to do daily yoga, and I have done so for over 500 days,” she explains.
“I only do 45 minutes, but every day. Even when I was on set I would do it before set or during a break,” she adds, noting that she walks about six to seven kilometres a day.
“I’ve lost a lot of weight in the last six months, but it’s mainly due to the walking and yoga,” she tells, adding that she also gave up drinking alcohol eight years ago, “which definitely helped”.
While many people are hesitant to reveal their beauty secrets, Colette says she’s always taken care of her skin, never smoked, and places a high importance on self-care. She also says she has no problems about sharing her weight fluctuations in public because “everyone is fascinated.”