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Will anyone really miss Neighbours now that it’s ending?

ONCE, during a proper, old-fashioned newspaper bollocking, an editor hit me with the twin takedowns of, “this is bizarre, even for you” and “who do you think you are, Salvador f Dali?”

I might have mentioned that Dali was a painter if I hadn’t been so shy and embarrassed.

I didn’t say anything at the time, but those comments have stuck with me as a retort that comes to mind whenever someone goes too far.

I suppose it’s my own personal version of “jumping the shark,” a phrase coined after the Happy Days scriptwriters decided to have Fonzie water-ski over a shark.

The scriptwriters of Neighbours channel Salvador F Dali on the regular but the most bizarre plotline, and there are so many to choose from, that haunts the nether regions of my brain involves dear old Harold Bishop.

Harold was washed from a rock in my recollection, and many years later, after many tears from his beautiful wife Madge, popped up in New Zealand, having forgotten everything about his prior life save his skill to play the tuba.

Madge thought her beloved had drowned, but he was actually a member of a Salvation Army band further down the Antipodes. Harold was hauled up at sea by a Vietnamese fishing ship, according to my memory of the event – and we’re talking 1996 here, so don’t quote me –

It’s possible I misremembered it all together, but I’m not going to Google the plotline in case it turns out to be significantly blander than my feelings suggest.

It looked plausible at the time, I believe. Who was I to argue, as someone on the edge of adolescence with no body of water larger than Coatbridge Municipal Baths to test the idea, that an unathletic, middle-aged guy caught off guard by a massive wave may recover enough to bob at sea until a rescue boat arrived?

I reasoned that New Zealand couldn’t be far away. Now that I’m an adult, I know it’s four hours by plane, and my aforementioned editor would have had one word, and one word only, for Harold Bishop when he went into the ocean.

Nonetheless, it’s energizing material.

It was always amazing how the writers could concoct such elaborate gags despite the fact that the coffee shop’s name was Coffee Shop.

I’m going to miss Neighbours, and I say that as someone who hasn’t seen the show in years, as I’m sure many of you have. It wasn’t required to interact with it; it was just great to know it was still out there, attempting to be “spunky” and “fresh” (don’t ask).

It’s been around for as long as I can remember, and I remember it fondly as one of the few television shows I was permitted to watch. In Australia, this was primarily owing to a lack of options. Because television stations only broadcast for a certain number of hours each day, you had to make do with what you could.

I was allowed to watch Neighbours and Blue Peter in Scotland. I think it was because they spent so much time in their bathing suits that Home and Away was too raunchy for my young eyes. In Erinsborough, a landlocked community, there’s no such luck.

Even the most bizarre plotlines were polite and reassuring. The dramatic tension was always relieved, and you knew Harold would recover even after Madge died in his arms (spoilers, sorry).

Guy Pierce dramatically shaving his head comes to mind as vividly as Harold being swept away. His character’s fiancée was died in a vehicle accident, and his mother survived a plane catastrophe, so it’s no surprise. All of this takes a toll. It’s incredible that he’s developed into a serious actor. No matter how successful their careers are, Guy Pierce and Jesse Spencer will always be “from Neighbours.”

After an ill-fated road trip from Sydney to Melbourne, my flatmates and I went to see the set about ten years ago. What a snort. You could go into Coffee Shop, roll a tyre around Grease Monkeys, and wait at the Erinsborough bus stop, albeit it wasn’t obvious if you were waiting for a bus into town or making an escape.

We were hoping to see one of the cast members, but it was not to be. I once saw Karl Kennedy in Glasgow’s Walkabout while he was on tour with his band. But that was nothing compared to the prospect of seeing a character in their natural habitat.

I’m embarrassed to admit how recently I abandoned Neighbours. It wasn’t long enough to be intellectually excusable, but it wasn’t recent enough for me to sign a petition to maintain it.

It’s ironic that the loss of British money is what has eventually killed the program after Boris Johnson held up a packet of TimTams and declared a unique bond with Australia. There are no big plotlines here, only a severe lack of cash.

What will be lost if Neighbours is no longer on the air? Another jolt of childhood reminiscence. That is the most difficult part. Because real life is so unpredictable, having long-term constants is a tremendous comfort.

Even so, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from soap operas, it’s that a comeback is always possible, even from the dead. Neighbours will continue to live the good life in Bali in my heart, waiting for a twist of fate to bring it back to the dry land of solvency and our televisions.


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