Neighbours: Strewth, they can’t toss this TV show on the barbie. It gave us Kylie and the selfie – Aidan Smith
Thirty-three years ago, when tensions between 10 and 11 Downing Street were at their height, the popularity of Neighbours was also at its height, and a Scot chose his moment to pounce.
John Smith sang the theme tune in the Commons. “Everybody needs good neighbours,” he warbled, to mock Margaret Thatcher and the governmental squabbling over economic policy that existed between the Prime Minister and her Chancellor, Nigel Lawson. Smith brought the House down, and 24 hours later Lawson was down and out of a job.
That wouldn’t happen now. I mean, Nos 10 and 11 not being on cup of sugar-borrowing terms will always be gleefully ridiculed, but the baiter on the Opposition benches wouldn’t launch into a rendition of the title song for the Australian soap opera. Neighbours is no longer part of the cultural zeitgeist and hasn’t been for a while. And, strewth, it may soon no longer be part of television. I have to tell you, mate, I’m spewin’.
Okay, the last time I tuned in was probably way back in 1989 when Smith, then Shadow Chancellor, cracked his funny, but learning yesterday that the show is in grave danger of being axed, I dug out the most recent episode for old time’s sake.
What happened? Well, some men in loud shirts went big-game fishing and some women came off the phone and stared into the middle distance for several seconds, doubtless to denote inner turmoil. Paul Robinson was the only character I recognised and ominously – though I can’t be sure, having missed approximately 4,000 instalments – he seems to be terminally ill.
If Neighbours is doomed then for any nutter fans still out there, Britain will have blood on its hands. Australia makes it but we largely pay for it. Channel 5, though, having funded production for a while, are to cease the strange arrangement.
If no other overseas broadcaster can be found to subsidise this sunny picture of suburban life, death and the occasional shock return explained by amnesia, then, as they say Down Under, it’ll be hooroo from all in Ramsay Street.
What a neat trick the Aussies pulled, assembling a cast of plump matriarchs, pert daughters and almost entirely gormless blokes, encasing them in wobbly walls and getting us to subsidise their small talk, big dreams, plane crashes, hot-air balloon crashes, kidnappings by South American rebels, subsequent affairs with the Ecuadorian captors and numerous revamps of the Coffee Shop.
The UK signed a big free trade deal with Australia two months ago; I really hope Boris Johnson examined the small print to make sure we’ve not been sold a pup and it’s called – for maybe the dogs of Erinsborough can be reincarnated, too – Bouncer.
Perhaps Neighbours, though, can be seen as a gift from the New World. Thanks for the ten-pound poms we sent to Oz back in the 1960s to populate the ’burbs and help the country grow.
Some who scoff at the show may call it revenge for all the convicts we sent there, but look at what we got in return: Kylie Minogue. Her glittering pop career took off in Britain while Jason Donovan – Scott to her Charlene – and Natalia Imbruglia now live here. And from wobbly walls some proper Hollywood A-listers have emerged: Russell Crowe, Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce and Liam Hemsworth.
Why did we fall for the show? Perhaps its optimism at a time when British soaps were seven rooms of gloom. The piece of dialogue which best summed up EastEnders at the time of Neighbours’ arrival on our screens in 1986, and still does now, was “Get outta my pub!” On Ramsay Street, it would be a cheery “G’day!”
That intro music was corny, probably only taking composer Tony Hatch half an hour to dash off. But maybe in an era of much cynicism, lyrics like “Neighbours should be there for one another” chimed because they were ripostes to Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney, Gordon “Greed is good” Gekko in Wall Street and not least, because she wasn’t a comedy character or a movie villain, Margaret “No such thing as society” Thatcher.
Neighbours has enlivened our language. With 20 million viewers at the show’s UK peak, it can surely lay claim to have popularised the spread of Aussie lingo such as “barbie”, “demo”, “muso”, “prezzie”, “sunnies”, “uni” – oh, and also “perv”.
Additionally, Oz has given the world the “selfie” and, back in the day, if you ever “threw a sickie” to skive work then you possibly joined students and pensioners in tuning in for Erinsborough’s latest minor misunderstanding, wedding tragedy or dream sequence (even Bouncer had one of those when the Labrador retriever got off with a Border collie). And without Neighbours, I’d never have discovered my favourite term of mild abuse – “drongo”.
Professionally, I’ve got a lot to thank it for. At my previous paper, living or dying by the number of times your byline appeared in print, I got lucky during secondment to the showbiz beat.
“Putting a kilt” on a celebrity and preferably an attractive young female one was the key to survival and a run of actresses from the show, including Kimberley Davies (who played Annalise Hartman) and Kym Valentine (Libby Kennedy) duly obliged in interviews with stories of Scottish grannies and the like. And, sure thing, they’d definitely be making roots trips to investigate their heritage sometime soon when, no worries, they’d be keen to try “ha-geese”.
So an uncharacteristic gloom has settled over Ramsay Street but remember, no one really dies here. Certainly not Todd Landers or Dee Bliss or Harold Bishop anyway. They all laughed at the Grim Reaper by miraculously disinterring themselves and Neighboursmight yet do the same.
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