Charlene Mitchell, Henry Ramsay and Madge and Harold Bishop – characters from the long-running Australian soap opera Neighbours.
OPINION: I’m about to confess something that most of my closest friends don’t know: I am a Neighbors superfan.
Since 1987, I have spent roughly 84 days of my life enlarged in the lives of Ramsay St residents. Forget politics, Erinsborough is my Mastermind specialist subject.
I know which of the Spice Girls made a cameo (Baby), the name of the real life cul-de-sac where exterior filming takes place (Pin Oak Court) and who went on a cruise and never returned (Marlene).
Everyone remembers Bouncer’s dream, but do you know the name of Lucy Robinson’s dog, which he replaced? (Basil, he drowned – one of Guy Pearce’s finest performances of him).
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I vividly recall the first character to die: spiky-haired stripper Daphne whispered “I love you Clarkey” to husband Des in the wreckage of a car smash. When he returned to marry plain-Jane-superbrain it was like being reunited with an old friend.
The opening piano chords of Angry Anderson’s Suddenly takes me instantly to the sun-dappled nave of the Holy Trinity Church where Scott Robinson and frizzy-haired mechanic Charlene Mitchell exchanged their vows. (Harold and Madge, and Drew and Libby also married there, another useless thing I know.)
It was the soap wedding to end all soap weddings – and I was among the 20 million Brits who watched it.
Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan were the Romeo and Juliet of my childhood. Her debut album by Ella was the first cassette I owned, played so often the tape wore out. God love my poor mother who patiently ironed canvas patches of the pair onto the knees of my jeans.
I saved up for Kylie and Jason button badges, a scarf, and a t-shirt with their faces in a heart. The bomber jacket remained forever out of reach of my pocket money.
The soap spans my entire life. Every day, I ran from the school bus to see what Henry, Mike and Clive were up to. Its sunshine, suburban minutiae and carefree people were a world away from the bleakness of the Troubles and Thatcherism. They had swimming pools… in the garden.
At university, my lunchtime routine was the soap and a sandwich.
When legendary Harold Bishop fell in the sea, it was like losing a grandparent. Long before death punctuated my life, Neighbors taught me about grief and friendships.
Happily, Harold turned up five years later, working in a Salvation Army shop, suffering from amnesia. That’s the beauty of soaps – favorite characters can return to ease our loss. Madge stayed on for multiple episodes, existing only in Harold’s mind after a campervan prang.
From beyond the grave, Drew was able to warn Steph Scully that her cancer had returned. He rose again from his eternal slumber in the Hallowe’en zombie attack. Neighbors could be deliciously ridiculous – Paul Robinson once went back in time, met a dinosaur and altered 30 years of storylines.
It was also a pop-culture juggernaut that pushed the boundaries on feminism, pre-teen sex, same-sex marriage, disabilities and gender identity. (It also has had its fair share of criticism for reinforcing stereotypes of heteronormative suburbia, and for racism).
As adulthood got in the way, streaming services kept me up to date. Earlier this month, on a work trip, I sobbed into a hotel room duvet as Hendrix Grayson breathed his last.
There are fewer of us fans now. At its height, Neighbors was shown twice a day, reaching millions of Britons who grew up on a gloomy diet of Eastenders and Coronation Street.
The Queen Mum was said to never miss an episode – and dastardly hotel boss Paul Robinson was Princess Diana’s favorite character.
The soap was so pervasive that it changed the speech patterns of an entire generation – our voices began to rise towards the end of a sentence.
Economics experts credited it with introducing Brits to the outdoor lifestyle – as they embraced sun culture, pavement cafés and barbecues outside of the annual fortnight holiday on the Costa Brava. Even that revered seat of learning, Oxford University added the series to its curriculum for a period in the 1990s.
I’ve long hidden my fandom. There is a stigma around soap operas that assumes the audience is shallow and vapid. But it’s just entertainment, and there’s no shame in indulging in having a quick break from the stress and serious business of everyday life.
So, with the show coming to an end, it’s time to celebrate the many hours of entertainment and escapism its given me – and the huge imprint it made on my life.
So farewell Neighbours. You really have become good friends.