RETURN TO RAMSAY ST
Who can believe it’s 30 years since Neighbours began? Now fans await March 18 when some of the earlier characters will return in special storylines over a month of nostalgia and celebration
Shootings, evil plots, salacious affairs, medical catastrophes, natural disasters … if any actual location played host to as many dramas as Ramsay Street, no one in their right mind would want to live there.
But over the past three decades the famed cul-de-sac helped put the fictional Melbourne suburb of Erinsborough firmly on the map.
While long-running soap Neighbours has lost some of its frenzied fandom in recent times, and copped a channel change from Ten to Eleven, the show still boasts a loyal audience – both here and around the world.
Those fans are eagerly awaiting the iconic series’ 30th birthday, officially marked on March 18, which will see a whole host of former characters return in special storylines that go to air across the month.
“We sat down more than a year ago to talk about what we wanted to do to celebrate the anniversary and obviously it had to be big and noisy with a good dose of nostalgia,” series producer Jason Herbison says.
Even though she died several years ago, Madge, played by Anne Charleston, is back for the party and so is her on-screen husband Harold, played by Ian Smith.
“It’s always a creative challenge to bring a dead character back to life,” Herbison laughs.
“Madge is an avolition. You could say she’s a sort of ghost. She comes to Harold at a time when he needs her – she’s there for him, they go on a little journey and then she leaves when it’s time.”
The actors were reunited on set late last year to reprise their characters, a pairing that represents one of Australian television’s most loved fictional partnerships.
“It brought a tear to my eye, having them in the same room again after 15 years and hearing them talk with such passion and fondness about their characters, their time on the show,” Herbison recalls.
Also returning is Delta Goodrem, who rose to fame with her portrayal of Nina on the show in the early 2000s. Like her character, Goodrem left Ramsay Street to pursue a music career.
Founding cast member Paul Keane, who played Des Clarke, makes an appearance too.
In all, 12 former characters spanning all generations of Neighbours will pop up, Herbison says. “It all happens beneath the banner of the Erinsborough Festival, which goes on for two weeks.”
Series veteran Stefan Dennis, who plays the wheeling, dealing and scheming Paul Robinson, admits he never expected Neighbours to last.
“I didn’t think we’d get six months, to be perfectly honest,” Dennis laughs.
“None of us thought it would be as big as it was. One of our first shopping centre appearances in Sydney was eye-opening. They told us to expect maybe 500 people and 10,000 showed up.”
He was there on the very first day of shooting until he left the show in 1992, before returning to the cast in 2004 to reprise his popular but dark character.
“I was originally cast as this very nice, happy go lucky lad who loved his family. Then he started to get a bit dark and it just went from there.”
Paul has been shot, sent to jail, involved in criminal activity, part of dastardly schemes and the purveyor of romantic scandals.
“There’s never a dull moment – he has had a turbulent life, that’s for sure.”
Jackie Woodburne plays fan favourite character Susan Kennedy, who together with Alan Fletcher as Dr Karl have been responsible for some of the show’s biggest and most dramatic moments.
In Woodburne’s view, the secret to Neighbours’ success is its light and shade – it’s not too dark, not too fluffy, but the perfect mix of both.
“It’s the element of humour in our show that some of the other soaps don’t have,” she says. “An audience likes to have the drama broken up with a few laughs.”
30th anniversary will be celebrated on the street with favourites like Stefan Dennis, Jackie Woodburne, Alan Fletcher and Ryan Moloney.