The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY -

he cast of Neigh­bours fin­ishes the year on a high with their mile­stone 8000th episode. But when they were film­ing it was just an­other day on set for Ste­fan Den­nis, who plays busi­ness­man Paul Robin­son.

“It was just an­other day at the of­fice, but I say that with tongue in cheek,” he says. “Ev­ery episode is a mile­stone.

“It cer­tainly has been a mile­stone event as a pro­duc­tion team and we’re well aware we have yet again made Aus­tralian TV his­tory.”

While he hasn’t been on Ram­say Street for all 8000 episodes, Den­nis is the long­est serv­ing orig­i­nal cast mem­ber.

“I was out for 12 years, and I’m not in ev­ery episode, so I’m stab­bing in the dark but I’ve done 4500 or 5000 episodes,” he says.

“I think Ray Meagher (who plays Alf on Home and Away) might just beat me on over­all num­ber of episodes.

“We’d be run­ning neck and neck any­way.

“As I said to him at The Lo­gies, ‘there’s the other stal­wart’ and he said ‘you mean the other old fart?’.”

To cel­e­brate the mile­stone, Ten will air Neigh­bours through De­cem­ber and Jan­uary for the first time in its 33-year his­tory.

Some of the dra­matic sto­ry­lines view­ers can look for­ward to in­clude a for­mer Ram­say Street res­i­dent re­turn­ing from the dead, a cheat­ing scan­dal and shock preg­nancy and the dev­as­tat­ing death of a fan favourite.

“It’s one of the big­gest events in Neigh­bours his­tory. We have not just one but four big sto­ry­lines cul­mi­nat­ing in an event which is quite dra­matic,” Den­nis says.

“Some­thing hap­pens which will make the au­di­ence go ‘oh my God’.”

The soap made his­tory ear­lier this year when it aired Aus­tralian TV’s first same-sex wed­ding.

“Neigh­bours is not new to same-sex re­la­tion­ships, but to have the first wed­ding so fast off the back of the leg­is­la­tion was ter­rific,” he says.

“My char­ac­ter, for ex­am­ple, was com­ing to terms with the ac­cep­tance of his son be­ing gay, and not just want­ing him to get mar­ried and to be happy.

“Paul chang­ing his life to ac­com­mo­date that was def­i­nitely a proud mo­ment sim­ply be­cause we yet again made tele­vi­sion his­tory and we had mas­sive ratings that week. Peo­ple tuned in who wouldn’t or­di­nar­ily be­cause of what it rep­re­sented.”

Af­ter more than three decades, five wives and count­less schemes, Den­nis still rev­els in play­ing Ram­say Street’s res­i­dent vil­lain.

“When I came back to the show in 2004, Paul started to be­come more malev­o­lent and evil, al­most sadis­tic … the pro­duc­ers went too far and it be­came too much of a car­i­ca­ture for a show try­ing to rep­re­sent nor­mal daily life,” he says.

“Then they gave him a brain tu­mour to cre­ate am­ne­sia and he be­came squeaky clean and the au­di­ence hated it.

“I used to get peo­ple stop­ping me say­ing ‘when is Paul go­ing to be bad again?’

“Why the char­ac­ter is so well loved is be­cause one minute he can be di­abol­i­cally bad – for his own self gain more of­ten than not – and then he can turn around and be re­ally up­set about some­thing quite moral.

“We have such a strong, loyal fan base. You can throw al­most any­thing at them and they will be­lieve it be­cause they want to be en­ter­tained.” Neigh­bours’ 8000th episode airs to­mor­row at 6.30pm on Ten Peach

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