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Last Updated: Monday, 17 October 2005, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
Celebrating 20 years of Neighbours
By Andi Peters
BBC presenter in Melbourne

Ex-Neighbours stars Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue
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Andi Peters reports from the set of Neighbours, as the Australian soap chalks up 20 years on the small screen.

It's not every day you bump into Harold Bishop.

He strides towards me as I walk down a nondescript corridor in a studio complex about half an hour outside the centre of Melbourne.

"Morning, and how is everything today?" he asks in his familiar twang. Immediately my head fills with a million questions.

Just the sight of actor Ian Smith breeds complete familiarity.

After all, he's been beamed into my living room twice a day for longer than I can remember. I saw him chased by Mrs Mangel in the early days and later get hitched to the gravel-voiced Madge Ramsay.

I'm Down Under for the 20th anniversary of one of the most popular soap operas in the world.

Everywhere has an amiable air of Australian friendliness and not a trace of ego or superstardom

Against the odds, Neighbours is celebrating two decades with special episodes which are being shown this week in the UK.

And, almost as a mark of respect, I'm here to broadcast live from the set to BBC Breakfast on Tuesday morning as well as to present a special programme reliving the key moments from the last two decades, which will be broadcast after the lunchtime episode on the same day.

It seems a long way from those days in the CBBC Broom Cupboard when I used to introduce the soap after the end of Blue Peter.

'Compelling drama'

It is amazing wandering around the hallowed Global Studios complex which now houses the Neighbours set.

It's the former home of Prisoner Cell Block H, and fittingly in places resembles a prison. Maybe it's for this reason that it seems so ordinary.

Despite churning out two-and-a-half hours of compelling drama every week, everywhere has an amiable air of Australian friendliness and not a trace of ego or superstardom on which this very famous cast could trade.

They all share a basic green room - there are no luxurious dressing rooms with gold stars on the doors.

Australian soap Neighbours
The soap takes place in the fictitious district of Erinsborough

And, as you'd expect from such a large cast, a famous face is quite literally around every corner, whether joking with the crew between takes, enjoying a sneaky cigarette on an overgrown patio outside or tucking into something in the canteen.

In line with Harold, sorry, Ian's jolly morning greeting, the cast has taken me and my crew under its wing.

Patrick Harvey, who plays joker Connor on the show, invites us in his broad Northern-Irish drawl to a birthday party of a new cast member who's just started appearing in the Australian episodes (sorry, I'm sworn to secrecy as to his role, you'll just have to wait a couple of weeks).

'Sheer normality'

Paddy even flags down taxis to make sure we all get to the right place - I just can't imagine JR Ewing going to such lengths at the height of his fame and yet Neighbours is as successful as Dallas was in its heyday.

Again in line with the sheer normality of Neighbours, we head for the back room of a pub in a bohemian district in Melbourne.

It's much less salubrious than Erinsborough's Scarlet Bar and the first person we bump into is actress Natalie Bassingthwaighte who plays Izzy Hoyland.

Alan Fletcher
Alan Fletcher has played Dr Karl Kennedy in the soap since 1994

"You're the guys from the BBC!" she exclaims before whisking us onto the dance floor.

The room is a veritable who's who of Ramsay Street.

As well as current cast members, I spot Tad - actor Jonathon Dutton - chatting to the new breed of youngsters now occupying the walls of teenage girls across both Australia and the UK.

It seems it might just be true when the cast tell me they all get along on and off set - that's not something that can be said about other daily soaps if the front pages of tabloids can be believed.

As testament to that, Kylie Minogue sends a birthday message. Despite her international fame and her current battle with breast cancer she takes time out to wish everyone well, highlighting her happy memories of this studio complex in Nunawading.

You know what, as stated in the theme tune, I think it's true that Neighbours really do become good friends.


SEE ALSO
Two decades with the Neighbours
18 Mar 05 |  Entertainment
Kylie and Jason top weddings poll
29 Mar 05 |  Entertainment
Neighbours makes American debut
19 Apr 04 |  Entertainment
Neighbours 'to make US TV debut'
24 Mar 04 |  Entertainment
Soap hits 4,000th episode
10 May 02 |  Entertainment
Neighbours hits 15 years of success
26 Oct 01 |  Entertainment

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