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Last Updated: Friday, 18 March, 2005, 08:17 GMT
Two decades with the Neighbours
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Australian soap Neighbours
Neighbours focuses on the emotional ups and downs of residents
Soap opera Neighbours is marking its 20th year of success on the small screen in its native country Australia on Friday.

The show is watched by millions of people in dozens of countries, including Papua New Guinea, Dubai and Ghana. And in Britain more people tune in every week than live in Australia.

It's a simple show built on years of "love, sweat and tears", according to producer Peter Dodds.

"Ramsay Street has more than its fair share of trials and tribulations," says Dodds.

"One of the show's linchpins is a very Australian sense of humour where comedy surrounds serious stories.

"I think in the end not taking ourselves too seriously is something that hits a good nerve in Britain.

"We're delighted and humbled that the show continues to be so appreciated in the UK," says the producer, who has worked on Neighbours for a decade.

It's amazing how revered I am in other walks of life - being in Neighbours has done me nothing but favours
Mat Stevenson who played Skinner

Former cast members believe the secret of its longevity is clear: the characters are happily ordinary and mostly uncontroversial.

Mat Stevenson who played the part of the dastardly Skinner, who abducted a child in Ramsay Street in the late 1980s, says this iconic Aussie soap is a success because it is just so cheerful.

"There's a fair amount of optimism, youthful exuberance and the sunshine that just appeals."

Stevenson, now a manager at a call centre, says his time in Neighbours has left its mark.

"It is 15 years since I've been on the show but I still get recognised as Skinner. Last year I was travelling on a train in Melbourne and I signed 40 autographs.

"It's amazing how revered I am in other walks of life. Being in Neighbours has done me nothing but favours," says Stevenson, 35, who left Ramsay Street to play Adam in Home and Away.

Springboard

The show largely revolves around the tortured love lives of teenagers and the emotional dramas of their parents, with the occasional seismic shock thrown in.

It all takes place in Erinsborough, a fictitious district in the southern Australian city of Melbourne.

Ex-Neighbours stars Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan
Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan have had great success

The soap has launched the careers of Kylie Minogue, Holly Valance, Natalie Imbruglia and Jason Donovan as well as Hollywood stars Russell Crowe and Guy Pierce.

The cast is a mixture of young actors in their late teens or early 20s and older, more experienced hands.

Toni Higginbotham, a casting agent in Sydney, says as well as offering actors consistent and guaranteed work, Neighbours can be a springboard for success elsewhere.

"It is not the Cate Blanchetts or Heath Ledgers who are going to be aspiring to that sort of stuff," she says.

"But there certainly are a lot of other people who don't mind appearing in those sorts of shows if it leads on to something better."

Producing two-and-a-half hours of television every week is a challenge for the crew and the cast, especially for young and inexperienced actors.

They give Neighbours its youthful edge and are well looked after. The show employs a full-time drama coach. There are courses in martial arts, circus skills, the Alexander technique as well as voice delivery and breathing.

"We make it our business to give every opportunity to the young cast to learn skills on the job," says Dodds. "We're very focused in that way."

British fans

Special anniversary episodes involving some old cast members will be aired in July in Australia, where Neighbours is shown Monday to Friday at 6.30pm against two populist current affairs programmes.

"The kids here love it because it's got a very young, bouncy feel about it," says Sandra, 28, an office worker in Sydney. "But it's years since I watched it."

Neighbours cast members
Some of the cast were already celebrating after 15 years on screen

Nick, a 33-year-old courier, says he has recently become a big fan. "I live with a group of English friends," he says.

"They watch Neighbours every day and I've just been sucked into it. Sad as it sounds, I think it's great."

And Peter Moore, who emigrated to Australia from Essex in the early 1970s, has his theory as to why the series has proved so appealing.

"In British soaps you've got those miserable people stuck in terraces and gloomy weather," he says.

"Out here it is all sun and laughter and that's why the Brits love Neighbours so much."


SEE ALSO:
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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