Ramsay St to the world: The Neighbours who owe their careers to a TV soap

By Karl Quinn

From left: Georgie Stone, Guy Pearce, Jason Donovan, Kylie Minogue and Daniel MacPherson have all called Ramsay Street home.Credit:Gina Milicia, Supplied

Everyone knows Neighbours launched the careers of Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Guy Pearce, Delta Goodrem and Margot Robbie. But the show’s role as a training ground, springboard, and occasional safety net goes well beyond Ramsay Street’s most famous former residents.

Over 37 years, thousands of people have worked on the show. Some of them grabbed the opportunity for stable well-paid employment in this most fickle of industries with both hands. Some of them have gone on to great things elsewhere. Some of them have done both, leaving, enjoying a fruitful career beyond Erinsborough, then returning for a victory lap of the ’hood.

Neighbours cast members, including long-time stars Ryan Moloney, Alan Fletcher and Jackie Woodburne (front row), on the set for the show’s last days of filming.Credit:Sam Tabone/Getty

Here some of the show’s many alumni share their tales about how they started, what Neighbours did for their career – both good and bad – and how they think Australian television’s longest-running soapie should be remembered.

Marieke Hardy, writer (1996-2003)

Has since written for Last Man Standing, Packed to the Rafters, Seven Types of Ambiguity, Barons, Heartbreak High; co-created Laid

“I acted as a Neighbours ‘villain’ for three weeks before joining the script department about a month later. If for some wild reason you can’t recall my stellar performance as Rhonda Brumby – a bad gal from the wrong side of the tracks who ran a stolen-goods racket from Marlene’s antique shop – shame on you.

“I was 19 years old, very green, eager to learn, an emotionally chaotic teenager obsessed with the Beastie Boys. The first script I wrote was full of soliloquies and monologues, and a wonderful editor pointed out that nobody ever spoke like that in real life. I had to learn the craft of breaking up a sentence, to really listen to how characters express themselves. It taught me that you have to actually care about a show and its characters – to invest in the stories and the stakes – in order for the script to have heart.

Marieke Hardy had a brief stint as an actor on Neighbours before joining the writing team aged 19.Credit:Paul Jeffers

“The worst pieces of ourselves needed to be shared in the process of creating story. As emotionally tumultuous as it was sometimes (I knew it was time to get out when I got shingles), I’m one of many who were given the opportunity to learn and grow and f— up and stumble within its hallowed halls.

Neighbours was a very white, heteronormative world for far too long, but I appreciate that, like so much of Australian society, it has done some listening and learning. I’m sad it’s ended but glad it happened.”

Peter Andrikidis, director (1985-87)

Has since directed A Country Practice, Wildside, Water Rats, Farscape, Underbelly, Janet King, the forthcoming Bali 2002

“I was directing in the control room at [original broadcaster] Channel 7 in 1985 when, just before lunch, the show was axed. We still had to complete the day, and that was tough. Little did we know that within a year it would have a new beginning at Ten; at that time no drama was ever resurrected on a rival network.

Peter Andrikidis, who was one of the directors of Neighbours in its first season on Seven.

“When directing Kylie, Jason and Guy I was really impressed by how prepared they were, so enthusiastic to learn and to deliver the best performance on a fast-turnaround drama. Kylie was a particularly hard worker.

“It was a great place for first-time directors to start a career. You really do learn to think on the run and solve problems quickly.”

Georgie Stone, actor (Mackenzie Hargreaves, 2019-2022)

Also plays the same character in spin-off series Erinsborough High; first transgender actor and character on the show

“I went from 13 years of school straight into this job, so I’m going into the unknown now, which is terrifying but also really exciting. It’s going to leave a big gap, but I’m trying to take it as a positive.

Georgie Stone went straight from high school to a leading role in the soap.Credit:Justin McManus

“Television and storytelling has real-world implications, and I know it means so much to me when I see someone I can connect with on screen. It’s been the most empowering experience I’ve ever had, in so many ways. I’ve learnt so much about acting, about this industry, about working with people. It’s been life-changing.”

Daniel MacPherson, actor (Joel Samuels, 1998-2002)

Has since had roles on The Bill, Wild Boys, Strike Back, Foundation, and Russell Crowe’s upcoming feature Poker Face

“I was directing cyclists on a triathlon course in Sydney for extra pocket money, aged 16, when an acting manager asked if I had any interest in drama. I didn’t. But he tracked down my home phone number and rang my parents a few weeks later and I met with him and his boss, read from a script from Neighbours, and they agreed to take me on.

“I was very raw, but after about six months of acting classes they sent me to meet casting director Jan Russ, and about eight weeks later I was offered an 18-month contract. I was shell-shocked. I was moving to Melbourne, aged 17, to work on a TV show. What a spin out.

Daniel Macpherson on the Nunawading set of Neighbours, where it all began when he was just 17.Credit:Network 10

“They were very patient with me. I had no idea what I was doing, so I just smiled lots. Being on the show taught me about the three Ps: preparation, professionalism, publicity. I think my biggest day was something like 14 scenes, a monstrous amount of brain power and focus to hold that much information, but I give the show credit for allowing me to learn lines quickly.

“I left Neighbours to do theatre in the UK. It was my version of drama school and an attempt to better understand and learn the craft of acting. The Neighbours training worked very well for me for about a decade, but about 10 years ago I had to step back to retrain myself to really take my work up a few levels.

“The doors Neighbours opened, even to this day, have been incredible; it’s like a golden ticket. I’ve met Prince William, Lewis Hamilton and Baby Spice, who were all fans of the show. Particularly in the UK and Ireland, people really hold that show in a very special place in their hearts.”

Jason Herbison, writer (1998-2021, intermittently)

As executive producer, is responsible for wrapping it all up. Has also worked on Pacific Drive, Shortland Street, Home and Away; created Lie With Me and upcoming miniseries Riptide

“In Year 11 I wrote a letter to the producers, care of Channel 10. ‘Dear Neighbours, this is what I think you should do in the show.’ About six months later I got home from school one day and Mum said, ‘someone from Neighbours has called you up, and they’re going to call back at six o’clock’. It was the head of the script department, Ray Collie. He said, ‘We’ve got your letter. We didn’t realise you were so young, but we thought your ideas were really interesting, and they’re in line with what we’re thinking ourselves. So if you stay in touch, there may be a job for you sometime.’

Jason Herbison landed a job after writing with some story suggestions when he was still at school.

“I did stay in touch, and I would send ideas and he or someone else might give me a bit of feedback. But I became too confident, and got a letter back saying, ‘you’d be wise to curb your criticism’. I thought I’d messed it all up but a couple of years after I first wrote there was a trial opportunity to be part of the storylining team, and I got it.”

Steve Bastoni, actor (Steve Parker, 1985, 2007-2009)

Has worked extensively in film and TV since 1983, including Police Rescue, Underbelly, Wentworth, The Water Diviner and Russell Crowe’s upcoming film Poker Face

“I played Alex, the bank teller, in one or two episodes in 1985. I vaguely remember hitting on one of the girls at a party … or maybe that was in real life.

“I came back in 2007 as Steve Parker, everyone’s favourite vet. It came at a great time, because I was expecting my first child. I’d arrived in Melbourne with not much money and my agent rang and said, ‘Would you consider a couple of years on Neighbours?’ I said, ‘I would consider a KFC ad right now’.

Steve Bastoni found the pace of Neighbours ‘shocking’.

“I was shocked at how fast everything was. They were working on four or five scripts at a time, so you had to be really on top of it. The teenage kids were all over it; they were all MENSA kids, really clever and sassy and funny.

“I can’t say it was the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had, but I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I started on Neighbours when I started my recovery [from drug and alcohol addiction], it was a tricky time in my life, and I’m very grateful for what it gave me. It was great to be a part of something that people felt so passionately about, even if the artistic satisfaction wasn’t so high. I’d been working for 30 years by then and I’d never been able to buy a house before.

“I was expecting to be unemployable for a couple of years after doing a long stint on a show like that, and sure enough I was. But I’ve been pretty lucky in that regard because I had quite a big body of work before so it wasn’t the only thing I was known for.”

Stefan Dennis, actor (Paul Robinson, 1985-93, 2004-22)

Worked widely in the UK, mostly in theatre but also on TV series including The Bill, Casualty and Dream Team

“When I was offered the job I said it would only last six months, and I wasn’t far wrong, because it lasted seven and then it was axed. Then it got a second wind and the rest is history, isn’t it?

“I was out for 12 years. Being a young and idiotic actor I was under the impression I had done my apprenticeship here and I was going to go out and sow my wild oats in the rest of the world. I went to the UK on the back of the hysteria, and I worked almost non-stop, and it was Neighbours that was getting me all those jobs. I was in America for a little while too, but I was too early, it was before the Australian invasion.

Stefan Dennis, who plays Paul Robinson, was in the first episode of Neighbours and is in the last.Credit:Network Ten

“On the downside, I’ve never had the opportunity to really sink my teeth into film. My ambition from 14 years old was always to be a filmmaker. Neighbours got in the way – in a very good way, I’m not complaining at all – but it did stop me from following that career path.

“I never intended to come back. I was asked in 2004 to do a two-week guest spot for the 20th anniversary. That was 18 years ago. Before I even did it the two weeks turned into a month and that turned into six months, and then here we are.

“I have to be honest, getting a paycheck every week is very attractive to an actor; it’s one of the most insecure jobs you can have. But it’s also doing what I love doing. There’s not a lot of jobs that you can say you have as much fun with as this.”

Jeffrey Walker, director (2003-04)

Former child actor, has since directed in the US, UK and Australia, including Lambs of God, Modern Family, Young Rock and the upcoming Disney+ series The Clearing and The Artful Dodger

“I was 19 or 20 when I joined Neighbours through a program designed to help new directors find their way into the industry. After the training concluded, producer Peter Dodds took a chance on me. Having been on set for 10 years as a child actor certainly helped when it came to running the set; my directorial voice, however, took a few more years to find.

Jeffrey Walker (right) directing on the set of Young Rock.Credit:Universal

“I was a teenager directing established actors on a multimillion-dollar television show, and knew I had to constantly prove myself. I was incredibly daunted by the speed at which it was made. Twenty-plus scenes a day – I was certain I’d drown under the weight of it all. But the cast and crew were a well-oiled machine, and I felt completely supported. The main thing I learnt was to be kind, and enjoy the collaboration.

“Television is such a different landscape today, and for a show to start in 1985 and carry through to 2022 is simply extraordinary. Neighbours has proven to be a talent farm. It has employed and trained thousands and thousands of people, but most importantly, it has entertained multiple generations of audiences in Australia and around the world.”

Libby Butler, writer (2011-22)

Has also written for The Heights and Larry the Wonderpup, created the short-form COVID rom-com series Loving Captivity

“Twelve years ago a friend mentioned the script co-ordinator was leaving and I jumped at the chance despite having no idea what the job entailed. It was my first TV drama gig and my interview was me gushing about the characters I loved and connected with.

Libby Butler on the set where a store at Lassiters bears her name, purely by coincidence of course.

“For two years I had a constant eye-twitch from plotting three hours of television a week. It was stressful having to come up with that much story, but once it clicked it felt like a superpower. My favourite part was coming in on a Monday and sharing my tragic dating stories. Many made it into the show, watered down for the G rating. My whole life got mined for that show.

“It’s been a TV university. It taught me the craft of plotting and writing characters quickly and instinctively. There’s no time to doubt yourself on Neighbours; you go with your gut, and it’s always good to undercut drama with humour.

“But it has hindered my career in some ways. There is a cultural stain of Neighbours when working in Australia. ‘Soap’ is a dirty word; many people think it means you can’t write ‘deep’ or ‘nuanced’. To those people I say, please just put one of us in a room and watch how much story we give you. Then give us more than a day to revise, because we’ve never had that chance before!”

The 90-minute Neighbours finale airs on 10 at 7.30pm on July 28.

Email the author at [email protected], or follow him on Facebook at karlquinnjournalist and on Twitter @karlkwin.

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