If you live in Australia, the UK, or Ireland, or you just happen to be a fan of Aussie soaps, then it won’t have escaped your attention that long-running soap, Neighbours has come to an end. After 37 years, and almost 9,000 episodes, the show bowed out this week, with the final episodes airing in Australia on Thursday, and in the UK on Friday (it finishes in Ireland next week).
To mark the occasion, many former stars of Neighbours returned for the finale, including the likes of Guy Pearce, Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Margot Robbie, Natalie Imbruglia, and Holly Valance. These returnees joined the current cast, to ensure the soap went out with a bang, rather than a whimper, and it proved to be a bloomin’ brilliant finish.
It also proved to be a ratings winner. In Australia, the show closed out with 1.2 million viewers.
In the UK, initial figures show the final episode of Neighbours played to an average audience of 2.5 million viewers, peaking at 3 million during its broadcast. This figure only includes those who tuned in last night, and does not include those who recorded the show or who are watching on catch-up services, but is already pretty damn impressive.
From looking at Neighbours’ social media presence last night, there was also a heck of a lot of buzz surrounding the show, with various Neighbours characters and actors trending on Twitter. In fact, as I type these words, 24-hours on from the broadcast of the final episode, Guy Pearce is still trending on the social media platform.
So, whatever way you cut it, the finale of Neighbours was a big deal. Over the last couple of days, the show has brought people together, has created a shared experience, and has also become a cultural talking point.
And for those of us who are long-time fans, particularly in the UK, the demise of Neighbours is, was, and always will be a big thing. At one point in time, this little show from Australia was phenomenally successful over here, and seeing it come to a close truly is the end of an era.
Before I get into the finer points of why Neighbours’ demise is such a sad thing, let me first put things into a little bit of context. This is especially for anyone reading who may not be familiar with Neighbours.
Neighbours made its TV debut in Australia in 1985. The show followed the story of a group of neighbours, who lived on Ramsay Street, in the fictional suburb of Erinsborough.
Storylines revolved around various characters, but during the early days the plotlines largely focused on two families: The Ramsays and the Robinsons. These two families tended to be at the centre of many major plotlines, and their daily comings and goings provided the show with most of its big stories.
After achieving success back home, in 1986, Neighbours was brought over to the UK, where it initially began airing on BBC One, Mondays to Fridays. The show quickly built up a loyal following on this side of the pond, and millions tuned in each day to get caught up in all the fun and drama.
As the audience began to build, both in Australia and in the UK, characters and cast members became household names. This wasn’t just a series that people occasionally dipped in and out of, it was a show which audiences invested their time into.
At its peak, Neighbours was getting huge ratings. An episode which featured the wedding of Scott Robinson and Charlene Mitchell, as played by Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue respectively, played to almost 20 million viewers in the UK.
This episode is still fondly remembered by us Brits, and is a cultural touch point for an entire generation. It also helped to cement Kylie and Jason as icons in the UK – so its importance can never be understated.
Now, while it never quite hit such heights again, Neighbours remained a ratings winner throughout the ‘90s and into the ‘00s. Popular characters came and went, but audiences continued to enjoy what was on offer, and the show bobbed along quite happily.
But over the course of time, the ratings began to slide. The changing landscape of television, as well as the arrival of the digital age and then streaming, all had an impact on the ratings, and back in Australia in particular, the numbers began to dwindle considerably.
Things were less bleak in the UK, and Neighbours retained a certain level of popularity. Sure, the show lost viewers when the programme shifted channels from BBC One to Channel 5, but Neighbours retained a certain fanbase, and they stuck with the show through thick and thin.
Such was the loyalty of UK fans, that for a long time the show was largely being funded by Channel 5. The production still remained very much an Aussie affair, but UK money was being pumped into the series to keep it going.
In recent years, Neighbours was getting on average around 1.2 million viewers a day. This might not sound quite as good as its (almost) 20 million viewers during its peak, but network TV audiences aren’t what they used to be, and 1.2 million viewers every day is nothing to be sniffed at.
However, even this loyalty from UK fans couldn’t save the show from cancellation. Despite its popularity in the UK, the show was simply costing too much to produce in this day and age, and that all became too much for UK funder, Channel 5.
After some consideration, Channel 5 decided to cease funding the show, and with that, Neighbours was cancelled. It had nothing to do with poor plotlines, bad stories, or a sudden drop-off in quality, it was purely a business decision based on finances and the ever-changing TV landscape.
In fact, as most fans will tell you, even toward the end, Neighbours was still in great shape – probably the best shape it had been in, in years! The writers, producers, and cast were all making the best show they possibly could, and the loyal fanbase kept tuning in.
So, when the news broke that Neighbours was ending, those fans (myself included) felt incredibly sad. With the show being as enjoyable as it was, it simply didn’t seem fair.
But it wasn’t just the regular viewers that were heartbroken by the cancellation of Neighbours, many older, lapsed viewers in the UK also felt unhappy about the decision too. Sure, they didn’t watch the show anymore, and they would struggle to name many of the current cast members, but the thought of Neighbours coming to an end seemed like a step too far.
Now, when I said that Neighbours was popular in the UK, I truly meant it. This wasn’t just a writing or casting thing; it was actually down to a cultural thing.
During the ‘80s and ‘90s, this show was beamed into peoples’ homes five days a week, back when most people only had access to four television channels, so its presence became almost inescapable. If you didn’t watch Neighbours, then your probably didn’t have your TV on.
Each episode of the show was also broadcast twice a day, at lunchtime and then again at teatime. This daily double-screening meant you were only ever a few hours away from an episode, and this helped keep it popular.
Watching Neighbours became habitual. For those of a certain age, it became must-watch television, and something generational too.
I was a kid when the show first started airing and I watched it every night after school. I watched it while eating my tea; I watched it with my family; and some times I watched it with friends.
If I was absent from school, due to sickness, then I would be able to watch the lunchtime edition. I’d then probably watch the teatime edition too, because if I didn’t watch it, there wasn’t much else to watch on the other channels.
During the summer holidays, I’d watch the show with grandparents. While my mum and dad were at work, my nans were drafted in to look after us kids (myself, my brother, cousins etc) and we’d often watch Neighbours together.
We’d sit down at lunchtime, with a sandwich and a packet of crisps, and we’d be silent for 30 minutes while the show played out. It would be a resting point for us kids, and a bit of peace and quiet for the adults.
Of course, this is my version of events, but I can tell you this was a common occurrence for many families across the UK. Stop anyone in their 30s and 40s, and ask them about Neighbours, and they’ll tell you a similar story.
Because of our time spent watching the show, many of us Brits are able to reel off the names of classic characters, such as Helen Daniels, Lou Carpenter, and Bouncer. We can also tell you where we were when Jim Robinson had a heart attack, or what we were doing when Todd Lander’s was knocked down by a car.
My point is, the way in which we all watched the show back during the ‘80s and ‘90s, and the way in which it was broadcast, means we all share this common bond with Neighbours. The show was there during our more carefree days, it existed alongside us as we’ve all progressed into adulthood, and it now holds a very special place in our hearts.
In many ways, Neighbours was a security blanket. So long as it was there, even for those who stopped watching, it kind of meant that things would be OK, and our bond with our Aussie friends and our links to the past, would remain unbroken.
So, the cancellation was a bad thing. It was bad for fans who had remained with the show from day one; it was bad for those who were semi-regular viewers; and it was bad for those who didn’t watch anymore. Neighbours disappearing from screens seemed like a tragedy.
For me, I watched the show religiously from the beginning up until the late ‘90s, when changing viewing habits, work, and university got in the way. I then lost touch with the series for a bit, as life took a few different directions, but I returned to Ramsay Street during the mid-2010s.
I can honestly say, that first and foremost, I enjoyed watching Neighbours, and when it was good, it was very good. But like so many others, it wasn’t just the stories or the characters which kept me coming back, I also had this strong bond with the soap, because it reminded me of happy times from my past.
So, knowing it would be leaving our screens didn’t just mean I was losing a bit of daily entertainment, it also meant I was losing a connection to yesteryear. It might seem odd to some, but watching Neighbours meant in some ways that I still had a connection to my grandparents, who are no longer alive.
So long as the show remained on air, my grandparents were still knocking around. So long as new (and old) characters stepped foot on Ramsay Street, I could still picture those long hot summers where I sat in front of my nan’s TV, watching the likes of Des and Daphne going about their lives.
Watching Neighbours come to an end last night, meant I was saying goodbye to all of that. It meant I was saying goodbye to my youth – and I imagine many people felt the same way too.
In the run-up to the final episode, the producers and writers pulled out all the stops, to celebrate the legacy of Neighbours and this at least helped cushion some of the blow. Many ex-cast members stopped by Ramsay Street, ahead of the finale, to show their support and the show’s writers found various ways to loop the end of the soap back to the beginning, to honour its legacy.
Everyone involved with making Neighbours knew just how beloved it was, and it became vital to reflect this onscreen. Bringing the series to a close meant showing it the respect it deserved, and this required time and a good build-up.
Following the show for the past few weeks has been truly something special. As a fan, I couldn’t praise the writing or the caretaking any more.
The writers and the cast poured their heart and soul into the show, to get it onto the right tracks ahead of the end. And what an end it proved to be.
Last night’s finale was everything I could have wanted and more. The final episode brought back a wealth of characters, celebrated the triumphs of the series, and found the perfect way to say goodbye.
There was room for characters from all eras to be involved, and whether viewers were watching in the ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘00s, or ‘10s, there was something for everyone. There was plenty of heart too, and this seeped into every frame.
Seeing the likes of Margot Robbie, Kylie Minogue, Delta Goodrem, and Natalie Imbruglia pop back up for the finale was something special, but for me, the stand-out star last night was Guy Pearce. The amount of effort he put into the show really helped make the finale so good.
Since his Neighbours days, Pearce has gone on to have huge success, appearing in films such as The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), L.A. Confidential (1997), Memento (2000), and Iron Man 3 (2013), amongst others. He really didn’t need to come back to Neighbours, or give it so much of his time, but his affection for the show won over, and he returned to Ramsay Street without any Hollywood nonsense getting in the way.
But it wasn’t just Pearce, and the aforementioned ‘big named stars’ that made this episode so special, it was the writing, some last-minute cameos (Madge, Sonya, Doug, etc), and the performances from the long-running cast members. Jackie Woodburne, Alan Fletcher, Stefan Dennis, Ryan Moloney, and Annie Jones all did the show (and the audience) proud.
Woodburne in particular, who played the role of Susan Kennedy, was responsible for delivering some of the episode’s most powerful (and tear-inducing) lines, and she was never less than superb. With her performance, she conveyed so many important things about the soap, its characters, and its place in the cultural zeitgeist, and it all become rather emotional stuff.
She knew, like all of us fans do, that Neighbours disappearing from our screens is a monumental thing. We won’t see the likes of this show again, and its passing brings mixed emotions for us all.
Yes, Neighbours is a television show, and plenty come and go, but it really was very important to so many people. It will be missed more than words can express, and particularly by those of us who have so many memories tied up in its existence.
I am pleased Neighbours got a proper send-off, as so few shows do, but I wish it hadn’t gone. I wish it was still on the air, I was back in the ‘80s watching it at my nan’s, and I wish I could experience it all over again.
For us Brits, Neighbours brought a bit of much-needed sunshine to our lives, and this will be something we will come to miss with each passing day. It was a window into another place, which we loved so very, very much, and it won’t ever be forgotten.
Last night’s episode was superb; I loved it dearly, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. But jeez… I would really like to tune in again on Monday, and I feel rather sad that after all these years, that’s no longer possible.
However, I shall celebrate the good times. I’m sad that Neighbours has gone, but I’m so very glad that it happened.
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