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Neighbour good watch!; TVLife.

Byline: By Phil Gould

NEIGHBOURS is the show which has changed the face of British television and language - although some may argue that this is not necessarily for the better.

It is hard to imagine when the low-budget Australian daytime soap first arrived that it would have such an impact - becoming essential viewing for millions of British teenagers and their mums.

Set in Ramsay Street, in the fictional Melbourne suburb of Erinsborough, Neighbours was created by Reg Watson - the first producer of British soap Crossroads.

Watson returned to Australia in 1973 and set about creating shows like The Young Doctors, Sons And Daughters and Prisoner: Cell Block H. He based Neighbours on the street he grew up in. First broadcast by the 7 Network in Australia on March 18, 1985, it failed to capture the public imagination and was axed before the end of the first year.

But Grundy Television, which produces the show, persuaded the rival 10 Network to take the programme.

Some changes were made to the original cast. The original Scott Robinson was axed in favour of Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue made her first appearance as Charlene Mitchell. The show turned into a hit.

It arrived in this country on October 27, 1986 with each episode being broadcast twice a day five days a week.

The combined daily audience figures meant it was not too long before Neighbours was challenging Coronation Street and EastEnders in the TV ratings and, like the British-based soap stars, the actors found the show a springboard to greater things.

Kylie, currently at number 1 in the charts with Can't Get You Out Of My Head, believes she retains a special place in the hearts of British fans thanks to her days in Neighbours.

"I was in everyone's home with them twice a day, everyday throughout those formative years, they have seen me grow up, " she says.

"It is like seeing someone in the most embarrassing situations and still being fond of them because everyone knows they have also been there with their embarrassing perm or shoulder pads."

Kylie, who has notched up six No 1's in this country, adds: "They have seen me go through all of that and they have related to it and that is a really beautiful and important part of my relationship with the public."

She is not the only former Neighbour who has gone on to bigger things after leaving Ramsay Street.

Stefan Dennis, who played Paul Robinson, can be seen in Sky One's football drama Dream Team. Peter O'Brien, who played Shane Ramsay, has appeared in a number of dramas including Cardiac Arrest and Channel 4's Queer As Folk.

Natalie Imbruglia, or Beth Brennan as she was known in the soap, went on to score a massive musical hit with Torn and has a new single That Day, released this month.

And Guy Pearce, who played teacher Mike Young, now appears with Hollywood stars such as Kim Basinger and Russell Crowe (another ex-Neighbours actor) in LA Confidential. He will shortly be seen opposite Samantha Mumba in the remake of The Time Machine.

But while some Neighbours come and go there is one Neighbour who went - and then came back from the dead.

Veteran actor Ian Smith has played bumbling Harold Bishop for the past 14 years. Although he took four years out he is still the longest running cast member.

Smith says: "When I got the part in Neighbours the producers gave me a blank page to create Harold. The silly pompous side of him was based on an old man I used to work with when I was 14.

But the parts that people like about him - his kindness, compassion and perfect manners - are my father.

"He had a very solid outlook on life and believed in a lot of things which may seem old-fashioned but I believe are important. I know Harold sometimes sounds selfopinionated but his heart is in the right place."

Smith can easily recall his first scene. "I had to knock on the front door of the house and Kylie Minogue answered it dressed as a clown, " he says.

"Anne Charleston was also inside dressed as a clown. I thought it was the best scene I'd ever done in a show - it was all downhill from there, " he laughs.

Smith quit in 1991 to enjoy a leisurely retirement. On screen he was killed off presumed drowned at sea. The only thing left were his glasses found on a beach. "When I left I stupidly thought I could retire and do everything I wanted to do. But after 18 months I realised I was an actor not an accountant and my funds had evaporated quickly. I tried to get back into work and it's not as easy as you think."

Five years later the show's producers decided they wanted Harold and his screen wife Madge, played by Anne Charleston, back in the show. And Smith jumped at the chance to get back among the Neighbours. Scriptwriters explained Harold's disappearance by making him return to Ramsay Street suffering from amnesia.

Neighbours's 15th anniversary is on Friday. Neighbours Revealed is on daily all week beginning tomorrow.


BISHOP'S MOVE: Harold returned from the dead
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 21, 2001
Previous Article:SOAPBOX; TVLife.

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