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Whatever happened to the pink couch?

Author: Andrew Anastasios
Date: 20/03/1995
Words: 699
          Publication: The Age
Section: Home Weekly
Page: 1
I WAS speaking to ex-Neighbours actor Elaine Smith the other day. Yes, Daphne. ``Ask them what happened to my pink velor couch," she commanded. ``I miss it." So I do. I ask Neighbors' publicist, Heather Nette. She stalls for time, pulling out some archival photographs.

The school teacher, Dorothy Burke, had a home like my aunt and uncle's. Mrs Mangles could have borrowed her faux antique furniture and lace tablecloths from my grandmother. I suppose that is the point.

As Bill Searle, the executive producer of Neighbours, says later: ``The whole show is familiar to the viewer, including the sets. And that is a large part of why it has endured."

The attention to detail in these old sets is haunting. Wedding photographs on white doilies, Italianate portraits in oval gold frames, and cream lamp shades with scalloped rims are suburban icons that lend Neighbours its authenticity. Scott Bird, set designer for the show, says: ``It can be very rewarding to come up with something that personally you might find very ugly but is appropriate to the character. That is the challenge."

Dorothy Burke (Maggie Dence) was a well-travelled school teacher. Her Ramsay Street home was a perfect example of the character-driven interior. Tribal masks and kilims were the backdrop for an eclectic mix of terracotta pots, gold Buddhas and Oriental statues.

Scott explains that the set was designed to ``give the impression that she was a classically educated traveller. The artefacts act as flags for the audience, to flesh out the character". As for interior trends, it was way ahead of its time.

Scott is currently working on new sets for Neighbours, updating the interiors. ``The producers would like to see a lot more color in the show," he says. ``It has started to become a bit too beige. We have new cameras. Previously bright colors would either bleed or reflect off people's faces. They'd look like aliens. Now I can use virtually any color I like."

We have a look over one such set, with its burnt yellow walls, mauve trim and butterfly print door. The Mexican candlestick and mirror, and stainless steel cone vase are artefacts that the resident, Mark, brought home with him from Mexico. The contemporary feel of this set is again related to the characters, Ren (Raelee Hill) and Mark (Bruce Samazan). They are younger, less conservative, and Ren is ``a hippy fashion designer".

But Scott stresses that much of the show's appeal lies in the sets being the types of houses that the audience are familiar with, and so ``are not the type you are going to find in interior magazines. It is not a fantasy show". Bill Searle says: ``The show has to update itself as it goes along, not dramatically, but as a response to a changing audience" and this new set reflects that outlook.

Things have not changed too much in Ramsay Street in the past 10 years. Kylie and Jason have moved out. Melissa and Bruce have moved in. But the homes themselves have altered very little. Scott shares a trade secret.

``Sometimes new producers come in. They have their ideas and they'd like to change something. If there is no screen or scripted reason for change, then it can just happen overnight. The home is repainted and refurnished and everybody walks in the next day as if nothing happened."

Enough stalling Heather. ``Where's the couch?" She smiles and nods to Scott. ``Follow me," he says. We go upstairs to the general props store. No couch. The outside broadcast prop cage. No couch. We call in the props manager. Still no couch! Tragically, it seems the pink couch is lost; auctioned off or re-upholstered.

Whatever its present state, it will remain a cultural icon to all those who have seen it sat upon. It represents an Australian dream; to own your own home, on your own block of land. The barbeque flame still flickers in Ramsay Street.

 
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