CHANNEL 10's Neighbours, the soap opera Australians love to hate but
watch anyway, began its history-making run on British television last week.
The Reg Grundy-produced program moved to a new weekday evening slot of
5.35pm on BBC Channel 1 on January 4 - making it the Beeb's first
five-nights-a-week serial. It has already achieved the honour of being the first
Australian soap to appear on Britain's national, government-backed network.
The prime-time switch follows the overwhelming and unexpected popularity
of Neighbours on daytime television since October, 1986. The program has doubled
its audience in 14 months and was attracting at least five million viewers
daily from its 1.30pm slot - while another two million watched the repeat at
"England has gone Neighbours- mad", declared Carol Millward of the BBC
press office. "It's claimed that children all around the country were arriving
late for school just so they could watch the morning repeat." In its wisdom the
BBC has taken away that temptation in the New Year; while the"origination" will
stay at its lunchtime spot, the repeat changes from 9.05am to 5.35pm.
Christmas had a new meaning in the United Kingdom this year. It meant
roast turkey, plum pudding, mistletoe - and the television wedding of the year
On December 23, Des and Daphne tied the knot ... 18 months after they did
it in Australia. The wedding was such big news here that talk-show host Terry
Wogan earnestly discussed the episode with guest Rolf Harris on the Wogan show
the next evening.
Even comedian Kenny Everett has been taken by Neighbours. Each week on his
comedy program he includes a spoof of the soap - Cobbers - where body-builders
in swimming costumes sit around, drinking Fosters. "Where's your cozzie, mate?"
one of them asks a business-suited Englishman (Everett), who comes to the door
asking for directions.
Because of the delay, Kylie Minogue, who plays Charlene, is relatively new
to the series here and has yet to generate the popularity she has in Australia.
However, it may be foolish to suggest that Locomotion will not be a hit single
in Britain as well, if it were released in 12 or 18 months.
"English people have a lot of relatives in Australia and they look on
Neighbours as a way of seeing how they are living," Miss Millward said.
"The program doesn't show impossibly high living standards, as in Dallas
or Dynasty. Neighbours is pretty middle class. And it's also got some bronzed
and hunky men, which helps."
Australian-born Barry Brown, of the BBC's programming department, clinched
the sale of Neighbours two years ago as the Beeb went about filling its
once-vacant daytime slots.
"We initially bought Neighbours on trial, but it quickly took off," Brown
said. "It turned out to be much more popular than Santa Barbara (an American
series), which generates only about half a million viewers."
On the commercial and more liberal ITV network, Australian soaps are
proven performers. Sons and Daughters, The Young Doctors, The Sullivans and
Prisoner are still showing to considerable audiences, although three of those
programs have long ceased production. Even a 10-year-old series of The Paul
Hogan Show has a weekly, late-night slot on ITV, complete with dated jokes about
Al Grassby and World Series Cricket.
"The British have quite an affection for Australian programs," Brown said.
"It's more than novelty value ... they just seem so refreshing."