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I was there

Author: Interview by Jacqui Lang
Date: 23/07/2000
Words: 844
          Publication: Sun Herald
Section: Sunday Life
Page: 34
The soapie Neighbours reached its peak in 1987, when Charlene and Scott (Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan) walked down the aisle. Brian Walsh witnessed the romance - both on and off-screen.

I was Ten's national publicity director when my boss said to me, "I think we're going to have to pick up this show, Neighbours, from Channel Seven." It was only rating single figures on Seven in Sydney and I asked what made him think it would do any better on our network. His response: "You're just going to have to get the thing to work!"

I was told we had four weeks for it to rate in Sydney or it was gone. To improve the show's popularity there, we ensured Grundy's, the show's producers, never shot a motor vehicle with Victorian numberplates. And we convinced them to shift the show to Sydney for a week and unlike the rule that applied to shots in Melbourne, we asked them to do scenes that were absolutely Sydney.

The role of Charlene had just been cast, with Kylie Minogue. My first impression of her was that she had enormous presence for someone so slight of build, so gentle. She was electric, unique; she brought to that show something that was very special. And Jason had joined the show as Scott. Jason was one of the most giving, positive, happy-go-lucky young people I've ever met in this industry. He had an incredible larrikin charm about him. I stay in contact; whenever he comes home, we always get together.

One day, I rang the then-editor of Sydney's Daily Mirror to say if I could get a shot of these two young kids tongue-kissing each other on Manly Beach, would he give it a good run? The end result was a front page, which had "TV shock" as a headline. And it was all about this steamy kiss between Jason and Kylie. That immediately put the show very much in the minds of school kids; I knew then that we were on a roll with Scott and Charlene.

We really hit hard at promoting these two kids around Australia. It was exhausting for Kylie and Jason but they had an absolute ball. Plus they were paid very well. They were leading a terrific lifestyle and had a great time.

The wedding episode was an ideal marketing opportunity. I hit on the idea of doing a wedding breakfast at Westfield, Parramatta, as that was the heartland in terms of viewers for the show. So we took over the ballroom of the Park Royal Hotel in Parramatta; 400 lucky competition winners got to attend the wedding breakfast. We took Jason and Kylie across to the hotel for the wedding breakfast - all cocktail frankfurts and sausage rolls. The most unglamorous wedding you could imagine!

Kylie and Jason also made an appearance with the eight-tier wedding cake on stage at Westfield Parramatta. I'd never seen anything like it; there would have been 6000 people. Security had to prevent any more going inside. It was as simple as Jason and Kylie and a wedding cake on stage. There was a speech and the cutting of the cake. Then there was this near riot. We had to stop the appearance at this point to prevent people getting crushed.

Along with all this hype was the release of the single, Suddenly (by Angry Anderson), the official wedding song in Neighbours. Months before all this fanfare, the wedding itself was quietly filmed in a small church outside Nunawading in Melbourne. It was shot in great secrecy, three months before it went to air. Typical Australian TV-finance style, there must have been just 14 people at the wedding! They couldn't afford much by way of extras. Basically, anyone hanging around the set that day put on a suit or a frock and went along to the church. It was shot with lots of soft lenses; Kylie had a halo effect around her veil as she walked up the aisle. It was no Ally McBeal ceremony, with a cast of 120 and a party afterwards. It was formula. I'm sure as soon as they wrapped, they were moving into the next scene. It wasn't glamorous.

During that era, Jason, Kylie and I spent a lot of time together - and we holidayed together quite a bit. It's no secret now that Kylie and Jason were seeing each other offscreen at the time. It was a challenge to keep it quiet. My advice to the network was to contain this news about their relationship. I said if it does get out, it will make life hell for them. So, every year we used to take them away, usually to Hawaii or somewhere in the United States, where they could enjoy themselves on a beach holiday where no one recognised them.

We sometimes made sure Jason was seen with another girl - the oldest trick in the book, to keep people guessing. Their TV wedding was the pinnacle of the show's success; the biggest event in all the Neighbours hype, promotion and marketing. It made the cover of Time magazine, a first. That shot of Jason and Kylie had the headline: "How Aussie Soaps Rule The World". When it went to air, ratings went through the roof.

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