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
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.