InQueensland

NEWS •⁠ POLITICS •⁠ BUSINESS •⁠ CULTURE

Get InQueensland in your inbox Subscribe

The secret you never knew about Ramsay Street - Neighbours is a Brisbane thing. No, really, it is!

Film & TV

Brisbane’s Stephen Vagg, a script editor and writer on iconic soapie Neighbours, reminds us what many people never knew – that the show was inspired by suburban life in the Queensland capital.

Print article

Stephen Vagg

Most Australians are familiar with the TV soap Neighbours, although many may be unfamiliar with the fact it’s still on.

Yes, the cancellation was genuine, yes, it came back (thank you pending content quota) and you can watch it on Network Ten where it airs Monday to Thursday weekly at 4pm and is replayed at 6.30pm on 10Peach. You can also catch it online at 10 play.

What most people probably don’t know is that at its heart Neighbours is a Brissie show.

Just writing this I can hear the harrumphing sounds from the Melbournians reading this. Because for more than 30 years Neighbours has, admittedly, been produced in the world’s third most liveable city – specifically, out of Nunawading Studios, with the odd side trip to Pin Oak Court, Vermont South.

And, yes, the show is set in Erinsborough, which has been officially outed in the Neighbour-verse as a suburb of Melbourne.

And, sure, all those overcast skies you see on screen very much stamp Neighbours as a product of the Victorian capital.

But the city that originally inspired Neighbours wasn’t Melbourne. Or Sydney. It was Brisbane. Seriously.

Reg Watson, who created Neighbours (and Prisoner, The Young Doctors, The Restless Years and a bunch of other shows, making him one of the most influential Australian writers in history) based Ramsay Street on a real street in the city many now refer to as Brisvegas.

Watson lived in Brisbane in the 1940s and 1950s, working in radio and amateur theatre, before heading to England where he became producer of the hugely successful soap Crossroads. After this he returned to Australia in 1974 to create more inexpensive yet hugely successful soaps for television tycoon Reg Grundy.

Grundy had a soft spot for Brisbane – he produced several of his early game shows here and was married to a local girl (well, she was from Ipswich), Joy Chambers.  One of the first Watson soaps for Grundys was even shot in Brisbane – the daytime serial Until Tomorrow (1975), which few will remember.

When devising Neighbours, Watson said he wanted a show that gave off the vibe of the Brisbane of his younger days, the sort of place where …“If you go to the beach for the day and it rains you don’t worry about all the washing on the line because when you come home all the washing’s been taken in and folded. All the neighbours know and trust each other”.

I’ve lived in Brisbane for years but no neighbour has ever done that with my washing. To be fair, Watson conceded his old street (which was apparently located in the suburb of Stafford) had changed when he went back in 1974.

“The happy neighbourly atmosphere had gone and there no longer seemed to be the bond between parents and teenagers,” he said. “I thought it would be interesting to do a serial where modern viewers could be reminded of the old days.”

This decision turned out to be key to Neighbours’ appeal. Like a lot of successful Australian series that don’t rely on crime to drive story (Bellbird, Packed to the Rafters, A Country Practice, The Sullivans), Neighbours drew on a popular memory, or fantasy, of what Australia used to be like. Neighbours also tapped into a subliminal longing for a (supposedly) simpler, more idyllic era.

I would argue the Brisbane influence on Neighbours could also be seen through the show’s positivity and sunniness. Other Melbourne soaps around this time could be a little gloomy: Carson’s Law, Prisoner, Skyways. Even the cuddly Sullivans routinely killed off characters. Neighbours was far more upbeat, all those grey clouds in the sky notwithstanding.

This may explain, too, why the first city where Neighbours was a genuine hit was Brisbane. I’m talking about the 1985 Channel Seven Kylie-free version of the show, which only the diehards remember. It was axed because of poor ratings.

That initial success in Brisbane, along with decent Melbourne numbers, played a big part in Channel Ten’s decision to revive Neighbours, which led to its successful comeback.

During Neighbours’ early years the series was deliberately vague about what city it was set in. This was to ensure Melbournians wouldn’t tune out of Sydney shows and vice-versa. So, you’d get programs such as  Barley Charley literally set on the Victorian/NSW border. Bellbird was named that because every state had a town called Bellbird.

It’s also  presumably why, as one eagle-eyed viewer noticed, the map that came up on Neighbours’ opening credits in early episodes wasn’t based on anywhere in Melbourne or Sydney but rather on Coorparoo, Greenslopes and Holland Park in Brisbane.

And when characters left Erinsborough, or arrived from another city, it typically wasn’t Sydney. It was Brisbane. Most famously, that’s where the Ramsay family originated (Madge, Charlene, Henry, et al), and where the Madge-Lou Carpenter-Harold Bishop triangle started. And when Scott and Charlene departed Ramsay Street, they headed north of the Tweed.

“It became a running gag,” recalls Peter Pinne, a former Neighbours executive who now lives in Brisbane. “Like in The Young Doctors we sent characters to the East Wing, on Neighbours when we wanted to get rid of a character, or write them out for a long period, we sent them to Brisbane.”

As time went on, former Ramsay Street residents would depart to other places such as Darwin, New Zealand, Stockholm, Brazil, a cruise that never seemed to end and even (gasp) Sydney.

Personally, I don’t think there’s a more iconic origin destination for Ramsay Street residents than Brisbane. I mean, Scott and Charlene still live here. Even Stockholm can’t match that.

I should also mention that several people associated with Neighbours over the years came from Brisbane. Names like Mark Little, Ash Brewer, Chris Milligan, Courtney Act, the Blakeney twins, Ben Lawson and, if we’re feeling geographically fluid and hey why not, Margot Robbie, who is from the Gold Coast.

Yes, yes, Melbourne, many people could claim to be a parent of Neighbours. But one of them is definitely the city of Brisbane.

Oh, and check out some episodes if you haven’t for a while. There’s awesome stuff coming up.

Brisbane writer Stephen Vagg is a script editor and writer on Neighbours.

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

InReview is an open access, non-profit arts and culture journalism project. Readers can support our work with a donation. Subscribe to InReview’s free weekly newsletter here.

More Film & TV stories

Loading next article