When Charlene Mitchell said “I do” to Scott Robinson soundtracked by Angry Anderson’s Suddenly, with Madge’s bottom lip wobbling behind them and even Mrs Mangel managing a smile, almost 20 million UK viewers were dabbing their eyes along with the congregation as the scenes aired over here in 1988.
Starring then real-life lovebirds Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan – now famously among many big names returning to say goodbye – it is the scene most Neighbours viewers would pick out as the defining moment of the Australian soap’s 37 years.
But of course, Ramsay Street has had more than its fair share of weddings over the decades – and most with far more drama than the new Mr and Mrs Robinsons’ rather tame controversy of a lack of vegetarian options for Harold at the buffet table.
Births, break-ups, affairs, deaths and even returns from the dead, the fictional suburb of Erinsborough has seen it all – and launched the careers of the likes of Hollywood stars Margot Robbie and Guy Pearce, as well as Minogue and Donovan, in the process.
Ahead of the final episodes airing, three of the soap’s most famous cast members spoke to Sky News about their memorable moments on set.
Alan Fletcher – Dr Karl Kennedy
Having joined the soap in 1994, Karl and Susan Kennedy (played by Jackie Woodburne) are Neighbours’ longest-serving characters. Parents together to Mal, Libby and Billy, the Kennedys quickly became Ramsay Street favourites – but of course, in soapland, even the happiest couples have their ups and downs. While they are happily married (again) now, Karl’s affairs with Sarah and later Izzy meant this wasn’t always the case.
“The way I tried to play it is that Karl’s the sort of person who’s easily manipulated,” says Fletcher. “He’s manipulated very easily by flattery. In a way, he’s almost childlike in the sense that he kind of pursues things [without] quite understanding the ramifications of doing it.
“So unlike Paul Robinson, for instance, who can be quite Machiavellian and really plot how he’s going to bring about someone’s downfall, Karl kind of accidentally stumbles into mistakes. I think people relate to that because in general in life that’s what happens to almost all of us.”
Susan slapping Karl after learning of his kiss with Sarah is a scene that sticks out for many fans of the soap couple. “She really went absolutely ballistic and fell apart in front of my eyes. It was an amazing scene and became very, very iconic.”
Despite his infidelities, fans have always loved Karl. Fletcher says the same can’t always be said for some of the soap’s other actors.
“I’ve been very fortunate. I know Vivean Gray, bless her soul, who played Mrs Mangel, had a pretty tough time on Neighbours because people took her character very seriously… because she was such a busybody. But Karl’s always been treated with love by the fans… they laugh about it or, you know, they wave their finger at me – ‘naughty boy, naughty boy’.”
Fletcher says special episodes filmed in London – which featured cameos from Emma Bunton, Julian Clary and Michael Parkinson – are among his Neighbours highlights.
“[Also] Libby’s wedding to Drew, it was like I was giving my own daughter away, it was beautiful. Episode 7,000, which is a comedy episode for Karl, which I adore – Karl loses a $7,000 lottery ticket, has to find it by nuding up in Toadie’s house and finds it stuck to his backside…
“I think one of my faves was when Karl and Susan remarry, or renewed their vows, after Susan had amnesia. She almost divorced Karl but changed her mind and halfway through the wedding service, she remembers her original wedding vows.”
Fletcher says he will always be grateful for his time on the show. “The affection for the show is deep and there isn’t a person I meet who doesn’t have a Neighbours story… I’ve been besieged with messages from people who are absolutely gutted it’s ending.
“I’m sad the journey is ending but very glad that I’ve got to go on it. Enormous gratitude; 28 years of employment as an actor, unheard of, having the most fascinating role to play, working with the best people imaginable, having the best fan experiences you can ever have.
“I want people to remember it fondly as being something that was in their lives and a big, big part of their lives.”
Jackie Woodburne – Susan Kennedy
She’s recovered from amnesia, attempted a surrogacy for her own daughter, and dealt with being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Plus her rollercoaster marriage(s) to Karl.
“I always talk about how much I enjoyed the Susan/Karl/Izzy love triangle because it had so many layers to it, it was nice to see a side of Susan that was not Saint Susan,” says Woodburne. “She had someone to hate and she had someone to try and score points off just for fun, just for sport and just for spite, because we never saw that aspect of her.”
Her off-screen friendship with Fletcher has also played a big part in their appeal together on screen. “Any stuff we get together that’s even got a hint of stupid comedy in it, we will always go much, much further than we should. And for me that’s been kind of the foundation and the backbone of what I’ve loved about working on Neighbours.”
Recalling being told by producers in 1997 that Karl was to have an affair with Sarah, Woodburne says they both thought this would be the end of the Kennedys.
“We walked back from the lunch together and we both said, ‘well, there’s no coming back from this… obviously once the story goes to air, we’re done’. It turned out to be one of our best stories…
“I remember I was shopping in Chapel Street, a shopping street in Melbourne, and a woman calling out from across the road, in traffic, just calling out: ‘Susan! Susan! You leave that b*****d!’ That was kind of the reaction I was getting, certainly from women… but there were a lot of blokes who were stopping [Fletcher] in the street and going: ‘Good on ya, mate… go for it’.”
The actress says the Neighbours scriptwriters had a huge task when it came to creating an ending for the series – and that bets were taken on how it might finish.
“How do you wind up a show after 37, almost 38 years, and make everybody happy?” she says. “I can’t imagine how the writers felt when they knew that this was ahead of them.”
Describing the last episode as “perfect”, she adds: “I think it’s a tribute most importantly to our viewers. There’s a lovely kind of homage to them, to all the people that have come through the show over the 38 years. It’s a little tip of the hat to our crew, to our current cast, to our past cast.
“I just can’t imagine it having been ended any other way because of course, we all were taking bets, you know, what will it be? Will be aliens? Will it be an explosion? Will it be a sinkhole? Will it be a fire? And, you know, fortunately, it’s none of those things. It’s just lovely heartland Neighbours.”
Stefan Dennis – Paul Robinson
A Ramsay Street character viewers loved to hate, Paul Robinson debuted in the very first episode of the show back in 1985. Son of Jim, grandson of Helen and brother to Donovan’s Scott Robinson, Paul had several marriages and affairs and became known for his scams and womanising – and explosions. Dennis left the soap in 1993 but returned to reprise the role in 2004.
For the final episodes, he was one of the few actors on set for filming with Minogue and Donovan. “Jason plays my brother and Kylie plays my sister-in-law so it was fairly inevitable I was going to be in a scene with them.
“Ten or 15 minutes [catching up] turned into about an hour of silly frivolity. It’s like… picking up where you left off. It shows the camaraderie that we had right from day one, because we had a very close-knit first cast, there was only 12 initial or principal cast members. And then the following year that’s when Jason and Kylie and Guy [Pearce] joined…
“Even after so many years have passed, we were able to get that back fairly quickly.”
The return of Scott and Charlene – and other high profile names, such as Margot Robbie as Donna Freedman – had been kept top secret.
“None of us were told [beforehand] that Kylie and Jason were coming back because obviously they had to keep it under wraps so they didn’t get the paparazzi and the press and all of that invading the set… Jason sort of gave me a little bit of a heads up so I kind of knew what was happening. But they sent out these dummy schedules and scripts. There was about four scenes and poor old Annie Jones [Jane Harris], not realising that it was all secret and we weren’t going to be doing those scenes… she’s gone and learnt them all. And they were really wordy. She was so p****d off.”
Paul Robinson didn’t start his Neighbours journey as a scheming businessman, but the ruthless and conniving traits developed over the years.
“I don’t really think he was the arch villain, but the supposed villain of Neighbours,” says Dennis. “I always was in fear that I was going to be physically accosted in the street because of the nefarious things that my character gets up to… and I get the exact opposite. I get, ‘Hey, Paul! Legend! Mate, good on ya’, all of that.”
Like Woodburne, Dennis has a Chapel Street encounter story – his about a man with a mohawk “who looks like Russell Crowe [another former Neighbours alumnus] from Romper Stomper”, getting amorous with a female friend nearby as the actor was making a call in a phone box one evening. Unable to hear his conversation, Dennis eventually shouted to ask them to keep it down.
“This guy’s just seen red and I’ve gone, ‘Oh my God, this guy’s going to kill me’… I thought he was going to smash my face in. And he comes up to the phone box and he puts his face right up against it… and then he goes: ‘Paul? Paul from Neighbours! Maaaate! How you doing?’ And that’s the sort of silly reactions I get.”
Dennis says he thinks the love for the show that is being shown now it is ending proves there could have been life for it on a different platform. “I don’t know why it wasn’t picked up by a streaming channel, you know, to be the first yet to set another trend and be the first soap to transfer over to a streaming channel, but it didn’t happen. It was an economic decision, unfortunately.”
But it wasn’t to be. The last episodes air tonight – and no one is giving anything away.
“Well, Paul Robinson is involved,” teases Dennis. “So there might be a little explosion somewhere…”
The final episodes of Neighbours air on Channel 5 on Friday 29 July at 9pm