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Comment > Eras of Erinsborough: Part Two by Moe

The period 1992-1996 on Ramsay Street was one that saw a lot of changes, and the whole look and feel of the show began to change. The ‘Golden Years’ of the series were over and key actors who had been an integral part of the show’s success and popularity were beginning to get itchy feet. The great dynasties that had ruled the roost in Erinsborough since Day One saw themselves being shoved out of the way by brand spanking new families, some successful and some not so successful.

Neighbours kicked off 1992 with a real departure from the norm. After seven years of the much loved ‘map of Erinsborough’ opening titles and the gentle tones of Barry Crocker reminding us that next door is only a footstep away, the show caught us all off guard by bursting onto the screen with a jazzed up version of the theme tune and a funky new opening sequence. The familiar format of the characters going about their daily lives on Ramsay Street was still a part of the titles, thankfully – with the Willis family enjoying a game of basketball and the Robinsons tucking into a cake out their back garden. However, within only a couple of months of their debut, changes had to be made as a lot of the characters moved on.

1992 was a pivotal year for Neighbours in terms of cast departures. Legendary, long-serving favourites such as Madge and Paul, as well as Lucy, Todd, the Alessi twins, Dorothy and Toby, and the most famous soap pet of all time – Bouncer the dog – all left the series. The raft of exits culminated in the dramatic on-screen death of Jim Robinson in early 1993 – truly marking an end of an era in the soap. Jim’s departure meant that there was now only one remaining original cast member in the form of Anne Haddy’s Helen. And even more significantly, the longest serving characters after Helen were the Willis family who had only been added to the cast a couple of years before. Neighbours was gradually moving further and further away from its roots and history, particularly with Madge’s departure spelling the end of the Ramsay presence on the show. Numbers in the Robinson household were dwindling too, but the writers cleverly combated the loss of Jim, Paul, Lucy and Todd with the arrival of the Martin family, which included an original character in the shape of Julie, Jim’s eldest daughter. The Martins would go on to remain a core part of Neighbours until the end of the decade, and were at the centre of some of the show’s strongest storylines in those years including the break-up of Julie and Philip’s marriage, Julie’s tragic death, Debbie’s bulimia and much more. Other new characters that were introduced around this time included Annalise Hartman, Rick Alessi and his family and teacher Wayne Duncan. Some characters were a huge success – especially Annalise and Rick. The actors who played them, Kimberley Davies and Dan Falzon, became the show’s new pin-ups and were regularly finding themselves on magazine covers.

The Willis family, meanwhile, had struggled to make a huge impact on the show during their first year. But with the introduction of Gaby and Brad to the clan, the family unit really worked, and Doug and Pam were at the centre of an explosive, long-running storyline in 1992 which saw Doug stray and subsequently fall victim to the obsessions of the crazy Jill Weir. Gaby and Brad were both involved in well plotted and gripping storylines, with Brad most notably cheating on his girlfriend Beth with Lou’s newly arrived daughter Lauren.

A truly explosive storyline had viewers hooked in 1993 when The Waterhole blew up after a gas leak. A series of dramatic episodes saw many residents trapped in the rubble, but luckily nobody lost their life and it paved the way for a refurbishment of the famous pub, which was re-opened just in time for the 2000th episode of the series. The episode was a truly celebratory affair centred on the birthday of the show’s longest standing character Helen, and the returns of old favourites Paul and Lucy. The event attracted quite a bit of attention in the press and helped the show receive a much needed boost.

But as the high turnover of cast members continued, Neighbours began to lose its way as it headed into the mid 1990s. As well as the on screen departures, there were also a lot of changes going on behind the scenes. Reg Watson, the show’s creator, had been heavily involved in the production of the show for its first seven years, as had key storyliners such as Ray Kolle and Valda Marshall. But a whole new raft of producers came in during these years, such as Sally-Anne Kerr, Dave Worthington and Peter Dodds and the show seemed to be much more interested in looking ahead with new characters, families, settings and storylines. An attempt at bringing race issues to Ramsay Street failed miserably with the introduction of the Lims, who weren’t helped by the incredibly poor acting skills of the whole clan. The Willis family were axed in 1994 to make way for a new family, the Kennedys. And more new families and characters followed – the Starks, the Kratzs, the Rebecchis, Ren Gottlieb, Jen and Luke Handley, Joanna Hartman ..

By the time the show hit 10 years in 1995, many, many new faces had arrived – both on screen and off. But many viewers had started to switch off. 1995 has generally been regarded by viewers and critics as the worst year in Neighbours’ entire 20 year history. The show lost its family feel, with odd waifs and strays making up each household. There were storylines involving missing gnomes, laughable pop stars, would-be priests gone mad, a totally implausible affair between sex bomb Annalise and larrikin Stonefish Rebecchi, and cringeworthy dream sequences. Something had to be done to save the show, particularly when pressure was also put on Grundy by the BBC to go back to basics. And back to basics is exactly what they did. By 1996, there had been a huge turnaround. Former script editor Ray Kolle was brought back to revamp the show. Neighbours became about families again, and after many years of almost entirely concentrating on the teenage characters, the oldies got a look-in again at last. And of course, old favourites Madge and Harold were resurrected (literally, in Harold’s case). Their return, coupled with a return to the old familiar style of Neighbours storytelling, proved to be a huge success and Neighbours was back on form as it left the bumpy, turbulent mid 90s behind.

To read part three, click here...