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Comment > The Hancocks: The Eldorado of Neighbours? by Billy

Before I begin I should clarify a few things. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Eldorado, allow me to explain. Eldorado was a "super soap" that the BBC commissioned back in 1992. It was set in Spain, and was about a bunch of ex-pats living with the locals. The idea behind it was to create a soap with plenty of sun, sea, sex and sangria so that it would appeal to British viewers during the dull winter months. A year later, the show was axed. Despite the ratings picking up when a new producer took over, and despite the fact it was selling well in other parts of Europe, the BBC pulled the plug on a programme that, given time, could have gone on to be bigger than the BBC's flagship show EastEnders.

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In many ways, the Hancock family were exactly like Eldorado, in that they were never given a chance. When Anne Charleston (Madge) handed in her notice, it gave the producers a lot more money to spend on other things (she was one of the highest paid cast members). They decided, I assume, to bring in a new family. The producer Peter Dodds wanted a family that would "change the demographic of the show", so they decided on a family with young children. When news of the Hancock family broke to the Neighbours fan community, they were excited. Here was a new family, who could stay on the show for many, many years. We learnt from the character profiles that were released that they were a step family, who had a very deep and interesting history. Evan was married to Genevieve, and together they had Matt and Chris. He divorced her and later married Maggie. Together they had Leo and Francesca (deceased), and then later Emily. The family arrived as Evan, Maggie, Matt, Leo and Emily - Genevieve and Chris had yet to make an appearance. We all thought that the family would be somewhat similar to the Martin family, another complicated step family from the early 90s which were a huge success. However, something was not right from their first scene.

Leo and Emily? Where had we heard those names before? A few months before the Hancock clan arrived, Susan and Karl had to look after their friend's children - named Leo and Emily Hancock. Although Leo was now played by a new actor (Anthony Hammer), Emily Hancock was still played by Isabella Oldham. Great, we thought, they're connected to the Kennedys. An instant link to the show, should fit in perfectly, could maybe be old friends from when the Kennedys lived in the country. However, this was not the case. When Evan entered Lou's Place to pick up some wine to celebrate the move, he bumped into Libby Kennedy, who had no idea who he was. So before they had even unpacked their bags, the Hancocks' only ties with the street had already been severed. Maybe it was intentional, maybe it was bad writing. Whatever it was, it shouldn't have happened.

During their first few months on the show, the fans couldn't help feeling that the Hancocks were somewhat isolated from the rest of Ramsay Street. Their house was on the end of the street, and the only people who socialised together were Maggie (with Toadie) and Evan (with Susan). Matt, granted, hung around Toadie et al, but Leo and Emily had no one to talk with except themselves. It was a full six months before the Hancocks had a substantial scene with the Scullys - something wasn't right here. The point of the show is that everyone gets on with each other, everyone knows each other, everyone pops into each other's houses. This didn't happen with the Hancocks.

Then came the issue of the storylines the family received. Or didn't receive, to be more precise. The only notable storyline they had in their arrival was Emily going missing, and Leo feeling guilty when Louise Carpenter nearly drowned in the pool (that was how Francesca died, and he held himself responsible). But were the writers really to blame for this? The grapevine informed me that the idea of the Hancocks were to have a "happy Brady Bunch style" which could act as some sort of contrast and relief to the dramas of the Kennedys and the Scullys. It seems to me that the people in charge need to re-evaluate and work out what soap operas are all about - the bottom line is conflict. Without it, people get bored. There was nothing the Hancocks did that would interest the casual viewer.

It wasn't until the Hancocks did get a storyline (Toadie and Maggie's affair and Matt's court case) that we were able to see how great they really were. I mean, if I was hired on Neighbours and just walked around my house all day smiling I'm sure I would be considered 'unpopular', as they were. Give them a storyline, people like them. It was evident within the fan community that the Hancocks were liked - many were outraged to hear of them being axed after only one year, especially after Nicholas Opolski (Evan) said on Neighbours Revealed that he was looking forward to playing husband and wife with Sally Cooper (Maggie) for "the next few years".

Which would suggest something more sinister was going on. Maybe, like when the Scullys arrived, they were initially signed for longer than just one year. Sally Cooper wrote in a letter to a fan that they were "asked to leave", so maybe they left before their time was initially up? But why?

I can think of several reasons. It was a known fact that some of the crew read the message boards as a form of feedback - when the Hancocks arrived, many people didn't like them. But they were for silly reasons. For instance, people claimed Sally Cooper was a bad actress because her voice was "too high", which is a pathetic reason. Her acting was fine. Just because someone has a high speaking voice doesn't classify them as a bad actor. People also said Nicholas Opolski grated on them - but they failed to understand that that was the point of Evan. People then slated Anthony Hammer and Isabella Oldham, saying they weren't good actors, yet forgot that Oldham was five, and Hammer was fourteen, you can't be expecting Oscar® winning performances from children. And personally, I thought they were two of the best child actors to ever be in Neighbours, and they had the potential to be like the new Todd and Katie, or the new Hannah - we could have watched them grow up on screen. So maybe the producers acted on people's initial reactions and decided to axe them there and then.

The Hancocks proved that they were as capable as all the other actors on Neighbours during their last few months on the show. Cooper and Opolski have been in the business for years and didn't deserve to be given such a wasted opportunity on the show - it is also debatable that they threw away two of the best child actors they have ever had in Hammer and Oldham.

So, what's my conclusion? Personally, I know the Hancocks had the chance to be one of the most interesting and compelling families on the show. For the first time in years the street was back to three core families, just like when it began, with the Ramsays, Robinsons and Clarkes, finally there was a chance of bringing the community feel across. For instance when Maggie, Lyn and Susan started their book club - arguably some of the best episodes of 2001 - and the rivalry between Evan, Joe and Karl was great viewing. Nothing springs to my mind except a huge vat of 'if onlys' if only they remembered the Kennedy link, if only they let them interact, if only they were given strong storylines, if only they were given longer to prove themselves... the list goes on.

I'm not denying that the Hancocks were a mistake - in all aspects they were. Through no fault of the actors, but because of the reasons listed above. If more time and effort was spent on the family, there would have been no reason why they couldn't have fitted in like everyone else has managed to before them. They were wasted. I only hope the same mistakes aren't made when the producers decide to bring in a new family.