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Comment > How To Be 30 by Si Hunt

Iíve seen a few anniversaries in my time. When you get to my age, fewer people but more trees and buildings are celebrating grand age milestones. Iíve lived through the 20th Anniversary of Doctor Who, the 40th Anniversary of Coronation Street, the 35th Anniversary of Doctor Who (a bit desperate, that one), the 20th Anniversary of Neighbours (who can forget Annaliseís documentary where sheíd scoured Australia filming old Neighbours characters!), did I mention the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, (quite a party) and now, here we are, and Neighbours is 30. Happy Birthday Neighbours!

By a curious coincidence, the year that Neighbours took its first, hesitant steps, and the big dramas of the day were if young Scott Robinson could get a job and what vile frock Maria ďI want ze trooooth!Ē Ramsay would wear each episode, was also the year that grim London soap EastEnders started. With a murder, obviously. Which means that weíve just finished that soap's 30th Celebrations, which consisted of a 'live week' of episodes and the culmination of (you guessed it) a murder storyline. We were kind of hoping for a lavish book, a documentary and a week of classic episode repeats. After all, 30 Years of continuous broadcast is something worth celebrating, is it not?

You have to stop and think about it to really take it in. Itís not just 30 series since the first episode Ė itís 30 years, non-stop. Every single week. In the UK, that actually means every single DAY, Christmas breaks withstanding (except weekends)! Isnít that remarkable? If you are under 30 years old in the UK, then every single weekday of your life chances are an episode of Neighbours has been screened. When you passed your driving test, Neighbours was on. When you got married, Neighbours was on. When you took your first steps, Neighbours was on (unless any of those things happened on a weekend!). It means that Neighbours has seeped into our cultural background, existing as the wallpaper of your life even if you stopped watching it. Stop someone on the street, and chances are he or she will probably know who Susan Kennedy or Toadie are. If he doesnít, he will certainly remember Mrs Mangel, Kylie and Jason or Helen Daniels, or have a vague half-memory of Lassiter's or The Waterhole.

This relentless, osmosis effect of Neighbours on popular culture has a strange side-effect. Although plenty of people still watch and love it, many donít because, letís be honest, it takes either a strict habit or an obsessive dedication to watch a show thatís on every day (see that shelf? Thatís where my Iconic Episodes DVDís live. Want me to make a cup of tea and put Madgeís death episode on?). Who are Neighbours' core audience? Possibly there are more creatures of habit than obsessives, students, stay-at-home mums or the unemployed being the most likely culprits. When I tell people I still watch Neighbours (and it always has to be prefixed with a ďstillĒ, as if itís unacceptable simply to watch it because itís good rather than out of some kind of lifelong sense of duty or staying power) usually they laugh. Or say something like ďReally? Is Doctor Karl still in it?Ē. It seems to be something that, for better or worse, people grow out of. Or grow out of, settle down and then grow back into.

But I donít watch Neighbours for the sake of watching it Ė believe it or not, I watch it because itís good. Well, itís not good as in Ďthe slickest, best drama series ever madeí, how could it be? Those brave folk in Australia knock out five of these babies every week. No one is pretending that 80% of the scenes arenít filmed within a mile of the unfortunately-obvious Wentworth building, or that itís realistic that cast members keep vanishing overseas every time itís UK panto season. But weíve just re-watched Paulís first wedding, and the whole wedding and reception takes place inside the Robinsons' sitting room, so things have improved! Itís good in the sense that itís quirky, and fun, and quite often screamingly funny. That aspect is perhaps a little under-rated; I rarely laugh at comedy shows, but I have to say that Paulís recent Ďdouble takeí when being ambushed by the returning Hilary Robinson was a thing of wonder. Yes, we laughed out loud! It was hilarious. But most of all I watch it because I love it.

I love the familiarity of it. I love the cosy, gentle feel of a show set in a handful of suburban sitting rooms and businesses which are clearly studio sets. I love that I know Iím going to get some mildly dangerous drama involving a cake competition or a misguided teenage romance but that no-one is going to swear loudly or cut someoneís arm off. Most of all I think I love that every now and then, self-aware or not, Neighbours dips into the realm of the bizarre or ridiculous and gets away with it. Letís have a shout-out to those legendary storylines which suspend disbelief until it can be suspended no more! Let us remember that Haroldís entire family were killed in a plane crash orchestrated by Paul Robinson, a one-legged business mogul who Harold cheerily greeted on his return this week. Let us not forget, that Harold himself was lost at sea for many years, presumed dead, until he turned up in a charity shop like an old Maeve Binchy, calling himself Ted. Paul once lived for weeks on screen with a friend that was then revealed to be a figment of a life-threatening illness. And Toadie bumped into a dog trainer who transpired to be the birth mother of his adopted son. The public take these storylines to their hearts, and accept them as if they are remotely likely. Because wouldnít Neighbours be dull if it was ALL altercations over the student radio station or drama involving lost pets? The success of the show is to do with the fact that most of the time it is reassuringly gentle but every now and then itís boldly absurd.

So how DO you celebrate 30 years of a show that is on far too often for most people to always watch it and that has a current audience who may never have seen it before their current spell of college or joblessness or maternity leave, and may not stick with it after? Well, it seems like the present makers of the show have elected to evoke a sort of Ďopen door policyí for returning guests during the month of the anniversary. Old characters, no matter how obscure, are going to turn up, have mini storylines, and then leave again. Weíve already had Harold and the mystery of his missing wife, and Lucy and her quest for gay mechanic Chrisí sperm. Slightly fewer viewers will remember Hilary, but there was a handy board of cast publicity photos nearby to remind those of us who were a bit hazy. And isnít this glorious? Itís a step up from the 20th, when almost everyone appeared in camcorder clips, and means those old characters get to take part in the ongoing drama (which, to its credit, hasnít let up in the interim). And does it really matter if you havenít watched it for the entire time? I wasnít a viewer when Delta Goodrem was in it, but I know enough about the character she played to appreciate her forthcoming cameo. And itís to the credit of actors like her, who owe their careers to Neighbours, that they have popped back to wish it a Happy Birthday.

We donít yet know if the big two Ė Kylie and Jason Ė will appear during Neighbours 30th year. Arguably, thatís what everyone is hoping for, isnít it? You would hope that egos and schedules could be put aside for just a brief cameo. Why not? No-oneís career is going to wilt by acknowledging a debt we all know about anyway. But if we donít get Scott and Charlene riding round the end of Ramsay Street in Willy waving a banner.... well, weíll cope. Neighbours is bigger than any of its characters Ė even Paul, Toadie or Karl and Susan. Itís non-stop, rapidly changing landscape or characters and storylines has meant that the biggest star is Ramsay Street itself, and its cherished place in our affections. Our lives just wouldnít be the same without it.