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Comment > Love Thy Neighbour: Elle Robinson by Moe

For a character that was first mentioned in a throwaway scene way back in 1989, Elle Robinson has become one of the most beloved Neighbours characters of the 21st Century. Why? As they would say on reality TV shows, she went on a journey – from a scheming, somewhat bitchy Daddy's girl to a caring, fragile young woman who was to become a conscience for her aforementioned Daddy. It was a remarkable four year journey for Elle, with plenty of bumps along the way – not to mention bombs...

Lucinda Robinson was first introduced to the world of Neighbours as one of the triplets born to ruthless businessman Paul Robinson and his kinder wife Gail in 1989. The triplets’ conception and subsequent birth had been a much talked about event in Neighbours at the time. Gail was unable to conceive naturally so she and Paul underwent a gruelling IVF treatment programme. After some false starts, there was delight all round when Gail announced she was pregnant with not one child, but three. Given the production difficulties with having to have three babies on set, it's probably safe to assume the Neighbours writers knew that Fiona Corke, who played Gail, was leaving the series and consequently, we wouldn't actually see the triplets on screen. This came to pass when Gail, heavily pregnant, lost her father, Rob, in a car accident and walked out on Paul when he opted to attend a business meeting rather than Rob's funeral. Gail settled in Tasmania, where she gave birth to the triplets several weeks later, off-screen. Paul proudly told his grandmother, Helen, and father, Jim, the news when he returned from visiting the triplets and it was then that we heard their names – Cameron and Robert for the boys and the girl was called Lucinda, after her aunt Lucy, Paul's youngest sister. Little was mentioned of the triplets in the years that followed, apart from a storyline in which Gail wrote to Paul and informed him she was remarrying and wanted him to allow her new husband to have full parental custody of the children. A year or so later, Paul, himself, left Ramsay Street when Stefan Dennis, who had played the part since the first episode of Neighbours in 1985, quit after seven years. The net effect of Paul's departure from the series was that it looked unlikely that we would ever cast eyes on the Robinson triplets.

The Robinsons – once the premier family on Neighbours – gradually began to die out as the 1990s drew to a close, with the patriarch Jim and matriarch Helen both gone by 1997 and the remaining family members, Philip and Hannah Martin, leaving Ramsay Street in 1999. But then at the end of 2004, an unexpected event occurred – it was announced that Stefan Dennis was reprising his role of Paul Robinson after an 11-year break. The return of Paul to Erinsborough opened up a whole new world of possibilities, and other Robinsons began to reappear in the months that followed his reintegration into the Neighbours cast. The most exciting prospect for long-time viewers, was the fact that Paul had a number of teenage children scattered around the place – as well as the triplets, he was also father to Andrew with third wife Christina, and had an older daughter, Amy, from a previous relationship – and most viewers knew that it was surely only a matter of time before the Neighbours writers would want to introduce some of Paul's offspring. And in late 2005, they did just that – with Elle Robinson making her first appearance in Erinsborough.

Elle? What about Lucinda or Amy? Who was Elle? It was quickly explained that Elle was, of course, Lucinda – the name Elle being derived from the first letter of the name Lucinda. Presumably, it was thought better to give her a slightly different name so as to avoid confusion with her aunt, Lucy Robinson. Our first introduction to Elle was as a mysterious young woman who checked into Lassiter's and flirted with Ramsay Street men Stuart Parker, Conor O'Neill and Toadie Rebecchi before revealing herself to be the daughter of Paul. She was quickly whisked home to No.22 by Paul where she immediately locked horns with his younger girlfriend, Izzy Hoyland and tried to split the pair up by lacing Izzy’s food with medication to make out she had a drug problem.

The Elle we got to know in that first year wasn't a particularly nice young lady. She was manipulative, calculating and rather bitchy. But Elle's arrival coincided with a very different tone in storytelling style on Neighbours than anything that had gone before – or since. Out went the cosy tales of neighbourhood disputes and high school romance and in came plots involving murder, violence, questionable motives and bombs - lots of bombs. And, unfortunately, Elle was one of the characters most associated with the bombs. There was a plane crash which saw Elle, and a host of other characters, fight for their lives in a giant water tank which was actually supposed to be the Bass Straits. Luckily, they all made it out alive, with the exception of the entire Bishop family. It later transpired that Elle's psychotic brother Robert was behind the plane crash as he had planted a bomb in one of the engines to get his revenge on Paul – one of the passengers – for neglecting him throughout his childhood. Then, some months later, Elle – jealous of her boyfriend Oliver's relationship with Carmella Cammeniti – enlisted the help of Paul to plant a bomb on Carmella's fruit truck. The somewhat ludicrous storyline was one of the final storylines during a difficult period for Neighbours. It had become obvious that viewers didn’t want to tune in for their daily drama on Ramsay Street and be subjected to over-the-top plots and ever-changing character motivations. And so, half way through 2007, a high profile campaign began to re-launch the series under the banner ‘Back to Basics’, which was to see Neighbours return to the more traditional family drama it had become so successful at in the first place.

It was around this point that Elle, as a character, was either going to sink or swim. It could have proved hard to redeem her and make something out of her character - after all, she had alienated most of the other characters through her far-fetched and manipulative ways. But luckily for Neighbours fans, Elle Robinson came into her own in the wake of the revamp. The back to basics storytelling approach and increased focus on character rather than sensational storylines meant that we finally got to explore Elle as a genuine character. It turned out she was a very sensitive, vulnerable and somewhat misunderstood individual. She often found herself a little out place when thrust into social situations with the other characters. She was also stubborn, slightly snobbish and spoilt by her Daddy and boyfriends. And you couldn't help but love her for it.

Elle was also, it transpired, a very funny character. Although not a comedy character in the vein of Harold or Valda, she had an understated humorous aspect. She was awkward and slightly bumbling at times and her banter with characters such as Riley Parker, Carmella Cammeniti and particularly, Lucas Fitzgerald, made for many humourous exchanges. Her pairing with Lucas in her final year on the show was often reminiscent of something out of a Doris Day movie. And upon becoming a journalist with the Erinsborough News and later, the West Waratah Star, Elle regularly found herself getting into scrapes in the pursuit of a story, and fretting over a broken nail in the process.

And when troubled teenager Donna Freedman entered her life, a whole new side of Elle was shown. Although it was odd to have a woman in her early 20s be appointed the legal guardian to a teenager, the paring of Elle and Donna worked. They were more like sisters or best friends, although Elle was never afraid to pull rank on Donna when she stepped out of line and her punishments could be quite harsh.

As the time came for Elle to leave Erinsborough, she truly had gone on a memorable journey. And true to form, her final episodes rotated around her agonising over whether to go or stay – indecisiveness being a trait she had become familiar with over the years. You could understand why she didn’t necessarily want to leave the life she had built up for herself in Erinsborough – she had a boyfriend she truly loved in the form of Lucas, a surrogate daughter/younger sister in Donna, a successful business empire and above all, a renewed relationship with her doting father. One of the final moments between Elle and Paul, where they shared a vintage glass of wine on the sofa, said so much about how close the two characters had become. Before leaving for the airport, Elle had a poignant final moment alone in No.22, bidding farewell to her beloved cat and taking a last glance around her home before walking out the door and pausing to look back one final time as she walked out the door – in a scene incredibly reminiscent of the way her mother Gail, pregnant with Elle, had left the series over twenty years previously.

While it’s always sad to see popular characters leave Neighbours, as the show has aged, it has become more normal – almost expected. But Elle – and Pippa Black who played her - was a special case. She was always a fairly understated character, never receiving the same level of attention as other younger cast members during her time on the show and yet, always there as a reassuring presence. We were even lucky to have gotten an extra year from her as Pippa had originally planned to leave the series earlier, only to be persuaded to stay on a bit longer. It would be wonderful to see her again – but with Pippa seeking to further her acting career in Los Angeles, it seems inconceivable that she won’t make something of herself there with her Nicole Kidman looks and grace surely destined to prove a hit. What we, as viewers, can be thankful for, is the time we did get to spend with Lucinda ‘Elle’ Robinson – truly one of the best characters Neighbours has produced in recent years.