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Comment > Love Thy Neighbour: Gail Robinson by Ryan

She had big hair, big shoulder pads, and in the late eighties, she was one of Neighboursí biggest characters. She was Gail Lewis, the second Mrs Paul Robinson. And with rumours of a possible return to the show, what better time to pay tribute to a Neighbours great?

Back in 1988 when Gail made her debut on UK screens, Neighbours was not only at the height of its popularity, but also still over a year behind the latest Australian episodes. Therefore when Fiona Corke was pictured in magazine articles described as ĎRobinson family newcomer Gailí, it became pretty obvious where her attraction to Paul would lead. But who could have guessed just how their marriage would come about? Given that Paulís first marriage had ended in murder, shooting and suicide, Neighbours had a tough act to follow, but thanks to the fantastic character of Gail, they more than managed it.

Having proposed to wife number one on their first date, Paul married number two for the sake of a big business deal. Of course, it was obvious that he and Gail would fall in love for real, but itís a credit to how well the character of Gail worked that viewers never got bored with waiting. The moment Paul confessed Ďalright, I love her!í deserves a place in Neighbours history as much as Scott and Charleneís wedding or Jimís death. So was this the end of the story? Not at all Ė it was just the beginning...

With Paul and Gail a couple in name only for months, viewers had time to get to know Gail as an independent character. Part of what made her so popular and successful was how multi-faceted she was. Like her husband, Gail was strong-minded with a good head for business, but unlike the showís other businesswoman Rosemary Daniels, work didnít rule her life. Viewers watched Gail build strong friendships with Daphne Clarke, Jane Harris and Beverly Marshall, as well as her grandmother-in-law Helen Daniels. The last of these was problematic for Gail, as she was being treated as part of a family she had only joined for business purposes. Yes, you could be a successful businesswoman and have a heart.

For a character with so many levels, it was natural that Gail was involved in many varied storylines. While she and Paul were definitely the serious couple of the street, the writers werenít afraid to involve them in comedy plotlines Ė something the soap would never do now. Remember Gail and Paul both becoming hooked on a computer game? Gail filing Paulís doughnut under ĎFí for fat to make him go on a diet? Or driving to the Chinese in her pyjamas for Dim Sims thanks to a pregnancy craving Ė and then being caught trying to break into her own car?

Gail had her fair share of emotional storylines too. Her struggle to conceive was portrayed particularly effectively, and her use of IVF treatment was groundbreaking territory at the time. And viewers couldnít fail to be moved by Gailís panic at the revelation that Paul had a child he never knew about. The discovery she was adopted and the subsequent impact on her relationship with dad Rob, plus the search for her birth parents, also made compelling viewing.

Gailís age also gives her a unique place in the history of Neighbours. Although not specified, we can assume Gail was in her mid to late twenties at the time of her arrival in the show. Like Daphne, who was of a similar age, she was at the forefront of many major storylines. Yet after the departure of Gaby Willis, women in this age group were virtually ignored by the Neighbours casting department. For years you were either a teenager or the mother of one; a whole generation disappeared. Most teens moved on, with those that didnít, such as Libby Kennedy, were quickly married off and made pregnant as soon as they hit their twenties. To deliberately write in a woman of over 25 and under 40 seemed unthinkable. Itís ironic that the first successful single 20-30 something female character in years has been Izzy Hoyland, now serving as Gailís Ďreplacementí at No.22.

Something else set Gail apart from the other characters in Ramsay Street: her appearance. Itís fair to say that in the eighties (and maybe even now) Neighbours was more discount than designer in terms of fashion. Not Gail. Fiona Corkeís wardrobe was exclusively provided by Kamizole, with a credit at the end of every episode to make sure we didnít forget it. While her long shoulder-padded jackets with huge cuffs would be laughed at now, even in the age of the eighties revival, at the time Gail was the height of Ramsay Street chic. Then there was her hair. When Gail swapped her bouffant bob for a gravity-defying quiff style crop, hers was the picture many a woman took to the hairdressers, years before anyone had heard of Jennifer Aniston.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. Gailís departure was as unexpected as it was moving, her farewell letter to Paul resounding in her head as she dragged her bags out of No.22, struggling at nearly eight months pregnant, independent as ever. While the Alessi twins would arrive a few months later to add the lost hint of glamour, not to mention a love interest for Paul, they would never have the same impact as their predecessor at No.22.

But now it seems maybe Gailís story isnít over after all. A tantalising hint in the 20th Anniversary documentary suggested Gail still held a torch for Paul. Now the rumour mill says she could be on her way back. Iím keeping everything crossed Ė if itís half as good as her first stint on the show, itíll be unmissable...