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Comment > Love Thy Neighbour: Helen Daniels by Moe

If one character defined Neighbours for most of its run, that character was Helen Daniels. Helen was part of the original Neighbours cast when the show began in 1985, and was created by Reg Watson to dispel the myth that mothers-in-law were battle-axe type characters. Kind, caring and compassionate, Helen was the kind of mother-in-law and grandmother that anyone would love to have, and this was reflected in the close relationships she shared with the likes of Jim, Paul, Lucy, Philip and Hannah.

Played by veteran actress Anne Haddy, who prior to Neighbours had played housekeeper Rosie Andrews in sister Grundy show Sons and Daughters, Helen quickly became the matriarch of Ramsay Street. As well as featuring in many of her own storylines - being conned by charmer Douglas Blake (played by real-life husband James Condon), having an affair with daughter Rosemary's fiancee, being kidnapped by a crazy vicar, marrying a bigamist, suffering two strokes - Helen was regularly a pivotal part of other character's storylines too. This element was what made her so special. Helen could always be counted upon to lend a sympathetic ear to her family, friends and Neighbours in times of trouble - an act that defined what Neighbours was essentially all about. Few people in the real world would drop into their elderly neighbour to confess their personal problems. But in Ramsay Street, this was part of life - and Helen was the greatest symbol of this.

What was most special about Helen Daniels was her constant presence at the helm of Ramsay Street for twelve years. Despite successive revamps and an ever-changing cast, Helen was the one character who could always be counted upon to stay put. For many years, Helen and Jim jointly presided over events in Ramsay Street, until Jim's death in 1993. And even after the biggest loss of characters closest to Helen - Jim, Paul, Lucy, Todd, Madge and Dorothy - within the space of a year of each other, Helen adapted to their departures and found herself a whole new set of characters to work with - namely the Martins (Julie, Philip, Debbie, Michael and Hannah), and also Annalise, Wayne and Brett. Indeed, the relationship between Helen and Brett deserves a special mention because it is the perfect example of the uniqueness of Helen's character. Although she had always been a confidante to her young grandchildren down through the years, Brett was the first teenage character who was unrelated to Helen and yet, was a best friend to her. They shared many of the same outlooks on life and interests, such as the meditation 'Chigun', and Helen even chose Brett to walk her down the aisle when she married Reuben White (James Condon once again) in 1995.

Helen also had a wonderful friendship for several years with Madge Bishop, played by Anne Charleston. Helped enormously no doubt by the close friendship off-screen between the two Anne's, Helen and Madge had a wonderful chemistry. Trusted and valued confidantes to each other - despite the fact that they were actually two quite different women - Helen and Madge's friendship was one of the longest lasting on Neighbours and an enduring image of that friendship is each of them in the other's kitchen sharing a cuppa and a chat.

Off-screen, Anne Haddy was always fiercely loyal to and proud of her role and the show itself. Despite many bouts of illness during the twelve years on Neighbours - including a hip replacement operation - Anne was unflinchingly dedicated to Neighbours and stuck with it for as long as her health permitted. Indeed, even when she was so ill that she had to be hurriedly written out of the show for a few months in 1997, Anne proved how much the character of Helen meant to her by making a point of returning to the Neighbours studios one final time to record Helen's death. Dying off screen simply wouldn't have done the character justice after all her years on the programme and Neighbours fans around the world are especially grateful to Anne for affording Helen the closure she deserved.

The episode in which Helen died - Episode 2965 - was aired in Australia in October 1997 - and in the UK on 1 April 1998. A defining moment for any Neighbours fan, it was a nostalgic, momentous occasion, and after healing a time old rift between the Robinson and Ramsay families, Helen peacefully passed away surrounded by her family and friends. In a tribute to Helen, no episode credits were featured for the first and only time in the show's history, and instead, a collection of stills of Helen from her reign on the show were shown, to the touching, melancholy piano version of the Neighbours theme tune. An era had well and truly ended.

Off screen, Anne Haddy fought against her health problems, and proudly attended the party to mark the 3000th episode of Neighbours shortly afterwards. Sadly, her health declined once again, and on 6 June 1999, Anne passed away. Emphasising how strongly associated she still was - and always would be - with Neighbours, a memorial service was held in the grounds of the Neighbours studios in Nunawading within days of Anne's death - attended by her many co-stars throughout the years, including Alan Dale, Anne Charleston, Ian Smith, Ian Rawlings and Rebecca Ritters - and her devoted husband, James.

Almost six years on since the on-screen death of Helen, Ramsay Street is a very different place to what it was in Helen's day. While old friends such as Harold Bishop and Lou Carpenter are still around, a whole host of new faces inhabit the street now. Most significant among these new faces are the Scullys, who moved into Helen's old home of No. 26 Ramsay Street in 1999 after the final remnants of Helen's family - Philip and Hannah - moved away. Although the Scully family have made No. 26 their home and are a welcome addition to the Neighbours family now, one can't help think of Helen whenever the No. 26 set appears on screen, the portrait Helen painted of the Kennedy children comes into view, or an exterior shot of the 'Robinson' house precedes a scene. Indeed, even when Lassiter's Lake is shown, it often brings Helen to mind, since her ashes were scattered across it and, as such, is her final resting-place. Helen was so long associated with the show, she is always going to be a part of it. Sadly, there have been no references to Helen since the episode where the Martins left in 1999. Although it's hard to feature plausible references given most of the characters in the series would never have known her, there are still the likes of Harold, Lou, Toadie and the Kennedys who did know her, and the occasional recollection - particularly from Harold - would be most welcome. After all, given the massive impact Helen Daniels had on the series, and Anne Haddy's devoted personal contribution to the show, it hardly seems right that a nod isn't given in her direction occasionally.

One thing is certain, her contribution will not be forgotten. Helen - and Anne Haddy - set the standard as to what a core, long-serving Neighbours character should be. Enduring, lovable, reliable, and someone who the viewers can take to their hearts and really care for. Helen Daniels was the foremost example of this. A true Neighbours legend. Everybody's favourite Gran.