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Comment > Love Thy Neighbour: Paul Robinson (1985-1993) by Moe

Long before the likes of Darcy Tyler or Izzy Hoyland complicated the lives of the Ramsay Street residents with their villainous behaviour, there was a character who was dubbed "the JR Ewing of Neighbours" – Paul Robinson. And he’s about to make a comeback..

Paul was an original Neighbours character, and although in those early episodes, he was a pretty affable, caring young man, by the time Channel Ten revamped the series and Neighbours took off on a global scale, Paul was pompous, power mad and pretty darn ruthless. Whether it was scheming to buy up Ramsay Street to make way for a flashy shopping centre or attempting to bribe his half-brother and cousin so as to avoid a costly compensation pay-out, Paul could always be counted on to dispel the myth that Neighbours was a programme where the biggest drama was a character running out of sugar.

After marrying plumber Terry Inglis following a whirlwind romance, Paul was rocked to the core by the realisation that she had a criminal past. When she shot him to flee town as the police closed in, Paul landed himself in hospital with an injured shoulder. But a more permanent scar came about as a result of the shooting – an embittered, ambitious and often rather ruthless Paul Robinson emerged. Upon his return from hospital, he took a twenty dollar note from his pocket and vowed to his grandmother Helen that one day he would make a million dollars out of it.

He wasn’t far off the mark. Within a year or so of the prediction, Paul owned half of Erinsborough – and all at the age of 24. Having started out in an insurance company, Paul became manager of the Australian end of The Daniels Corporation, the international business owned by his aunt Rosemary. Despite the fact that they weren’t blood relations (Rosemary was adopted), Paul had the very same qualities as his aunt and they made the perfect team as they built up the Australian branch of the corporation to be every bit as successful as its New York counterpart. Soon, Lassiter’s Hotel was added to the equation, and Rosemary’s business empire continued to grow. Before long, Paul bought his aunt’s Australian interests and aptly renamed it The Robinson Corporation.

Paul also added a second wife to his assets, by marrying old flame Gail Lewis. But in typical Paul fashion, it was all done as a business deal. In order to clinch a lucrative contract with the often mentioned but rarely seen Japanese businessman Mr. Udugawa, Paul had to marry Gail because of the importance Udugawa placed on marriage and family. Deep down, Gail was in love with Paul and she became so distraught at his failure to open himself up and admit he loved her too that she packed her bags to take a job with Rosemary in New York. Paul’s younger brother Scott recognised how important Gail was to Paul and pleaded with his brother not to make the mistake of losing her. At the eleventh hour, Paul finally let his steely façade slip and admitted his love for Gail, succeeding in getting her to stay in Erinsborough – and their marriage.

But it didn’t last. A barren Gail was desperate for kids. Paul was desperate for kids, but also success in the business world. Long hours at the office put a strain on their relationship, especially when they began an intensive IVF treatment programme. There was joy all round when Gail discovered she was pregnant with triplets, and Paul was ecstatic. But by the end of the pregnancy, the strain on their marriage had been irreversibly damaged by Paul’s failure to get his priorities right. And when he went into the office on the afternoon of Gail’s father’s funeral, Gail had enough and left for Tasmania. Paul’s next marriage to Christina Alessi encountered similar problems, although he did make a vow when she gave birth to his son Andrew that he would put his family first. Financial disaster loomed for Paul however, and while in public he was basking in the glory of winning Businessman of the Year award, in private he was heading for a total nervous breakdown after a dodgy business deal meant the near collapse of his business empire.

After a spell in rehab and the salvaging of the company by Christina and her twin sister Caroline (Paul’s Number Two at Lassiters), Paul bounced back – and into the arms of Caroline. An affair with his wife’s sister didn’t seem as outrageous as might be expected. Caroline was always the twin who was more on Paul’s level – she had a good head for business, was ambitious and career-minded whereas Christina was more of a home bird and business matters regularly went right over her head. Still, Caroline couldn’t look Christina in the eye and fled for Milan. When Christina discovered why, she threw Paul out and filed for divorce. But the death of Paul’s cousin Todd and the chance of a fresh start running a five-star resort in Hawaii made her reconsider her position and she, Paul and Andrew left town.

Paul’s departure was a huge loss to Neighbours. For seven years, he had been a central character to the series, and a high profile one at that. The fact that Paul had controlled so many different parts of Erinsborugh – the hotel, the pub, the coffee shop – meant he played a part in the lives of all the other characters. And his place in the show as a JR Ewing-style character was unique and never repeated – until, to a lesser extent, Darcy Tyler arrived on the scene in 2001.

Stefan Dennis, who played Paul, was an important part of the winning Neighbours formula of the 1980s and early 1990s. Aside from Kylie and Jason, he was probably the only other actor from that time who was known to viewers by his real name too. This was partly due to his (failed) attempt at following his aforementioned co-stars on the path to chart success with the single Don’t It Make You Feel Good in 1989. His dalliance with the world of music aside, Stefan was a hugely popular member of the cast and lasted for many years after the heyday of the series was over. His decision to leave in 1992 came as a blow, because it was the first in a series of big name departures within the space of a year, and his departure also meant that only two members of the original cast remained – Anne Haddy and Alan Dale.

But despite Stefan’s departure, the importance and central role of Paul Robinson to the series continued. Paul still owned Lassiter’s and The Robinson Corporation, and his family still lived on Ramsay Street. He was always on the other end of the telephone in scenes at the offices of The Robinson Corporation, and indeed, in one memorable plot which involved Philip Martin and Gaby Willis vying for the top job at Lassiter’s, Stefan reprised the role of Paul to do a voice-over where Paul remonstrated with the pair during a conference call. And when the series reached 2000 episodes in 1993, Stefan was invited to return to the show for a couple of episodes. He duly obliged, having just finished touring Australia in the musical Blood Brothers with his former Neighbours co-star Elaine Smith. Paul’s return – along with that of his sister Lucy – was much heralded in the press in the lead-up to the 2000th episode celebrations and it was just like old times when Paul once again sat behind his desk in the Robinson Corporation offices to talk business. A shocking plot accompanied Paul’s return in which he had to flee Australia for Brazil to avoid arrest for fraud. Gaby Willis discovered that Paul had framed his brother-in-law Philip for fraud, but after seeing the hurt Philip’s arrest had caused for the family, Paul fell on his sword and sent a written confession to the police before fleeing Erinsborough for good.

The most rewarding part about a character like Paul Robinson was the fact that he was never an out and out baddie. “Deep down, he has a conscience,” Stefan once remarked. And he was right. While Paul had no qualms about sacking staff or making plans to bulldoze local landmarks for financial gain, he would just as easily go to the ends of the earth for his family, particularly his beloved gran Helen. He hired a private investigator when his little sis Lucy – who he always called ‘Munchkin’ – married a sleazy photographer twenty years older than her. He was very close to his younger brother Scott, regularly offering him advice on his various relationship problems with Charlene, and when he was married to Gail, they often had Paul’s young cousins Todd and Katie Landers over to stay. Indeed, the tragic death of Todd in later years devastated him. He helped his old mate Des Clarke through the death of his wife Daphne. He had the height of respect for family friend Madge Bishop, who managed The Waterhole for him for several years, even though they were constantly at odds about how best to run the place. And even after his marriage to Gail had ended, Paul opened his door to Gail’s stepmother Gloria, letting her stay at No.22 with him when she was being intimidated by a criminal gang, and later giving her a job at The Waterhole. Indeed, for all his dirty dealings, Paul’s final scene on Neighbours in 1993 sums him up best – it portrayed his devotion to Helen, and the helplessness with which he said goodbye to her, and couldn’t give her the answer she wanted to hear when she tearfully asked “When will I see you again?”

Although Helen never did see Paul again, it has recently emerged that the viewers will. Stefan has recently signed a contract to reprise the role that he will forever be most associated with and he begins filming the explosive return of Paul Robinson in a matter of weeks. How Paul will fit back into the dramatically changed Erinsborough of 2004 is unclear, and it will be interesting to see how someone who once presided over the neighbourhood with such dominance and influence adapts to the changes. One thing is certain; it will make for compulsive viewing.