> Barbara Angell
writer and script editor, Barb Angell was involved in an
astonishing 500 episodes of Neighbours from 1990-1994.
Overseeing a period of massive transition which arguably secured
the show's long-term future beyond its 1980s heyday, she discusses
her unique contribution to Ramsay Street and the show's format.
you give us a little background on your career before Neighbours?
I have been in this business for 47 years. I began as a dancer,
then became a singer and comedian, writing much of my own
material which I performed on stage, television and in cabaret
on, I formed my own revue company and co-wrote and produced
a series of successful stage shows. There followed many years
of television as well as stage appearances. I was an original
writer of the satirical Mavis Bramston Show and ended
by starring in it as well as writing for it during its four
years of production. I spent the next 20 years in England,
appearing in Television dramas and comedies including Doctor
in the House, Anne of Avonlea, All Creatures
great and Small, Shoestring and Angels .
I also worked under contract to the BBC as a script reader
did you come to work on Neighbours?
I had been living and working in the profession in England
for 20 years but I had returned to Australia, my homeland,
on and off and during that time and had worked for Grundy
Television, sometimes on the production side but also as an
actress in the television series Prisoner. In 1989,
Grundy invited me to return to Australia to work for them
permanently. I began as script producer for a drama-doc series
called Australia's Most Wanted, then switched over
to Neighbours, on which I worked from 1990 to 1994.
During that time I wrote about 70 episodes, and I edited more
than 500 episodes of the series.
do you think are strengths and weaknesses of the Neighbours
format, and how did you tackle them?
In my opinion, the strengths of Neighbours lie in the
strong team of writers and editors that put it together. At
any one time there were about 20 writers, plus around eight
storyliners working on it. In my time this team consisted
of very experienced people, and we set out deliberately to
raise the ratings again after a period of a drop in popularity.
We succeeded. The weakness of Neighbours now lies in
its failure to appeal to a wide enough audience. It aims too
narrowly at the teeny bopper market. If it would widen its
horizons, a much broader range of stories could once again
there any elements of your time you are particularly proud
I pride myself in being responsible for developing the character
of the school mistress Dorothy Burke, played by Maggie Dence.
When I read the first of her scripts, she had been scripted
as the school ma'am stereotype. I said "No, let's not
go that way! This woman was at university during the 60's
- she was part of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll era. Let's
make this woman cool!" And we did, and Maggie Dence was
delighted and Dorothy Burke became one of the show's memorable
characters. Will you ever forget her getting drunk with Jim,
and them dancing the lambada and waking up together on the
floor the next morning?
was the most rewarding aspect of working on the show?
The team of writers and actors with whom I worked, some of
whom have become my close friends.
was the least rewarding aspect of working on the show?
It is a demanding show to edit. You have to produce five half
hours a week, and at any one time the script editor has to
have at their fingertips all the information pertaining to
25 episodes of the show - from its first conception to its
last day in the studio. Changes can be made to any one of
those scripts at any time during the process, and when one
script is changed, all subsequent scripts have to be checked
for continuity. When, despite all your effort, something does
not work, the writing team always gets the blame. That's showbiz!
seemed to have a darker, more adult tone. Was this a conscious
Thank you, and I entirely agree! Yes, we were deliberately
appealing to a much wider audience. We were also conscious
that the show was being seen all over the world in all languages,
and we tried to convey Australian suburbia as interesting
Robinson's death was one of the most brutal stories in the
show's history. What do you remember about its conception?
We had planned for many months that one of the dramatic high
points of that year would be the death of Jim. We worked steadily
towards that point, though we originally planned that another
character would be responsible for his death - and would stand
there and just watch him die. However we had to hastily introduce
the character of Fiona Hartman when the original actress was
unavailable because of other commitments. Nevertheless, I
believe that it worked just as well, and exactly as we had
have you been doing since leaving the show?
Plenty. My latest book is due for publication this coming
September - A Woman's War: The biography of Wilma Oram
Young is to be published by New Holland in Australia.
Watch out for it.
do you think has made Neighbours such an enduring show?
It is hard to define, but certainly some of its endurance
is due to those long-running characters who have given the
show continuity, no matter what directions it might take.
I especially refer to Helen, and Jim, and Madge, and Harold
- whose eventual return after his long disappearance I planned
right from the moment he disappeared off those rocks! And
of course Lou, characters like that. Yes, the older characters
are the mainstay of Neighbours. As long as the producers
retain those kinds of threads, the show will endure. Obviously
actors come and go, but when the show uncovers a really effective
personality, the producers should have the guts to contract
them and hang on tight! Without them, it will fall apart.
more information on Barbara's career, visit www.angellpro.com.au
by Stuart. Added on 17th April 2003