After a successful couple of years developing and nurturing his creation,
Reg Watson departed as Executive Producer of Neighbours. His replacement was
Don Battye - best known for his work on shows such as Sons and Daughters, Prisoner and Possession. He continued as a member of the Neighbours writers'
team until 2001, and exclusively shares his experiences of Neighbours with us.
Can you tell us a little about how you became involved in the industry and
your early career?
I started out as an actor at the age of nine and continued acting until my
early twenties, during which time I'd begun writing for theatre. Eventually
employed by Crawford Productions in Melbourne as a writer for television, I
became a script editor and ultimately, a producer. In 1977, I moved to
Sydney to join Grundy Television, where I remained until 1995 as Senior Vice
President of Drama Development.
You joined Neighbours as Executive Producer following its initial
overwhelming success under Reg Watson. In what state do you think the show
was in when you took the helm?
Neighbours was in excellent condition when I took over from Reg, and my aim
was to simply keep it as healthy as possible.
You oversaw the first major death in the series, that of Daphne Clarke. Can
you explain the circumstances and decisions that were addressed when killing
off such an instrumental character?
Actually, Reg was responsible for Daphne's death. Elaine Smith had made it
clear she had no wish to return to the show, and because of her popularity,
it was decided that a major tragedy would give her a dramatic departure.
Was there a conscious decision to make changes to the series when popular
characters from the early days, e.g. Mike, Jane, Scott and Charlene
departed? Did you feel a need to modernize Neighbours in any way to cope
with the transition into the 1990s?
The slight changes which took place after the departures you mentioned were
gradual, and mainly reflected the diverse ages of the storyliners on the
show. I always attempted to have a good cross section of age groups working
on stories, to give an overall reflection of attitudes. Young people don't
quite lock in on older problems, and older people sometimes forget what it
was like to be young. A combination of both is ideal.
In what state do you think Neighbours was in when you left in 1992?
The show was suffering to a degree from stiff new competition on opposition
networks in Australia. I maintained that if we kept true to the concept of
the show, we would succeed. All long running serials suffer to a degree,
simply by being there. There are high and low periods, much the same as
real life I suppose.
What made you decide to leave your role as Executive Producer?
When I was asked to pursue other activities within the organisation, I took
Todd's death, towards the end of your reign, is considered one of the most
memorable in the series. To what extent was the dramatic used during your
stint as Executive?
There are periods in a serial where something major is required to 'stir
things up' as it were. I never believed in overdoing this kind of
occurrence, as there would be a great danger of the show becoming
melodramatic. The whole point of Neighbours was that it was to be a
reflection of real life, albeit slightly rose coloured, and although some
people experience several tragedies in their lives, the norm is not quite so
You have been most active as a writer on the show since that time. It was
often noticed that your scripts contained more references to past characters
and events than generally occurred in those of other writers. Was this a
deliberate technique? To what extent are such references important?
It is essential the writers do their homework. Even new writers should go
back and read at least the synopses of past episodes where possible.
Reference to earlier characters and/or events gives the regular audience a
feeling of continuity, and in a sense, helps them feel part of 'the family'.
As a writer of many episodes, which one(s) stand out as the most memorable
to script, and why?
To be honest, there isn't one that stands out. There are times when a
writer enjoys writing a particular episode more than others, perhaps because
of the combination of characters or the story strand.
Do you intend to resume a role within Neighbours, as a writer or otherwise,
sometime in the future?
My time with Neighbours is at an end. I ceased writing in 2001, but wish
all the people now employed on the show continued success.
What is your opinion of the show now, and how has it altered since you were
As I now live overseas, I am not able to view the show, so I'm afraid I
What do you make of the decision by new EP, Ric Pellizzeri, to "up the
stakes" and increase drama and production values? Do you welcome this, as
someone who holds a special place in the show's history?
'Upping the stakes' as you put it, is fairly broad. It depends entirely on
the method. If it means more action and melodrama, then I would tread
carefully. There is always a danger of going so far, there's nowhere left
to go. A combination of highs and lows are the secret, provided the lows
aren't boring. One of the major reasons Neighbours has survived for so
long, is that it doesn't confront the audience too much. It's safe to
watch. And light comedy is a major ingredient. If the balance isn't kept
level, it could be a danger.
What's next for Don Battye?
As my background also includes a major connection with music, I am now
concentrating on orchestration, plus working on a couple of movies for
Interview by Rhys. Added on 23rd August 2003