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Interviews > Lois Booton

Lois Booton has effectively worked on Neighbours throughout its run - starting with the scripting of the first episode in 1985 and over the years scripting many classic episodes and plotting stories for some of the showís greatest characters. In this exclusive interview, Lois reflects on her Neighbours experiences...

Can you give us a background on your career before Neighbours?
My career really started with Neighbours. Iíd joined Grundy Television as a script typist and written a submission for Prisoner, so management knew I was interested in writing. When Neighbours moved from Network Seven to Channel Ten at the end of its first series, there was a scramble to re-staff the writing team. I was offered a job as a trainee storyliner and, since it paid ten dollars more a week, I jumped at the chance!

Having been involved with Neighbours in various capacities from the 1980s right up until 2001, can you take us through your various roles in the production of the series through the years?
I sometimes joke that Iíve been with Neighbours longer than anyone since I typed the first episode of the first series. But the real association started with trainee storyliner on the Channel Ten series. I had very generous people to give me on-the-job training, including Ray Kolle, Ysabelle Dean and Rick Maier. As I gained experience, I was able to rise through the ranks, so to speak. I became a fully-fledged storyliner, then began writing scripts, then editing them. Later I became the story editor and Ė much later, when Grundy moved the Neighbours writing team from Sydney to Melbourne - I was Script Producer for a brief period.

What are your memories of being involved in the show at the height of its success in the late 1980s?
Itís an old saying in television that when a show is a success, praise the actors; and when itís a dog, blame the writers. But what was wonderful about that time, were the friendships that developed in the writing department. We worked so hard and so intimately that we got to know each other extremely well. Most of my friends now are people I got to work with in those days.

What characters did you most enjoy writing for over the years, and why?
Oh, Madge, definitely! I really understood her because my personal situation was similar Ė I was divorced with two children to bring up on my own. A lot of the conflict between Madge and Charlene went on at my own dinner table every night! Iíve had different favourites at different times Ė Doug, Pam and Cody Willis; the Kennedy family in recent years. Lou, because you could give Tom Oliver anything to do and heíd be a hundred percent every time.

How important do you think the long standing, stalwart characters - for example Helen, Jim and Madge in the earlier years and Lou, Harold and the Kennedys in more recent years - were/are to Neighbours?
Extremely! I think in these times of fractured families quite a few of our teen viewers watch to see models of traditional family life. You canít do that without the fathers and mothers and grandparents. Especially the fathers Ė Jim Robinson was quite stern and a real disciplinarian, but he was hugely popular with our younger viewers.

What do you think the scriptwriter uniquely brings to the story outlines?
A fresh eye. Depth.

Do you have any scenes or moments you wrote that you were particularly pleased with, and why?
The episode in which Kerry died has always been one Iím proud of. As I remember it, we didnít get the news that she was dead until the second commercial break, and in the meantime, none of the other denizens of Ramsay Street were aware sheíd been shot. One of the other stories, involving Doug, Pam and Cody, was quite light, so finding the balance between their shenanigans and the tragedy of the Mangel/Bishop family was a real challenge. I cried through the whole thing.

You were responsible for writing Jimís death, which - as well as being hugely dramatic - was an episode with huge significance given that it marked the end of an era on the show. Can you tell us a little about scripting such an important and memorable episode?
I donít remember a lot about that one, except trying to get some emotional honesty into that terrible situation of Jim having been at the heart of his family for so long, and then dying virtually alone. Very sad.

Are the more dramatic episodes harder or easier to write than everyday instalments?
Iíve already mentioned Kerryís death, which was very tough to write, largely because I was attached to the character and hated to see her go. Attachment to characters can make writing highly dramatic episodes difficult. On the other hand, you have so much to work with in emotional terms that in some ways they just seem to flow. Itís often much more difficult to write the episodes in which nothing much seems to be happening. Then the challenge is to make it happen in a way that will keep the viewers with you until they get to the next episode Ė where something wild is going on!

What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the Neighbours format?
I think Ric, Luke and Ben have got it absolutely right Ė if you concentrate on the truth of human emotions and give the viewers stories that illuminate strong characters, you canít go wrong.

After penning your last episode for Neighbours back in 2001, what have you been doing since? Do you think you might return to writing for the show at some stage?
I had to come off the Neighbours writing list at the end of 2000 because Iíd accepted the Head Writer position on Shortland Street in New Zealand and couldnít do justice to Neighbours while I was so involved with another project. I didnít even get to see much of the show for a couple of years Ė it airs in NZ, but at an hour when I was rarely home. Now that Iím back in Australia, Iím knocking at the script producerís door, begging to be allowed back in! But theyíve got such a strong writing team at the moment, I may have to wait a while.

Do you still watch the show now? If so, what characters and storylines have you enjoyed of late?
Absolutely! The stories that are airing here are extremely strong. I still love the Kennedyís Ė Karl and Susan are a joy on screen. Toadie has been a favourite of mine since he joined the show and watching him lose Dee just broke my heart. Steph and Max are lovely and real. Iím particularly charmed by the return of Sky Bishop/Mangel; she gives Harold new life, as does the arrival of his son, David and Davidís family. I especially like Izzy Hoyland Ė she is the best kind of soap villainess, winning and likeable in so many ways, but essentially so self-centred and so prepared to go to any lengths to get what she wants! Thereís an awful lot to like!

What have you most enjoyed about your long involvement with Neighbours?
Playing with peopleís lives (however fictional)! And the friendships that have grown through my association with Neighbours.

What do you think accounts for the huge success Neighbours has enjoyed over the last 18 years?
The commitment to believable characters with understandable problems, portrayed with intelligence, affection and humour. It touches the heart.

Interview by Moe. Added on 22nd November 2003