> Louise Le Nay
Louise Le Nay has been associated with Neighbours for almost twenty years,
stretching right back to the original Channel Seven episodes when she played
Barbara Hill. In the years since, Louise has worked on the series as a
script editor, storyliner, and scriptwriter. In this exclusive interview,
Louise speaks of her experiences both in front of the camera and behind the
scenes on Ramsay Street...
As well as your lengthy career as a writer, you have also acted in various
Australian productions. Can you give us a little background on your career? Do you have a preference between writing and acting?
I started out as an actor, studying at NIDA - the National Institute of
Dramatic Art - in the late seventies. I worked in theatre in Sydney,
Melbourne and Perth, appeared in all the current television shows of the
time and a couple of feature films - Emoh Ruo and The More Things Change. I
was Top Dog, Sandy, on Prisoner for about a year. Having said all that, I
see myself as a writer, though. I've written all my life, but didn't
initially see it as a way of making a living (it's still a fairly difficult
way to make a living!). I guess I've come to realise that writing is the
thing that makes me really happy. Acting is fun, and sometimes challenging,
and sometimes difficult - it involves a lot of socialising, and sitting
around. But writing is the place I come home to. Just me and the blank
paper - a keyboard, really. The place where I can put my thoughts in order,
think about life, the universe and everything...
Many Neighbours fans are also familiar with you from Prisoner in which you
played the role of Sandy Edwards. What are your memories of that role and
your time on the show?
Prisoner was great. I wasn't a very experienced TV actor at
the time I took the role, so as well as being fun, it was also
a steep learning curve for me. I was working with really talented
women - that was the Prisoner thing; a lot of talented experienced
actresses, rather than the modern inclination to cast for "looks".
I feel really privileged, when I look back, that I had the opportunity
to work with Elspeth Ballantyne, Sheila Florence, Collette Mann,
Judith McGrath, Maggie Millar, Betty Bobbitt, and Olivia Hamnett
- who sadly, recently passed away. I was pregnant with my first
child during my time there - they shot around it, mostly, but
there are certainly scenes in the latter part of my contract
where my pregnancy is evident. I'm really grateful for the Prisoner
experience. I feel I've been a part - very small part - of Australian
Louise in her Prisoner days with
Maggie Millar and Olivia Hamnett.
first stint on Neighbours was in front of the camera
as Barbara Hill back in 1985, in the early days of the show
on Channel 7. What are your memories of that time? Who amongst
that early cast did you enjoy working with? Given that you
were appearing as Barbara in the final episodes on Channel
7, what was the atmosphere like on set?
My job as Barbara Hill on Neighbours was something
I was delighted to do. I was living out of town at the time,
in the country, and used to leave home at 4am to make the
6.30 make up calls. But it was all good fun. Unfortunately,
the show was axed just after I began my three months. They
would still go ahead with filming, but it would end forever
(we all thought) after the three months was up. This depressed
most of the cast rather a lot, and there was an air of resignation
around the place. I was working with a great actor called
Ross Thompson (Charles Durham) - we were partners in crime
in this particular story - and we were a little removed from
the general unhappiness. I guess this was because we were
only contracted for the three months and had not expected
our roles to continue. Ross was of the opinion that you give
your all, no matter what the future may be, and we pressed
on - rehearsing together in the corridors, always trying to
get it right. We used to try to get our lines, our motivations
so carefully worked out that we could do a scene in only one
or two takes. It was a good aim - didn't always work out though,
of course. The cast was pretty philosophical. Anne Haddy (Helen)
was full of good humour. After all, most actors experience
an axing at some time. There was a big party at the end of
the three months - absolutely no idea amongst cast and crew
that plans were afoot to move the show to another network.
Which was the best possible outcome for the show, as it turned
did you first start working on Neighbours as a writer?
Can you recall the first episode/storylines you worked on?
I started working on Neighbours as a storyliner and
a writer in 1996 - just before my first novel was published.
The first few episodes were about the death of Cheryl and
its aftermath. Soon after that we introduced the new characters
- twins Anne and Lance. They proved to be great fun and the
actors stayed with us for a long time. Not long after that,
we wrote the storylines involving Madge's return to Ramsay
Street and soon after that, Harold's very peculiar rediscovery
as an amnesiac!! Very silly story, really, but it was a quick
and expedient way to bring a very popular character back,
which we were all excited about.
written episodes ranging from the dramatic (e.g. The 2000
series premiere) to the poignant (e.g. Lou losing custody
of Louise) do you have any scenes or moments you wrote that
you were particularly pleased with?
I really enjoyed writing for Karl and Susan. I wrote and edited
a great deal of the story that involved Karl's alleged affair
with Sarah and the Kennedys' subsequent marriage breakdown.
My script on the aftermath of Karl being asked to leave, was
short listed for an AFI award - very pleased about that. I
always enjoyed writing for Harold and Madge - particularly
when they had Paul, and later Tad living with them. There
was lots of opportunity for humour and pathos, and the general
wear and tear of living with teenagers. I was living with
two teenage children at the time; lots of the stories were
inspired by my own experiences.
have been your favourite characters to write for, both past
and present, and why? Did you ever have a hand in creating
Karl and Susan, Harold and Madge, Lance and Toadie. I helped
create Paul, Tad, Drew, the Scullys, Joel and probably quite
a few others. This was along with many others; it's never
a single-handed affair.
there a particular era of the show that you enjoyed most?
I enjoyed the period when the Kennedy family was still largely
intact, with Billy and Libby at home and Toadie living there,
too. I enjoyed the "family" nature of the stories at the time.
I think Neighbours is at its strongest when it's all
about family. I enjoyed having Judith Colquhoun as Script
Producer. Judith has a breadth of experience writing for television
and I learned a great deal from her. I also enjoyed working
with Ray Kolle - these people (Judith and Ray) have provided
the foundation for modern Australian shows - both of them
began their careers on Bellbird. Their understanding
of structure and story-telling is second to none.
do you think are Neighbours' greatest strengths and
its greatest weaknesses?
The strength of Neighbours is that it doesn't try to
be something it's not. It doesn't try to be deeply meaningful,
or a public service for discussing serious issues. But it
occasionally touches on real family dilemmas and the little
glitches and moments between people in ordinary relationships.
Its weaknesses are when it tries to be too serious, too racy,
too topical. In an early evening timeslot, you can't really
address serious issues seriously. When the show tries to tackle
serious topics, it runs the risk of trivialising them, and
that doesn't serve the community well. Of course, a lot of
the stories are always on the edge of being silly - the nature
of soap is that you have to make a mountain out of a molehill.
Sometimes that's funny, and pays off, sometimes it fails.
your time as storyliner, and later script editor on the show,
were there ever any storylines you can recall that never went
Lots of stories are flagged, all the time, that don't go ahead.
They're usually to do with what is acceptable in a 6.30 timeslot
- stories about drugs etc. There was a real sense, when I
worked there, that it was best to steer clear of stories that
might suggest to a young audience that taking drugs and having
sex indiscriminately was in some way acceptable. I totally
concur with that attitude. Particularly since so many young
kids (girls especially) watch the show. I think we have a
responsibility to the viewing audience not to promote dangerous
or damaging practices. I think the guidelines for content
have altered a little since I worked there. I'm not sure how
successful the more teen-based stories are.
worked as Assistant Script Editor at the time of Helen's death,
can you give us an insight into the planning and lead-up to
the departure from the series of its longest serving original
cast member, Anne Haddy? Although the characters of Rosemary
and Michael returned to the show for Helen's funeral, other
family members were missing. Where other actors - such as
Stefan Dennis (Paul) or Melissa Bell (Lucy) - approached about
reprising their roles for the storyline?
In fact all the scenes relating to Helen's death were written
by me - including the death scene, itself. That was my job
at the time. Anne Haddy was extremely ill, but trying hard
to work every day and do the job that was given to her. This
wasn't always possible, and she would leave the set unexpectedly
when she became ill, leaving the job of rewriting to me. It
was a difficult time and I have nothing but admiration for
Anne Haddy and the work she did. Quite often, bringing people
back is problematic for lots of reasons - they're often not
available, they're often too expensive to bring back for one
episode. All the relevant characters to Helen would have been
discussed as possible returns, but it would have come down
to pragmatic things, like availability.
from continuing to write for Neighbours, what other
projects are you currently involved in?
Currently I'm working at the ABC as script editor on MDA (second
series) which is tremendously stimulating. I've also worked
on a new kids' series The Sleepover Club, and I have a feature
film in development.
of your most notable Neighbours scripts was the wedding
of Libby and Drew in 2001. Can you tell us a little about
scripting this special episode?
We had great fun with this. I suggested the character of Fergus
- Drew's mad uncle - and Tommy Dysart was wonderful in the
role. The actors embraced the story, the fun of it, and we
really went to town. My boss, Judith Colquhoun, suggested
the song that Drew sang to Libby - with Harold's help. It
was a song that I used to sing to my kids at night when they
were little, so that delighted me. We often try to find ways
to allow Harold to sing. Ian Smith has a terrific singing
have you most enjoyed about your long involvement with Neighbours?
I learned a great deal about writing fast, furious and to
suit an audience. I'm very grateful for the opportunities
that Neighbours has given me.
do you think accounts for the huge success Neighbours
has experienced in the last 18 years? How long do you think
it will continue?
Neighbours has tried to be about ordinary people. Of
course, it's a bit extraordinary that people in the same street
all know each other so intimately -in the real world, it'd
probably send you crazy! But that's television; it's never
really real. I think the show's success is due to its combination
of humour, youth, silliness, melodrama and occasionally real
drama. I think it's a great boon that Neighbours is
a show that has never been deadly serious about itself. It
lacks pretentiousness. What a relief, in a world that's full
of it! As for how long it can go on - I wouldn't like to predict.
Interview by Moe. Added on 20th September 2003