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Interviews > Peter Pinne

Peter Pinne was Executive in Charge of Production on Neighbours from the late 1980s until 1992, although his involvement stretched back further - to the setting-up of the original series on Channel 7 in 1985. In this insightful interview, Peter recalls the time he spent with the show, and reveals himself to be behind one of Neighbours’ most infamous scenes..

Can you give us a background on your career and involvement in the television industry prior to Neighbours?
I had worked as a writer and script editor on many serial productions including The Young Doctors, The Restless Years and Sons and Daughters. In 1980 I became Head of Production for Grundy Television and in that capacity was responsible for all drama production that the company made. This included serials, series, tele-movies and documentaries.

Can you explain to us your various roles in the production of the Neighbours saga through the years?
When the concept of the show was sold to Channel 7 it was my job to set-up the production. I organised a location scout to find suitable locations for the show in Melbourne, one of which was Pin Oak Court. I showed a selection of these locations to Ian Holmes, who was President of the company and it was his decision to go with Pin Oak Court. I then went around to every house in the street securing permission to use the exterior of their houses for the series. It was also my job to find the Producers and directors for the show, plus the storylining team. We initially filled these roles from within the organization but as the show went on we had to search outside the company to fill these positions. Reg Watson, the Executive Producer, had casting and storyline approval of everything in the beginning. Later, in the late eighties, I became Executive in Charge of Production for the series and was responsible, along with Don Battye, for the direction the show took.

Was there a feeling in Grundys at the time of the show’s debut in 1985 that the company had struck gold with this series?
By the time Neighbours started on air I believe everybody had an idea that this was a serial that was different. Its use of comedy in each episode set it apart from any other serial on air at the time.

What do you think went wrong for Neighbours on Channel 7?
The wrong timeslot was the main reason. Channel 7 had commissioned a show for the 7p.m timeslot, and then they played it much earlier. It didn’t work.

How did the unprecedented move to Network Ten come about?
When the show didn’t deliver the ratings that Channel 7 wanted they cancelled the series. Ian Holmes in an unprecedented move then took the show to Network 10 who picked it up. At that time there was no legal impediment in the Channel 7 contract to prevent Grundy from taking the show to another channel. Now, every serial that is made in Australia has a clause to prevent this happening again. Channel 7 refused to sell the set to Network 10 who were willing to buy it. They chose instead to destroy it. Therefore every interior set had to be recreated again in the Network 10 studios.

A number of changes were made to the series on Ten - how important do you think these changes were to the show’s eventual success on Ten?
The most important changes were the introduction of Madge (Anne Charleston) and the recasting of Scott. Darius Perkins, the original Scott, who was the son of the original set designer Robbie Perkins, was unreliable and Jason Donovan proved to be a much better actor in the role.

What do you think were the reasons for the ‘Neighbours Mania’ that engulfed countries across the world - particularly the UK - in the late 1980s?
Neighbours was successful in many countries but ‘Neighbours Mania’ only ever happened in the UK. The main reason the show took off there was that it was light relief to the British serials who were going through a major period of doom and gloom. Neighbours with its comedy, sunshine, and attractive people, were an instant turn-on to the UK audience.

As a testament to the show’s massive success in the UK at that time, the cast appeared before the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret at the 1988 Royal Variety Show. Having accompanied the cast to London for the performance, can you tell us about the experience? How did you go about selecting which cast members should attend?
The BBC wanted the cast to appear at the Royal Performance at the London Palladium but in order for them to do so production had to be stopped for one week. This was difficult because we were very tight to air and really could not afford to lose one week’s production. Eventually a deal was worked out between the BBC, Network 10 and Grundy which cleared the way for the cast to go. The BBC wanted all members of the major cast to appear and that’s who went. The Royal Performance show included all the cast members of the U.S. series The Golden Girls, the cast of the UK series Bread, Ann Miller, Mickey Rooney, Cliff Richard, Jackie Mason, Julio Iglesias, Bananarama, Rick Astley, A-Ha, Michael Feinstein, Bruce Forsyth, and Ronnie Corbett amongst others. Kylie Minogue appeared as a solo performer refusing to appear with the rest of cast. She had left the series by that time and wanted to distance herself from the show. The Neighbours cast did a very ordinary sketch (written by the BBC) and sang the theme song to the show. While the cast were in town they were also invited, along with all of the other Royal Performance artists, to a lunch given by the Variety Club.

What factors led you to kill of characters such as Daphne, Kerry, Harold, Todd etc as opposed to sending them off to Brisbane like many of the other characters?
It is always a major decision to kill off a character in a serial and one not to be taken lightly. The storyliners usually agonise over it for weeks. That was why Harold was never killed. We had run out of stories for Madge and Harold and we had to get rid of one of the characters. We thought we could get more mileage out of Madge solo so we decided to have Harold disappear. We didn’t want to kill him nor did we want them to divorce. Having him washed out to sea was the best solution to a difficult decision.

How important do you think the core, long serving characters such as Helen, Jim, Paul, Madge etc, were to Neighbours?
There would be no long-standing series without core characters. The audience identify with them and want to watch their lives.

When hugely popular characters such as Charlene, Scott and Henry left the series, did you think their exits would effect the show’s popularity?
People watch a serial because of the show, not because of one particular character. Any serial can lose a number of core characters and still survive.

Mrs. Mangel’s departure was a huge loss to the series in that Ramsay Street lost its nosey neighbour. Were characters like Edith Chubb and Hilary Robinson introduced to try and fill the void left by Mrs. Mangel?
Yes, it’s essential to have a black hat in a series. Hilary wore it for a time in Neighbours. So did Dorothy (Maggie Dence).

Who were your favourite characters, and why?
I liked them all. They were a good ensemble cast.

Did you have any favourite storylines? And were there ever any storylines that you didn’t like?
Some storylines I liked and some I didn’t but that happens no matter what serial you are working on.

How much of a direct input did you have on the storylining process? Where there ever any storylines that you came up with?
In the early days I would often sit in on a storylining meeting and offer suggestions as to where we could go with a story/character. Later when I became Executive in Charge of Production for the show I did it weekly and had direct input as to what went on air. Jason Daniel reminded me recently that he has never forgiven me for making them do Bouncer’s Dream which was my idea. Of course it was a silly idea but it got covers in all the TV magazines and rated.

What led to your decision to leave Neighbours? Where has your career taken you since then?
The company asked me to go to Los Angeles to set-up and be Executive Producer of Dangerous Women, a spin-off of Prisoner, which was Grundy’s first serial to be produced in the U.S. We made 52 one hour episodes. During this period I also oversaw the launch of Neighbours in the U.S. It didn’t work, mainly because of the Australian accent. You must remember this was in a time when even movies like Crocodile Dundee were dubbed for the American market. Following Dangerous Women, I became Vice President Drama for Grundy Worldwide, and later went to South America where I set-up companies in most Latin American capitals and made television programs, everything from game shows to sitcoms. In Chile I made a Chilean version of Mother and Son. I left television four years ago and set-up my own recording company in the U.S. which is called Bayview and I now record music around the world, mostly in New York.

Have you watched Neighbours in the years since you left?
As I have been living abroad since the early 90s I have not seen the show.

What did you most enjoy about your involvement in the Neighbours saga?
I enjoyed the fact that an Australian production could be so successful internationally and at its peak in the UK was watched by 20 million viewers.

What do you think accounts for the huge success Neighbours has achieved over the past 18/19 years?
It is about ordinary people. No matter what country we live in or what nationality or religion we are, we are basically all the same and we like watching the stories of other people. It’s as simple as that.

Interview by Moe. Added on 21st December 2003