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Interviews > Anne Scott Pendlebury

During the late 80s and into 1990, Mrs Mangel's reign as Ramsay Street's busybody was taken over by the formidable Hilary Robinson. Cousin to Jim and a stickler for the rules, Hilary made several guest appearances, her first at Scott and Charlene's wedding, before spending a year as a Neighbours regular, when she revealed that she had an illegitimate son, Matthew, and found romance with Erinsborough High principal Mr Muir. Here, actress Anne Scott Pendlebury shares some memories of her time as 'cousin Hilary'.

Could you tell us a little about your acting career prior to your first Neighbours appearance as Hilary?
I began in professional theatre aged 19, with Australia's leading State drama company, the Melbourne Theatre Company. I did formal training with them as well as working as a 'juvenile' in the Company. I also studied piano, dance and speech with private tutors. Appeared in many Melbourne TV productions throughout the '70s and '80s, before joining the Neighbours cast in 1987.

Do you remember much about your first auditions or winning the role of Hilary?
I was not familiar with this TV series, but a very small role came up, which my agent sent me for. I did not have to audition, it was so small. It turned out to be Hilary, who had been written in as the Aunt of Scott Robinson (Jason Donovan). This episode was his marriage to Charlene (Kylie Minogue). Hilary was so rude and unpleasant at the Wedding Reception, that the producers really liked the impact she created and later wrote her in as a permanent character.

Did you enjoy playing Hilary?
Yes. I loved her.

What was it like to join the series when it was at such a high in the ratings and enjoying worldwide success?
It was a privilege being in Neighbours at such a successful time for the series. It was full of very accomplished actors which made work very enjoyable.

After making more guest appearances, you joined the regular cast for a year in 1989. How did that come about? Do you feel that the character had to be watered down slightly when she was appearing more frequently?
After 1989, I was invited to join the cast as a regular. Hilary became popular as she was so unpleasant, and I think the writers enjoyed writing for her. After a year, a long lost son was introduced, to add a further dimension to the character. However an attempt to give Hilary some 'romantic' interest, was more comic than believable. Hilary was at her strongest as a single, dominating, irritating, bossy woman. It was quite difficult after establishing her as a sort of 'maiden aunt', to soften her in any way.

Did you ever receive any interesting fanmail during your time as Hilary?
People wrote and said how much they liked the performance but disliked the character. At the same time, people really liked the fact that Hilary often reminded them of their own unpopular relatives.

What led to your departure from the show in 1990? What do you think became of Hilary after she left?
Hilary was written out at the end of my contract. It is much easier creating scenarios for younger characters, who can marry, start families, have adventures, mature etc. Older character like Hilary don't always change. It is harder for the creative team to keep coming up with ideas for the type of character I had created. Hilary would always continue to teach, interfere with people's lives and generally be rather disliked. I wanted her to stay that way and not become 'watered down'. Her time at Ramsay Street came to an end, when all the residents signed a petition saying she was no longer wanted in the street as a neighbour. Hilary packed her bags, and decided she too no longer wanted to stay. She returned to Adelaide, South Australia, where she continued to teach music.

15 years after you’d last played Hilary, you returned for Neighbours’ 20th Anniversary in a cameo appearance. How did your return to the series come about? Can you tell us a little about the filming?
All available actors were recalled to do a little filming, to celebrate this Anniversay. As I live in Melbourne I was free to do a short 'on camera' appearance. Wardrobe Department even found some of my original clothes - twin set and tweed skirt! ... That was fun, just stepping back into Hilary's shoes after so many years. People said I looked no different...

Many fans have said that a ‘Hilary’ type busybody character is missing from the current cast line-up, and with Hilary’s nephew Paul still residing in Ramsay Street, would you ever be interested in reprising the role again?
Currently therre is no resident aunty or busy body character in Ramsay Street - that is a pity. I would love to go back, but there are so many new young performers and different sorts of story lines. It was a very 'innocent' family show when I was in it.

What are you doing these days?
When I left Neighbours, I went to the University of Melbourne and did a mature age Diploma in Theology. Then I took up vocal coaching for young actors and theology students. I have also directed plays and now I combine performing and coaching, with very interesting casting work in the office of Clauds Theatrical agency. I work here in the office part time. Apart from booking actors for performing work, I have an opportunity to talk to them about their careers, sometimes offer advice, and hopefully pass on a little wisdom and experience along the way. It is a way of 'putting back' in to the industry which has been so good to me. Of course there is a lot of admin and paper work I have to do as well.

With Neighbours now in its 25th year of production, do you have any thoughts on why the show has lasted so long?
I think part of Neighbours' great success is that it is not only a TV show, but it has played a big part in marketing Australia. It depicts Melbourne suburban life as it pretty much is,.. well being; good looking healthy young people who enjoy sport and good food; reasonable educations; hospitable climate (even in winter we have blue skies here). Perhaps it is a 'lifestyle' show... not drama as we might see on Sunday nights from the BBC, but entertainment never the less. Australian life has a wholesomeness about it. Perhaps that is what makes Neighbours so appealing. With all the difficulties in the world, Ramsay Street just goes on and on.

Interview by Barry. Added on 7th March 2009