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Interviews > Hugh Stuckey

Hugh Stuckey has been both a scriptwriter and story editor with the show. Here he discusses Neighbours over the last 20 years...

What are your personal thoughts on Neighbours turning 20 this year?
Neighbours has been the flagship of Australian television drama providing a form of longevity for writers, actors, directors, production management and technicians which is very rare in the television industry. It has been a training ground in every department. Gaffers have become writers and script editors, models have become actors, actors have become senior executives. Neighbours has made a remarkable contribution to our popular culture. I am proud to have made a small contribution to Neighbours.

Do you have any fond memories of working on the show?
Several, but my first, longest and strongest was the stimulation of working with compatible creative colleagues such as David Phillips, Betty Quinn and Reg Watson way back at the very beginning when we storylined the first three weeks of the series then drew numbers out of a hat to determine which week each of us would write. David drew Week 1, Betty Week 2 and I drew Week 3. Yes, writers wrote entire weeks back then but of course that system was impractical once the series went into production at the rate of five half hours a week.

That eternal pressure of churning out the equivalent of a feature film a week…two and a half hours of television…is certainly a vivid memory but not necessarily a fond one.

Why do you think the show has lasted as long as it has?
There are many contributing factors…the integrity of the contributors on every level, the pride of working on an international success, the quality of production under extremely pressurised conditions…but the major reason for it’s success is the original concept. Reg Watson devised a brilliant basis for a long running series aimed at a specific audience age group and hit them right between the eyes.

Do you think that Neighbours has adapted well to the changes in society and the media that have occurred over the past 20 years?
If the show ever lost contact with society the audience soon let you know. The ratings dropped and the inevitable solution to bring them back was to tell stories relevant to the times in a style identifiable to the audience.

Are there any characters over 20 years of Neighbours that have stood out for you?
I guess Mrs. Mangel stands out because she was in my first script and she sustained a successful long run in the show. I’ve always admired the older characters who have given us excellent performances year after year, resisting the temptation to just ‘walk through’ their roles. At the risk of omitting others I must pay my sincere respect to Jackie Woodburne and Alan Fletcher for award deserving performances.


Are there any storylines from the past 20 years that have stood out for you?
The one I remember most was the challenge to the Kennedy marriage. If my memory serves me correctly it was suggested by Executive Producer Stanley Walsh that the good doctor should be tempted to have an affair with his new secretary. The story ran for eighteen months during which time the ratings increased both in Australia and England. It was extraordinarily difficult to sustain because in those days and in the relevant time slots we were not able to have anything implying sex. Week after week we had to find ways to extend the story without any more evidence than the simple fact that Karl did nothing more than share one small kiss with the lady in question. It happened when they were forced to stop over in a motel overnight. They even slept in separate rooms yet the cloud hung over the poor doc and his faithful loving wife believed she had been betrayed. It was during this story that Jackie and Alan contributed their most outstanding performances. That story was a huge challenges but returned a level of satisfaction to the creative team beyond measure.

Which do you believe Neighbours does best, Comedy or Drama?
I’ve worked in comedy all my life. I’m the wrong person to ask. You’ll have to guess my response.

Should the show cover serious social issues or leave that to rival shows?
During my time as Story Editor the brief was that social issues could be introduced but dealt with indirectly. Rather than go into the issue deeply it was best to tell the story of how the issue affected a character I have one lingering disappointment from my years with the show. I desperately wanted to see a tradesman’s truck parked in the driveway of a Ramsay Street house. It would be even better if it belonged to a family of ethnic origin. The ‘social issues’ which could arise from that simple basic situation would have broadened life in Erinsborough and given a more realtisic view of Australian society. But you can’t win them all.

Can you see Neighbours lasting another 20 years?
Yes. It comes back to Reg Watson’s eternal concept. It has done and can continue to reflect a somewhat fantasy version of Australian middle class life. It’s those fundamental ingredients that Reg insisted upon: eternal summer in Erinsborough: everyone looks healthy and wears bright clothes: the young characters are full of energy: we live in houses beyond belief for European families; it portrays conservative Australian views.

I just hope I’m around to see it in 2025….and maybe be asked to contribute occasionally.

Read our feature with Hugh Stuckey, Neighbours and Me, here.

Interview by Steve. Added on 12th March 2005