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Interactive > Missing a Matriarch? by Barry and Rhys

We take a look back at the campaign to save Rosie Hoyland from the axe, the extent to which the audience have any influence over decision making on the show, and explore the massive gap left in the show since Helen Daniels passed away. Bringing all this together, we discuss why Ramsay Street is Missing a Matriarch...

As Helen Daniels, or 'Gran' as she was affectionately known, Anne Haddy portrayed one of the most memorable characters in Neighbours' history from the very first episode, through to 1997. Helen's appeal filtered through generations of viewers who could all, in one way or another, relate to her. It's fair to say that no female character of a similar age will ever reach the iconic status that Helen has, but that's certainly no reason for excluding the same virtues from another female character of a similar age. Reg Watson famously created Helen to 'dispel the myth that all mothers-in-law are battleaxes'. He succeeded, and for over a decade Helen ruled No.26 and its inhabitants, and to a degree the entire programme. Contrasting with Helen was the acidic Mrs Mangel, dithery Eileen and 'salt of the earth' Madge. These women played a regular and staple part of the 'Neighbours mix' - but, above all, they truly fitted into the matriarchal role needed in a serial drama like Neighbours.

The definition of a matriarch is best summed up by the following interpretation: 1. A woman who rules a family, clan, or tribe. 2. A woman who dominates a group or an activity. 3. A highly respected woman who is a mother.

Since the 1980s and days of the original Neighbours cast, many women have gone on to fill many of the roles required of a matriarch in the series, however, none of them - with the exception of Dorothy Burke played by Maggie Dence, have been women over the age of 45. Put quite simply, any so called 'mature' women of the latter half of Neighbours' existence have not filled in any way the criteria of a matriarch.

In 2001, much excitement spread through fans when it was rumoured that Maggie Millar, renowned performer in Australian television, theatre and film, would be joining the cast to play a love interest for Lou and Harold. As little else was known about the character Maggie would play it was assumed that she would be implemented to fill the recently vacant 'Madge' role. Although Madge had been altered considerably during her 1996-2001 stint on the show (changes which ultimately forced the resignation of Anne Charleston) she was still fondly remembered in her original guise by older fans of the programme as being feisty, protective, loud and opinionated. However, Rosie Hoyland's entrance proved pleasantly surprising for very different reasons. Firstly, Rosie was a vicar, the first time such a vocation had been written permanently into the show via a character. Immediately, images of an upstanding figure of the community presented themselves, not least because of the taboo that still surrounds female vicars to this day. Secondly, Rosie was not a clone of Madge. Her strength was conveyed via her intellect, broad knowledge, kindness and sincerity. No stuffy blouses and skirts conveying restraint and timidity, nor loud, daggy outfits designed to mock her. Rosie power dressed in the truest sense of the phrase. From these initial observations, then, surely Rosie had the makings of a matriarchal figure in Ramsay Street? Her scenes with other key characters displayed all the characteristics that had made Helen so popular years ago, whilst being thrown straight into the midst of a love triangle with Harold and Lou showed just how much life she could bring to two characters who had become rather staid.

When Valda Sheergold appeared on the scene later in 2002, it was pleasing to see yet another veteran actress joining the cast. Valda provoked division among fans because she was loud, brash, insulting and a laugh-a-minute. Some criticised Neighbours for trying to appeal too much to the younger viewers - the suggestion being that Neighbours had taken it upon itself to assume younger audiences would only take to an older character if he or she was made the butt of the jokes. More outrage soon followed when it was announced that Maggie Millar's contract would not be renewed, despite original claims to the contrary. While at first the character of Valda could be endured by the many who found her irritating because of the calming and sensible influence of Rosie, it soon became clear that Valda was the sort of the character intended to satisfy the 'grandparents' in modern-day Neighbours. Quite why television, in particular, feels the need to dictate what younger viewers want from a show is a mystery. Though a comparatively old programme, Neighbours is only nineteen years of age, meaning that many of its present day fans now reaching their early and mid-twenties are old enough to remember the original Neighbours episodes from the 80s, but are still of that age considered most important to TV producers and schedulers in terms of ratings. Most Neighbours fans will happily impart their fondness of 'classic Neighbours' and its characters, and by far the most mentioned characters are Mrs Mangel, Harold and Madge and Helen. Even Scott and Charlene are often overlooked in favour of these veteran residents of the street. It would seem that these older female characters are the ones most fondly remembered as being representative of Neighbours.

All this evidence makes writing out Rosie seem all the more bizarre. She was instantly popular with fans of all ages - a fact justified by the huge response generated by her axing. Emails and letters were sent in their hundreds with a very large percentage coming from young people. Maggie Millar's work in all media receives acclaim all over the world, which makes her removal from a cast ensemble made up of a large proportion of unknown teenagers incomprehensible. Despite the largest campaign to save a character in Neighbours (rumoured to be the biggest of its kind for any TV show) Rosie was sent to Papua New Guinea for 'three months' to help with cyclone relief. Over a year later and there's still no sign of Rosie being written back in.

In November 2003, shortly after Rosie had left, fans were surprised to see her daughter Izzy turn up in Ramsay Street to visit Max and the kids. Her appearance was even more peculiar since Rosie had never once acknowledged her existence in the year she was in the show. Despite little being known about Izzy when she arrived, she has become one of the most exciting additions to the cast in a long time. Natalie Bassingthwaighte is perfect in the role as a troublemaker and has already become popular with fans.

Izzy's appearance in the show makes a return for Rosie even more plausible, as it has continually been stated that mother and daughter do not see eye to eye. As Izzy continues to wreak havoc in Erinsborough it would be a joy to see some new scenes with Maggie back in her role as Rosie. Similarly, the Reverend's relationship with Harold and Lou was left far from resolved, and fans have yet to find out anymore about the history of the character.

Essentially, Rosie has been the only character in recent years to come close to becoming a new 'matriarch', reflecting the strength and importance of such a character Anne Haddy had spent years creating within the show. A matriarch in a soap opera is without question an invaluable contribution, especially in Neighbours when only two senior males represent the over fifty age group in the full time cast.

While the support for Rosie's return to Neighbours has never dwindled, it has proven somewhat difficult to make the producers aware how much support there is for a character of the show. The campaign to 'Rescue Rosie' was the only way in which the fans were collectively able to voice their disapproval of the axing of such a popular character. For so many people to respond to a character leaving, we felt it was definitely something worth fighting for.

Almost one thousand Neighbours fans from all over the world joined the campaign - with excellent publicity from BBC PureSoap, BBC Newsround, Inside Soap magazine and the highlight being the international BBC News webpage. Support for Rosie came from fans of all ages, particuarly younger generations who were enjoying the character, once again highlighting the fact that younger viewers are not always interested in storylines featuring characters who are a similar age to themselves. One obvious explanation for this popularity with the young is that the majority of younger fans will not be of the generation who recall Helen, Madge, Mrs Mangel et al in their prime, and so to see a character filling a role long left vacant would naturally generate interest when compared to yet another 'generic teenager'.

Highlighting the varied age groups and genders who took to the character of Rosie, and were shocked by her axing, are the following excerpts from correspondence generated by the campaign:

"I am shocked by the Neighbours producers in their decision to axe Rosie from the show. My grandparents now watch the show because of Maggie. Rosie fits nicely into Ramsay Street along with the all the others. I hope Maggie will stay. All the best.
Yours Faithfully, Michael Woods"

"I'd like to give my support in the campaign to stop Maggie from being axed from Neighbours. . Her character in Neighbours has developed into an interesting one and she is not like most Vicars which makes her an interesting character. She should not be axed so soon because her character plays a significant role in both moral and social issues which add a different perspective on the story-lines and in doing so, make Neighbours a much better show to watch.
Chris Deeley, U.K."

"I whole-heartedly agree that to axe Maggie Millar from the cast of Neighbours would be a big mistake. I am 20 years old - i.e. in the heart of Neighbours 'youth' audience. I, like many of my friends and associates, have become increasingly disillusioned with Neighbours' renewed move towards 'youth-centric' storylines and cast. It is obvious to anyone who looks at the history of the show, that the times it has had a broad age range in cast (i.e. professional actors, not just teen celebrities) have been the most successful. Are we going to see all the hard work that characters like Lyn and Joe Scully, Karl and Susan Kennedy and of course Rosie Hoyland have brought, to a bunch of fickle youths? I would like to protest in the strongest possible terms. Yours Sincerely, Joseph Margetts, London, UK. "

"I would like to see Maggie Millar and her character Rosie stay in the show. Its so refreshing when you see legends of Aussie TV given a chance with on-going roles on the soaps. But it happens too little these days - and when they are given a chance the producers try to offend fans like me by axing them before they even settle in.
Keep Maggie!
Geoff Rodgers, Australia."

"Neighbours is indeed lacking the quality of 'older' respected actors - they are just not being given a fair deal in Australia and being cast aside to the younger ones. Whilst I am not opposed to younger cast members (they all have to start somewhere), I think the producers of Neighbours need to take stock of what they have in the form of Maggie, a truly talented respected actress of Australia and keep her in the show. If Anne Haddy or even Anne Charleston could remain for years, and the ever presence of Janet Andrewartha, Tom Oliver and Ian Smith, surely one more actor is not going to hurt them, after all every community needs a vicar! Keep Maggie in, you can't afford to lose viewers!
Aaron Etheridge
King Alfred's College, England."

"Maggie is a fantastic actress and so is the character of Rosie Hoyland. I've watched since day one and I have to say I may not wish to watch any longer. If it's come to this then maybe older viewers are not catered for. Maybe you have to be in your late teens/20's to watch Neighbours.
Yours Faithfully
Adam Hartwell, UK"

"Maggie Millar is an absolute asset to Neighbours, and I am horrified to hear that her character - Rosie Hoyland - has been axed. Maggie is surrounded by charm and charisma, and adds a special touch to the show.

At the start of January 2004, we both met up with Maggie Millar in Widnes, England, where she was enjoying her second appearance in pantomime. Maggie remains staunchly proud of her association with Neighbours, and makes no secret of her desire for Rosie to return to the show so that the character can be developed properly. Maggie has enjoyed a successful career in the acting industry for over thirty years, coming out of retirement especially to accept the role as Rosie. Rejuvenating her love of the craft, she certainly shows no signs of giving up! Only recently she has joined a new Government task force, challenging the Australian Entertainment industry to provide more authentic images of ageing. As the most recent of her prolific roles testifies, Maggie is at home in front of the cameras and every role is carried off with skill and finesse. This only further justifies the continuation of our campaign for her return to Neighbours. Whilst in the UK, Maggie has been taken aback by the number of people approaching her asking when Rosie will be coming back, such was the viewers' belief that her 'three months' abroad really was three months! But, like any other actor in her position, she is unable to give any answers. She has thanked the huge number of fans who supported her, and was "touched and moved" by the huge support and dedication fans showed in the campaign to save Rosie. In a recent interview with Neighbours: The Perfect Blend, new Executive Producer Ric Pellizzeri was asked about how important he felt the audience were in swaying decision making in a programme like Neighbours. Ric's response: "The audience is always important and you have to listen to the fans"...

In conclusion, since Anne Haddy's wonderful portrayal as grandmother Helen Daniels has now sadly faded into the past, there has been a massive gap left in Neighbours, which has not been filled. Rosie Hoyland has been the closest contender to becoming what Neighbours fans would accept and welcome as a matriarchal figure, and with the Hoylands fast becoming the most popular family on the show, we feel the time is right to welcome Rosie back.

The Official Maggie Millar Website
Comment: A Woman's Place In The Show?