> Neighbours And Me by Hugh Stuckey
One of the lucky few to be involved with Neighbours in the very beginning, Hugh Stuckey has provided the show with his services as both a scriptwriter and story editor over the years. Here, he shares a few thoughts on the Neighbours phenomenon and his part in it...
In The Beginning
Iím not good at dates or numbers. I guess Iíve been around too long and done too many things to be chronological about my career, but I do recall my first contact with Neighbours. The man I refer to as ĎThe Wizard of Oz TVí, Reg Watson, invited me to a meeting to discuss a new series he had created for the Reg Grundy Organization. It was, of course, Neighbours. Two fellow writers were present, David Phillips and Betty Quinn, both veterans of Ďsoapí and other drama series. My background at that stage was 20Ėodd years in radio comedy which led me to become the first comedy writer in Australian television. (On ĎSydney Tonightí starring Keith Walshe.)
David, Betty and I spent two or three weeks under Regís direction, planning storylines for the first three weeks of his new series. We were to write one week of five episodes each. To decide who would write which week we drew numbers from a hat. David wrote the first week, Betty the second and me the third. My most significant contribution at that time was the creation of a character named Mrs. Mangel. This is where my chronology goes awry. I donít know when the series began but I know it was on ATN7. It did not enjoy a long run and was transferred to the 10 Network where itís been ever since. Once it began I became one of the team of writers who wrote an episode every six weeks or so until I went off to work on other series, for example, A Country Practice.
A Second Chance
Years passed, I worked overseas in the U.S.A. and the U.K. but when I settled back in Australia I was returned to the Neighbours writers roster. Around 1995 I was asked to become Story Editor. I shared the task with Jon Stephens that year. I did three months at the start of the year then Jon took over and when his tenure was up I returned till the end of the year. The job of Story Editor on a series of 5 half hour episodes a week is extraordinarily demanding. In terms of air time thatís roughly the equivalent of producing two feature films every week.
The pressure is ever present. The weekly task is to create stories for the 18 regular characters, plus guests and divide their appearances up into the number of episodes for which each actor has been contracted. Some are available for only two episodes, while others appear in three. Itís a logistical nightmare but like every other aspect of the task it has to be done quickly. Creating stories and turning them into scene breakdowns is one of the most skilful, stressful jobs in television. As for the storyliners doing it, itís a make or break situation. If you canít maintain the extreme pace and required standard then look for another occupation. But storylining teaches story structure faster and better than any scriptwriting course could manage. To me it is one of the most stimulating, exhilarating parts of scriptwriting. Itís creativity at stratospheric speed.
A Successful Formula
The proof of the teamís success lies in ratings, not just here in Australia but internationally. When I was Story Editing Neighbours colleagues Iíd not seen for a while would ask "What are you doing these days?" Iíd reply, "Neighbours". Theyíd give a smirk and respond cynically, "You're not doing Neighbours?" Iíd behave in a self-deprecating way and sound as if I was apologising but then ask, "And what show are you working on thatís been running for twenty years and is sold in some 60 countries around the world?"
Thanks to Steve