Monday, July 25, 2022

Neighbours Week (Day 1): Working Out The First Time I Watched Neighbours

With the Australian soap opera - Neighbours - ending its run after thirty-seven years later this week, I thought I would dedicate a week of posts to the programme.

In today's post, I'll discuss how I came across the series and how its popularity grew here in the UK.

Neighbours Logo

I'll go out on a limb and say that the first time I ever watched an episode of Neighbours was sometime in 1987. 

The programme first started airing on the BBC on October 27th 1986 (thanks Wikipedia), so I am sure it would have been months afterwards.

With the programme only showing on weekday afternoons initially, I think there was a good chance that I watched my first-ever episode while off school with sickness. Either that, or it was during a school holiday.

The reason why I suggested an illness is not something I came up with without thought. I recall a few days - in 1988 - when I was off school with a fever and had Neighbours on in the living room while I was nearly out for the count on the living room sofa.

I was already a fan by 1988, though. 

I remember the announcement that Neighbours would be repeated at 5:35PM to allow schoolchildren, and other people who couldn't watch the first daily airings, to follow all the goings on in Ramsay Street. The second airings began in early January of 1988. 

Therefore - it absolutely must have been '87. 

Another way to try and work out when I first came across Neighbours is to cast my mind back to the earliest characters or storylines I can recall.

The first character I can remember seeing was Shane Ramsay. That's quite a coincidence seeing as he has recently been brought back for the final few weeks.

Shane - or maybe Jim Robinson - was in a relationship with a pregnant lady named Zoe. By the time I was following the programme daily, the character of Zoe had departed.

A quick look online (thanks again, Wikipedia!) states that Zoe Davis was in the series from January to September of 1986. With Britain a year-plus behind Australia, the estimation that 1987 was the first year I came across Neighbours seems spot on.

As I noted, the episodes were repeated at teatime from January 1988. Nearly every person I knew at school were fans of it either by then or shortly afterwards.

Ratings for Neighbours at that time were huge. According to Wikipedia, the peak number came in on January 26th 1990 when 'over 21 million viewers' had tuned in combined for the afternoon and early evening airings.

Curious, I looked at the Radio Times archive to see what was going on in the soap on that particular day. It read:

Todd and Katie are on the move again. Nick and Sharon mend their broken relationship

Todd Landers and Nick Page were two of my favourite characters back then. With that said, I have no idea why that episode drew such a big number. 

Before writing this post, I had been under the belief that the wedding between Scott and Charlene (Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue) was the biggest recorded figure for a Neighbours episode on the BBC. 

The ceremony, which took place in Episode 523, brought in 2 Million viewers when it aired in Australia on July 1st 1987. To contrast, the same episode had an audience of 19.6 Million when Britain had its chance to watch it in November '88.

I know that the TV industry has changed a lot since then. However, looking at the ratio between Australian and British viewers back then, it's not difficult to understand how important Britain was to keeping the soap on the air as long as it did.

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