He is famous the world over for playing Alf Stewart, Home and Away‘s gruff shopkeeper armed with a host of superb catchphrases, from “Ya flamin’ mongrel” to “Ya great galah” and not forgetting the seminal “Ya great big drop kick!”
Ray Meagher also happens to be the longest serving actor in Australian soap history.
He is the only star of the 1988 pilot episode of Home and Away still with the show, and during that time has never had a day sick (well he wouldn’t would he, he’s Alf) and never been late on set. And he is not going anywhere in a hurry.
“My contract is for this year and another three years and I can terminate it at six months notice but when you are enjoying it as much as I am I don’t see why I would,” he tells us.
Despite having clocked up 26 years on Home and Away, Meagher turns 70 in July so probably won’t overtake the record held by William Roach’s Ken Barlow, who has been in Coronation Street for 54 years.
But Meagher began his soap career much later than Roach, appearing in 30 Australian movies and countless miniseries prior to joining Home and Away. And he feels that one of the reasons he has stayed so committed to the show is that he got his other work out of the way before joining.
“A lot of the stuff I may have been tempted to do now I was lucky enough to do before. I have done a lot of things already and as for ambitions…well I don’t have any particular ones. I love the family vibe of the show. It’s a fabulous crew and some of them have been with it from the start. Of the people on the show 99% I have loved. You can’t get on with everybody 100% but it has been a very, very pleasant place to work.”
He is also grateful that his job has allowed him to do theatre work, including in the UK, polestar of which was probably playing garage mechanic Bob in the stage production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert in the West End in 2007.
He wouldn’t rule out a return to West End musicals but jokes: “I would come back at the drop of a hat but the vehicle has to be right. It’s pretty hard to be the bloke who can’t sing and dance in a musical.”
Another reason he has stayed so loyal to Home and Away is that he clearly likes Alf, someone he describes as a “pretty honest, straight-shooting kind of bloke” who has a generally good heart, even though he can fire off on the wrong track and can be “a bit short tempered at times”.
“He will apologise but you shouldn’t got out the room or have a cup of tea because you will probably miss the apology,” says Meagher. “He’s not a bad bloke even if he huffs and puffs and blusters.”
To many English fans of the show, Meagher is the ultimate Australian. As for his great Alf-isms, well some of them he chose himself, having picked up a few choice bits of language growing up in the Outback on a sheep and cattle station. He also introduces a few things he heard in dressing rooms playing his beloved rugby union (which he did to State level).
“I am very aware that there are some characters like Alf in Australia – some of the expressions I heard fitted him to a tee,” says Meagher, who seems about as content and composed as it is possible to be in the role.
“I am comfortable doing what I am doing for the time being,” he signs off.
“I have been so bloody blessed with a rich and varied career for so many years I think I have been too lucky already. If more comes along now it would be a bonus, if it doesn’t I wouldn’t be dreadfully upset. Getting out has no appeal.”
* Home and Away is on weekdays at 1.15pm and 6pm on Channel 5
Ben has worked as a professional journalist specialising in TV and the arts for nearly twenty years. After a two year stint on local newspapers in the mid 1990s, he spent more than 5 years as the broadcast reporter at the Stage newspaper. Following that he enjoyed staff reporting positions at the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Times breaking stories and writing features before settling as a full time freelance writing for an array of newspapers and magazines - but mainly for the Guardian, Evening Standard, Broadcast, Independent and the New Statesman where he wrote a column.