Neighbours gets nostalgic next week when a true legend returns to Ramsay Street for the first time in nearly three decades – Plain Jane Superbrain is back!
Jane Harris was the dowdy (or should that be ‘daggy’?) schoolgirl teased for her oversize spectacles and classroom swotting, before her hidden beauty was revealed thanks to a makeover that ditched the glasses and and reached for the hairspray and puffy shoulder pads.
She spent three years in Erinsborough from 1986, introduced initially as granddaughter of busybody Mrs Mangel, and was a major part of the golden Kylie and Jason era of the late 80s. After a cameo in 2005 for the show’s 20th anniversary, now she’s back – catching newcomer Chloe Brennan in a compromising position in her first scenes – for an extended stint, played by original actress Annie Jones, who tells RadioTimes.com she needed no persuading to reprise her old role – because it was her idea!
“I had a few ideas for some storylines to bring Jane back so I met with the producers and they went for it,” she reveals. “I’d had around 15 years out of taking on long-term roles as I was looking after my mother who had Alzheimer’s. Now I’m in a position where I’m able to take jobs that are a bit more involved and time-consuming which is what I really wanted to do.
“I did a lot of guest roles but they’re over in a day or two and I missed the discipline of a long-term job. The mental stimulation of shooting six episodes a week all in the wrong order, it’s such a fantastic challenge. Going back and sharpening those skills as an actor has been great.”
So what did Jones have in mind for Jane’s unexpected return? “She is back under the instructions of Mrs Mangel,” she teases. “There’s some unfinished business in Ramsay Street she needs to tend to on her grandmother’s behalf. Consequently she takes a bit of an interest in the Rebecchis who are the current residents of Number 32, the house where the Mangels used to live.”
Viewers of a certain age will recall nasty Nell Mangel, the curtain-twitching gossiping gran who was the self-appointed moral guardian of Ramsay Street, and Jones explains the character’s presence will be felt in Jane’s return…
“Jane has spent the last 29 years looking after Mrs Mangel and being absorbed in her world, so she has taken on a lot of her gran’s attitudes and views on things! You’ll see Jane occasionally channel her inner Mrs Mangel, which is really fun to play. There’s quite a bit of comedy in the storyline which I’m pleased about.
“It’s also a little bit of an ode to darling Vivean Gray who played her. Sadly she passed away in 2016, but in Ramsay Street world Mrs Mangel is still alive – she must be in her late 90s!”
Jones, now 51, was already an established TV actress when she won the role of Jane in 1986, having lost out on playing Charlene to a certain Ms Minogue, but the huge impact of Neighbours in the UK led to her coming face-to-face with British royalty when she and the cast were flown in to appear at the 1988 Royal Variety Performance.
“The fan mail from the UK seemed to be increasing at the time, but we had no idea how big it was until we stepped off the plane in London. We were swarmed by fans and photographers. The Queen Mum was at the Royal Variety show, I remember her saying, ‘Oh my, there’s a lot you, aren’t there?’. She was a beautiful lady, I think Princess Anne came with her. It’s amazing to look back on.”
And what of her memories of being bridesmaid at one of TV’s most famous nuptials, Scott and Charlene’s 1987 wedding? “I remember getting all dolled up in a beautiful peach-coloured, very shiny, dress. Puffy sleeves as well. And we had these funny little flowers called baby’s breath in our hair.”
Jane’s wardrobe seems to particularly stick in Jones’s mind as she recalls her original stint on the soap. “My favourite things were Jane’s accessories,” she grins. “Once the character came out of her shell she got to wear the pretty clothes. I just remember lots of big hair, enormous shoulder pads and huge plastic earrings.
“It was the 80s and that was the height of fashion,” she laughs. “We looked hot!”
Jane’s return airs on Friday 6 April on Channel 5 at 1.45pm and 5.30pm.
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