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Alan Fletcher and Jackie Woodburne on Neighbours legacy as show concludes

Johnathon Hughes talks exclusively to Erinsborough legends the Kennedys as we bid farewell to the Australian drama.

Big RT Interview: Jackie Woodburne and Alan Fletcher (GETTY)
Published: Friday, 29th July 2022 at 12:01 am
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It’s the end of an era as Neighbours bows out after 37 years on Friday 29th July. The much-loved soap set in suburban Ramsay Street is the longest-running programme in Australian TV history, has launched the careers of countless stars including Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan (who make a much-anticipated return in the finale) and made a huge cultural impact on UK audiences.

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To commiserate, but ultimately celebrate, the Aussie institution’s swan song, RadioTimes.com spoke exclusively to living legends Alan Fletcher and Jackie Woodburne, better known as Karl and Susan Kennedy – Erinsborough’s ultimate mum and dad.

The Neighbours cast on their final day of filming
Fremantle

How do you feel about Neighbours ending?

Jackie Woodburne: It was hugely upsetting and a bit of a shock when it was confirmed. So much is at stake and will be lost forever which is dreadful, but then we entered the mindset of celebrating the last 37 years and giving the audience one hell of a show before we ride off into the sunset!

What do you remember about joining the show in 1994?

Alan Fletcher: Jackie and I had known each other for years and worked together before, but didn’t meet our three on-screen children until our first day on set as we were all cast separately. We started shooting the scene of the Kennedys moving into Ramsay Street and instantly clicked, it was magic. The naturalism between the five us was absolute gold and we knew then the family was going to work.

JW: One thought I had was the fact I couldn’t possibly have children who are this old, though it didn’t seem to bother anyone else! They kept assuring me ‘Susan had them when she was very young…’

Read more:

The Kennedys were rock solid until Karl’s affair with Sarah in 1998…

JW: We were horrified that would be the beginning of the end, there’d be no coming back from something so profound for these characters who loved each other so much. As soon as we saw how complex the story was, we realised it was an opportunity to show their flaws for the first time, and immediately Karl and Susan became much more interesting.

AF: Karl was never painted as a gigolo and didn’t actively go out looking to have an affair. He tends to be blown around by the wind and is very easily led. Sarah kissed him and he immediately felt guilty, if he’d been happy to go behind Susan’s back the audience would’ve abandoned him, but he was just a silly fool making a big mistake. It was almost endearing.

Didn’t it turn out Karl lied about sleeping with Sarah?

AF: At the time Karl promised Susan it was just a kiss, but the writers told Nicola Charles (who played Sarah) and I to decide for ourselves whether that was true. Years later, playing truth or dare with Izzy, Karl admitted he had actually slept with Sarah which meant he’d been lying to Susan’s face for years! That was a big change.

JW: Proof that you can actually rewrite history in a soap…!

Karl strayed again with Izzy, was that a fun storyline?

JW: The stakes were much higher for Susan as Karl fell in love with Izzy, they share a child, so she was a bigger threat. It was the first time Susan had a nemesis to go up against, she was venomous to Izzy on occasion and would score points for the sheer pleasure of seeing her suffer. To see ‘Saint Susan’ be so human was fantastic.

Can you pick any other favourite storylines or highlights?

JW: It’s so hard to choose. The Izzy love triangle period was great, but for me doing the two-hander with Rob Mills as Finn Kelly in 2020 was like making a mini-movie. It was a completely different way of working, right from how we approached the script. I absolutely loved that.

neighbours finn kelly susan kennedy

Why have the Kennedys endured as a couple?

AF: There’s a good deal of stupidity of what we get up to that makes people smile. They make mistakes, they fight and do all the things the audience can relate to.

JW: Very clearly they are best mates, fundamentally more than they are husband and wife. Apart from the drama, they enjoy being together.

And we’re still intrigued about what’s in their ‘blue box’ they keep in the bedroom…

JW: Everybody wants to talk about the blue box! Susan and Karl were childhood sweethearts and there’s still a lot of mischief in them, they’re affectionate and physical, they say: ‘I love you’. It’s a very flawed but authentic relationship.

Are there any other characters on the show you’d like to have played?

AF: I’d love to have been Paul Robinson, if only for the day, no question. Stefan Dennis does a delightful job and I think Karl would love to be more like Paul. It would be fun to play a character prepared to be so terribly bad.

Why was Neighbours such a training ground for young talent?

JW: It’s like a school for cast and crew, you can join with very little or no experience and if you’re prepared to do the work you can leave with a tool belt of technique under your arm. It’s a nurturing, encouraging environment. You don’t get that in every job. Seeing the likes of Margot Robbie and Jesse Spencer succeed is wonderful, but it’s a great outcome when anyone goes on to become a solid, jobbing actor.

neighbours finale 2022 karl susan

AF: Felix Mallard played our grandson Ben and he’s going stratospheric in the US. Neighbours is a place where you’re allowed to experiment, fail and try again if you get it wrong. It’s not a feature film with millions of dollars and pressure riding on one scene, we can make mistakes and grow from them. I’ve heard American directors love working with Australian actors who’ve done soaps as they understand the demands of lighting, camera position and the whole process.

Which young actors you’ve worked with particularly stand out?

JW: Georgie Stone and Ben Turland smashed it with the Hendrix and Mackenzie love story in our last few months. Georgie has developed so much as actor, she’s done such great work. And I must mention Caitlin Stasey who played Susan’s stepdaughter Rachel, she had something really special.

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Finally, how would you sum up the legacy of Neighbours?

JW: Ordinary people going about their lives. It may have been set in Australia, but the stories and situations were universal.

AF: Neighbours has set a benchmark of what a successful long-running drama looks like. Lots of others will measure themselves against that and will borrow what worked for us to incorporate into their shows. Almost every drama on TV is kind of a soap at its heart, and Neighbours has demonstrated that if you tell stories well, authentically and with good characters, then you’ll last.

Looking for Neighbours' merch? Look no further than TruffleShuffle.com!

Neighbours' final episode premieres on Friday 29th July at 9pm, followed by Neighbours: What Happened Next? at 10:05pm and Neighbours: The Stars' Greatest Hits at 11:30pm on Channel 5. Check out more of our Soaps coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.

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