In this exclusive column for RadioTimes.com, Scott Mills looks back fondly on his beloved soap, Neighbours, ahead of his celebratory show on BBC Radio 2 this Bank Holiday Monday.
As we say “happy birthday, Neighbours”, Mills reflects on what the Australian favourite means to him, and why it’s more important than ever we turn to the past for comfort.
Life as a pre-teen in Hampshire in the mid 80s was pretty humdrum. There was no internet so we weren’t exposed to a world of global entertainment on your smartphone as we are now.
I remember being absent from school with a virus in 1987. Daytime TV – programmes rather than static Ceefax images – was new. Whilst on the sofa that week, my reality was brightened by a ray of light shining from the TV… Neighbours.
At that time, my knowledge of Australian culture was non-existent. I knew it was on the other side of the world from the globe I had in my bedroom but I didn’t know anybody who had been there. Neighbours felt like a portal into another world where everyone had a nice house, wore bright pastel clothes and the sun shone.
For a while it was my secret TV show, until I realised I wasn’t the only Neighbours fan at school. When a classmate returned from illness, they were welcomed back with newfound popularity as the carrier of new information about Ramsey Street.
Thankfully, the BBC recognised its popularity and moved it to a tea-time slot, creating Neighbours-mania; within a year it regularly attracted around 18 million viewers and turned the cast into household names.
Mrs Mangel was my favourite character as the resident battleaxe. Waspy to the bone, even when ordering a water in the café she would scowl, “Iced! Not from the tap!”. She was only in the show for a couple of years but when you’re young that’s a much larger percentage of your lived existence, so those two years feel like a lifetime.
I loved Scott, Charlene, Mike and Plain Jane Superbrain. I longed to be in that gang wearing bright vests instead of itchy C&A jumpers, have a sun-kissed mullet of magnificence and go to coffee shops and order a “cappuccino”.
The UK was two years behind Australian transmission which created mind-boggling scenarios, including watching Christmas episodes in June. I could watch Scott and Charlene in Neighbours at tea-time, and an hour later watch them as Jason or Kylie on Top of the Pops. As a proud pop kid, I couldn’t get enough of it.
Years later at Radio 1, Colin Murray learned of my Oz-obsession and arranged for Jason Donovan to poke his head round the studio door and ask, “Hey, are you Scott Mills?” Suddenly I was 13-years-old again and my jaw hit the floor as Scott Robinson spoke to me. Kylie and I have met many times, but I keep my fan-girling at bay to focus on her current project.
During the last difficult 18 months, I have frequently sought refuge in the comfort of nostalgia, reflecting on my happy place, sat on my nan’s sofa watching telly eating biscuits, and it made me realise what a feast of joy Neighbours was – and still is – for me. I want to shine that sunlight from the past on to now and into the future which we need more than ever as the world opens up.
I love radio, that intimacy of speaking directly to someone who you haven’t met, but feels you are speaking directly to them because your pasts are similar. If they are in a busy office or a crowded bus, the voice from the radio is speaking only to that individual, making radio such a personal medium. I can’t wait to receive hundreds (hopefully thousands) of texts and emails about listeners’ memories of the goings on in Erinsborough, so we can all Step Back in Time…. and reminisce together. This programme is for every former 13 year-old, hosted by the 13-year-old in me, with that same excitement I had then, which has been laid dormant whilst I have been adulting. And I want to knock on the door of every listener and ask if they are coming out to play…after they’ve watched Neighbours, of course.
Scott Mills: Happy Birthday Neighbours! airs on Monday 30 August, 2pm-5pm, on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Sounds.