It was 30 years ago today that Tom Fletcher (Roger Oakley) and Pippa (Vanessa Downing) were first running a caravan park with their foster children Frank (Alex Papps), Carly (Sharyn Hodgson), Steven (Adam Willits), Lynn (Helena Bozich) and Sally (Kate Ritchie).
Back then Summer Bay was home to Alf Stewart (Ray Meagher), Ailsa (Judy Nunn), Donald Fisher (Norman Coburn), Celia (Fiona Spence), Floss (Sheila Kennelly), Bobby (Nicolle Dickson), Matt (Greg Benson) and Roo (Justine Clarke). And Yabbie Creek was a wayward backwater….
Over three decades many more would become TV favourites including Marilyn (Emily Symons), Irene (Lynne McGranger), Leah (Ada Nicodemou), Morag (Cornelia Frances), Angel (Melissa George), Shane (Dieter Brummer), Adam (Mat Stevenson), and ‘Brax’ (Stephen Peacocke) with Debra Lawrance and Georgie Parker as notable cast inclusions (Pippa / Roo replacements, respectively).
Thousands more actors and crew would hone their craft on the Seven soap, many finding it as a springboard to international fame including Chris Hemsworth, Isla Fisher, Ryan Kwanten, Heath Ledger, Julian McMahon, Isobel Lucas, Naomi Watts, Simon Baker, Dannii Minogue, Brenton Thwaites, whilst some dabbled in Neighbours before or after including Guy Pearce, Craig McLachlan, Rebekah Elmaloglou, Kip Gamblin, Bob Morley & Lincoln Lewis.
Today Home and Away still screens competitively in its 7pm timeslot for the Seven Network, with international sales, Logie awards and careers under its belt.
It is the second longest-running drama on Australian television with Gold Logie winner Ray Meagher’s “Alf Stewart” the longest-running character on screen. He remains the sole original cast member.
It’s impossible to summarise three decades of stories, characters, cast and turning points. But TV Tonight turned to three well-positioned to comment, original writer Bevan Lee, current series producer Lucy Addario and TV historian Andrew Mercado.
Congrats to all at Seven for such success.
Writer Bevan Lee tells TV Tonight, “As I sat down thirty years ago to write the opening telemovie of Home and Away, none of us remotely imagined it would turn 30, still going strong.
“I think it’s survived because it has known its target audience, supplied them with entertaining stories appropriate to the demographic and time slot and never developed an eroding sense of self importance.
“There will always be a place for a good yarn, well told and that totally sums up Home and Away.
“It has also constantly challenged itself in what is achievable at the rate of five half hours a week, managing production miracles at times.
“It’s a well maintained toy sitting in the corner of the nursery, often eclipsed by newer flashier toys, but always supplying fun to those inclined to glance in its direction.”
Series Producer Lucy Addario answered these questions in between a busy production schedule:
Congrats on 30 years of Home And Away. How is the show celebrating such a milestone, both on screen and off?
“On screen we have a very special story featuring the much loved father of the show, Alf played by Ray Meagher.
“Off screen we will definitely be enjoying cake and celebrating this incredible milestone together.”
Why has Australia and particularly the UK embraced Summer Bay? What are the qualities that have underpinned such success?
“Home And Away is about family – in all shapes and sizes. It is constantly exploring current social issues and has captured the zeitgeist of every era it has represented. It resonates with a massive audience because it is relatable and people fall in love with the wonderful characters and great stories.”
Alan Bateman conceived a show about foster children in a caravan park. As the show evolves for modern audiences, how does it maintain Bateman’s DNA?
“Home And Away is centred around families and fostering is still a part of the show, as you will see later this year. Troubled teens still come to Summer Bay and that is such an important part of the show’s history.
“It’s about finding the balance of light and shade, action and comedy, drama and romance.”
How long have you worked on HAA? What have been your storyline highlights?
“I have been in the chair as Series Producer for six years, 2018 will be my seventh. I can’t take credit for stories – we have a huge team of writers who do an extraordinary job. It’s hard to single out one storyline favourite. I loved the Walker family storylines, Billy and VJ’s journey and Tori, Ash and Kat’s love triangle. Last year we welcomed a new family to the Bay (the Astoni family) and I am really looking forward to getting to know them more as this year unfolds.
“So many highlights but a standout is the baby Luc arc involving so many, including Irene, Leah, Ash,
“Billie and VJ. There was so much passion and drama which stems from everyone in Summer Bay’s unwavering love for baby Luc.”
Home And Away, like Neighbours, has given so many stars to the world. Care to name drop a few? And who still phones home occasionally?
“Chris Hemsworth dropped in to say hi to some mates in the crew and did a sneaky cameo in the diner. It’s so refreshing to know that Hollywood stars like Chris are so proud of their roots.
“Luke Mitchell is doing great in US series and of course, there’s Samara Weaving and Stephen Peacocke in recent years as well.”
How important are the long-running characters, and how do they remain custodians of the show?
“They’re so important – I think our fans love seeing these familiar faces – they are almost part of their family.”
Who are the unsung heroes behind the show’s success?
“Definitely the script department and production crew. These teams work so hard and are the best in the business.”
What are the key filming locations? Is paparazzi an increasing problem?
“Palm Beach and Eveleigh studios. There has definitely been an increase in the number of paparazzi but at the end of the day we have to take that as a compliment because there is such an interest and appetite for our show.”
Home And Away is uniquely produced internally at Seven, a rarity these days. Can you share some insights on the relationship between network and production? How has it changed over the years?
“There is a wonderful relationship between production and the network – and an enormous amount of passion, support and commitment to Home And Away. There is mutual respect and appreciation, which comes from decades of working closely together.”
In the cycle of production how long is it from story idea to broadcast? What about annual cliffhanger planning?
“It’s approximately 6 months.”
TV Historian Andrew Mercado told TV Tonight, “Home & Away was originally about a place where troubled children got good foster care and usually ended up better people. That core concept is why it survived for so long, because as the cast turned over, similar characters could take the place but with a whole new set of dramas.
“In recent years, however, the show has become more about endless bad boys involved in criminal activities and drug dealing. Clearly the show skews well with male viewers, which is unusual for soaps given they usually attract more women viewers. Hopefully, in its 30th year, it can find a way to retain its current audience but mix things up a bit with less repetitive storylines.
“The most amazing thing about Home & Away’s success is that it has survived in a major prime time slot at 7pm. To still be there, anchoring Seven’s nighttime schedule, is a huge achievement and a credit to everyone, past and present, involved with the show.”
Home & Away returns 7pm Monday January 29 on Seven.