Pioneering Australian screenwriter Reg Watson, who created Neighbours, Prisoner, The Young Doctors and Sons & Daughters, has died aged 93.
He died following a short illness.
Watson is Australia’s most prolific creator of serial drama, with long-running shows produced at Grundy Productions becoming household names, enjoyed by millions in multiple territories around the world. Thousands of actors and crew have worked on dramas he created, with many gaining international success.
10’s Neighbours, originally created for the Seven Network, is his most famous creation. Due to mark 35 years in 2020, it is Australia’s all-time longest-running drama with a cavalcade of stars to its name including Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce, Jesse Spencer, Alan Dale, Natalie Imbruglia, Liam Hemsworth, Delta Goodrem and more.
Prisoner ran from 1979 – 1986 becoming a ground-breaking show for its ensemble of female actors and taboo subjects. The show drew viewers in the US and UK, with a diehard fanbase who still gather for reunions. It also inspired a hit reboot in Foxtel’s Wentworth reaching a new generation.
The Young Doctors ran from 1976 – 1983 on Nine, The Restless Years from 1977 – 1981 on 10 and Sons and Daughters, largely created to appeal to viewers in both Sydney & Melbourne, on Seven from 1981 – 1987.
Jason Herbison Executive Producer at Neighbours said, “Everyone at Neighbours is sad to hear of the passing our our creator, Reg Watson. He was a pioneer of drama, prolific in his output and by all accounts a lovely person to work with. His legacy lives on in Ramsay Street to this day.”
Writer Bevan Lee said “Reg Watson was a trailblazer in Australian commercial television drama. He also mentored many of its top writing and production talents over the years, including myself, John Holmes, Rick Maier, Sue Smith, Patrea Smallacombe, Greg Haddrick, Coral Drouyn, Jason Herbison and John Misto. He also gave a start to many actors who have gone on to tread the world stage, especially through his creation Neighbours. This, Sons and Daughters, Prisoner and The Young Doctors. What a creative legacy! Why is he NOT in the Hall of Fame?”
TV historian Andrew Mercado said, “He was a very private man, which is a shame because he should have been put on a pedestal and received a lot of attention for the fact that so many of his ideas turned into such long-running hit shows. He should be in the Hall of Fame.
“His shows had such a great core concept to them. Prisoner was a very brave show, ahead of its time. Sons & Daughters was a brilliant way to overcome the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry by creating a premise situated in both cities. And the sheer Neighbours simplicity of it turned out to be very self sustaining.”
Brian Walsh Executive Director of Television, said, “Reg was a gifted storyteller, but significantly his brilliant and creative mind gave life to so many Australian shows which have become folklore. I was fortunate enough to work with him on Neighbours and proud that at Foxtel we could continue his legacy with Wentworth -the reimagining of his brilliant signature work, Prisoner. He was a stalwart of the Australian television industry and we have lost a legend.”
Watson grew up on a sugar farm in Queensland, before roles as a radio actor and later announcer. He moved to the UK in 1955 where he became Head Of Light Entertainment at ATV. He convinced Lew Grade to produce a new Midlands based soap opera which would become Crossroads. It ran from 1964–1988 before a revival from 2001–2003.
Reg Watson with Noele Gordon
He returned to Australia in 1973 to become head of drama at Reg Grundy Productions, creating Until Tomorrow (1975), The Young Doctors (1976), Glenview High (1977), The Restless Years (1977), Prisoner (1979), Taurus Rising (1981), Sons and Daughters (1981), Waterloo Station (1983), Starting Out (1983), Possession (1985) and Richmond Hill (1988).
In 2010 Watson was given a Member of the Order of Australia for services to the media as a pioneer in the creation and production of serial television drama.
He is yet to be inducted into the TV Week Logie Hall of Fame.