The soap that saw me through the baby years – As Kylie and Jason reunite for the final episode of Neighbours, MARION MCGILVARY admits it’s her guilty secret

  • After 37 years, Australian soap Neighbours is airing its final-ever episode
  • Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan will come back to the soap for the final 
  • Marion McGilvary reveals that she used to be a Neighbours addict in the 1980s

So, farewell then Neighbours. After 37 years of banal storylines and problematic hairstyles, the last ever episode will be broadcast next week. 

Despite still pulling in around a million viewers a day, Channel 5 has cancelled the show so, after July 29, we can all finally relax with our afternoon cuppa without fear of catching an Australian accent or worse — getting a habit. 

You may mock but I know of what I speak, for I was once a Neighbours addict. I’ve been clean now for more than two decades but the fear of slipping back never leaves. During lockdown, with only a monosyllabic partner for company, there was always that temptation to pop back to Ramsay Street. 

I lied to myself. I said it was only to see if Susan Kennedy still had that fringe that looked like a garden rake or if Paul Robinson was ageing well, but I knew the awful truth: one episode would lead to two, then I’d be sucked back in. 

Jason Donovan (left) and Kylie Minogue (right) will appear in the final ever episode of Australian soap Neighbours 

Somehow I resisted. I did the 12 steps away from the TV to the fridge and ate instead. I just couldn’t let myself get hooked once again. 

It started when I was a young mother, with a baby, stuck in London, knowing nobody, with only a handful of TV channels to watch. I’d spent a great deal of the previous year at home ill with hepatitis and sneered — yes actually sneered — at daytime soaps, deeming them for losers, shut-ins and mugs. 

But that was before I discovered ­Neighbours in the late 1980s — crack for the housebound. I was there at the beginning — the mullets, the Mangels, Kylie Minogue in her overalls playing Charlene before she got lucky, lucky, lucky. And Jason Donovan, who I actually saw in real life one hot summer’s day in West London and wondered why he didn’t run up to me and greet me by name.

Then there was nicotine-voiced Madge, tubby Harold and Mike, a pre-Hollywood Guy Pearce. They were my daily analgesics. One child, two children, three then four: my life got busier but no less lonely. During the day when my more glamorous peers were off having careers, I was in the park, juggling school pick-ups and times tables, yearning for it to be 5.30pm so I could sit down with those Neighbours who really did ‘become good friends’ as the theme tune promised. 

Saddo that I was, I think it was the continuity that soothed me. When you are out of sync with life — a stay-at-home mother in a new city, knowing few people well and having little in common with those you did meet, your partner busy, busy, busy — it gave me something familiar to hold on to. 

Sitting down for a chat with Auntie Beeb offered me a familiarity I didn’t have in real life. I didn’t want gritty, I didn’t want literature. I wanted what I got — soft soap. 

The wedding of Scott and Charlene (Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue) 25 years ago on 8th November 1988, on TV soap Neighbours 

Eventually, I even stopped noticing the characters had an accent. It just sounded, well, normal. If I missed the evening slot, the next day I’d race home early from playgroup to catch the lunchtime repeat. My one other mother friend, Jane, was also an addict and we enabled each other. Afternoons would find us discussing the plots, slumped dead-eyed in front of the telly. We were zombies, totally out of it. Even when the toddlers started calling each other ‘dags’ and ‘drongos’, we merely told them to ‘shhh’, which was better than telling them to ‘rack off’, but we needed that half hour. 

Neighbours soon didn’t have quite enough of an effect. I needed a bigger hit. Next it was Home And Away and even, I confess, a bit of The Flying Doctors. 

It shames me now to admit how far I fell. People with Netflix won’t understand the slim pickings we had in the 1990s. Back then I’d only just got a VCR recorder and streaming was what you did when you had a cold. I didn’t know my seemingly safe, recreational habit would be a gateway to the hard stuff — the murky world of primetime soaps. 

When the kids were safely in bed, I tried them all — Brookside, Coronation Street, EastEnders. I even indulged in the all-time low of Emmerdale, when that was all I could get. 

So, farewell then Neighbours. After 37 years of banal storylines and problematic hairstyles, the last ever episode will be broadcast next week

Eventually, you hit rock bottom. The youngest was two. I was a mature art student, struggling to appear normal amid a bunch of young kids for whom ecstasy was a pill rather than the moment the children are asleep and you’ve just poured yourself a glass of wine.

I knew I had to do something when good old Helen Daniels died and I was bereft. I realised my most enduring friendships were with people who didn’t actually exist. What’s worse is that the actors had all gone on to do other, better things. They had pop and film careers. And where was I? Sitting at home with no life. It was time to switch off. 

Stupidly, I went cold turkey. I took up knitting, a sorry accident involving many revolting jumpers. The youngest started nursery. I got a job on a local newspaper. 

I did slip up once. I developed an Archers habit. I kept it secret for a while, but eventually even that got out of control. I’d put on the omnibus edition every Sunday when we drove up to my parents’ house for lunch. Then the kids refused to get in the car and my husband intervened. 

It has been 15 years since my last episode but I’m still taking it one day at a time. Perhaps I can allow myself one last hurrah when the final Neighbours episode airs. All the old favourites are coming back. It would be a fitting goodbye and I mean, what’s the harm? It’s cancelled so no chance of recidivism. 

Then again, I’m circling rather close to retirement age when the danger of occupational TV watching beckons once again. Better not. I have real-life good friends now and my actual neighbours bring me curries. 

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