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Don't they know it's the end of the world?

GONE! Neighbours, BBC1, 2:10 and 5:35pm

Disclaimer: Forgive our shameless over-indulgence today. We are compensating for the absolutely ridiculous lack of attention that the national magazines, papers and websites have given to the biggest change in daytime TV for over 20 years.

On October 27, 1986, the world of daytime television was changed forever, when the BBC started showing a cheap Aussie soap to boost its daytime schedules. Originally scheduled at lunchtime and early in the morning, Neighbours was just something of a gap filler, a bit of fluff. It has already been cancelled once by its first network in Australia, and was being revamped by its new one. In those days, the BBC were quite happy to trailer their new import, though:

In the soap's early days, we were at primary school. We, like all schoolchildren, loved the illicit thrill of watching daytime television in the holidays. It was like a gateway to another world (and that sense of illicit pleasure never wears off, we still feel the same when we are at home during a weekday). It was during the school holidays that we discovered the joy of this strange new Australian show that was on the BBC. And we weren't alone. Everyone we knew at school was talking about it, and fortunately, so was another schoolgirl in another part of the country. Alison Grade, daughter of then-BBC1-controller Michael Grade knew the thrill of watching Neighbours in the holidays, and told her dad about it, suggesting lots of people (ie children and teenagers) would watch were it scheduled at a better time. She thus becomes one of the best people in the history of broadcasting ever.

On January 4, 1998, we were so happy we thought we might explode, as Neighbours moved from early mornings to its new home, the now legendary 5:35 showing. We remember forcing the whole of our family to watch the preview show, called something like Meet the Neighbours which introduced them to the legendary Helen, Jim, Paul, Scott, Charlene, Madge and co. We don't think it is overstating the case (much) to say that our nation changed that day. After all, where would Kylie's career be, and what would the state of the UK panto season be like without it?

By the end of the year, Neighbours was achieving ratings of around 18 million and carried on achiving 12-18 million viewers for several years to come. The wedding of Scott and Charlene achieved 19.6 million viewers and was probably one of the defining moments of our lives.
And despite the soap having been on at tea-time for several years, we never got over the excitement of watching it at lunch-time in the holidays or when we were off sick (a pleasure that has endured to this day). As Ceeb puts it: 'one of the best bits of school holidays was watching the afternoon showing of Neighbours instead of the traditional evening one. It made the soap feel a lot different and more special and happy (especially in the summer holidays if like me you stayed in on a glorious sunny day to see if Susan had gotten her memory back yet) even though it was clearly the exact same episode that would be on if you had tuned in at 5:35, you felt part of a special club that you couldn't be part of any other time of the year. Of course later in life you find out that that clubs other members consist solely of housewives, students, the unemployed and the drunk'. (And pensioners, Ceeb!)

When we were young enough to still watch Children's BBC, the scheduling of Byker Grove and Grange Hill (both RIP) and then our fave Aussie soap was a dream come true (and on the other days of the week, the Home and Away / Neighbours Aussie hour of greatness was also something of wonder), with the soap successfully bridging the gap between kid's and adults' TV: 'One of my favourite memories of Neighbours on the Beeb the relationship the evening edition had with CBBC and how they would occasionally discuss how the storylines were delightfully rediculous or perhaps get Ed the Duck to quack along to some of the theme tune to get you in the Neighbours mood (unless you lived in Northern Ireland of course where you left five minutes earlier for reasons never explained).' - Ceeb.

Its popularity with the kids also led to lots of cuts by the Beeb, including the removal of an incest storyline that beat Brookside and Hollyoaks by several years. Phil Redmond was obviously taking notes. The success of the show continued into the 1990s, with the introduction of popular characters such as the Kennedys and Toadie. Its ratings declined by the late 90s and into the 2000s (as did the ratings of everything else) but it remained a staple of our life, and the lives of a whole new generation, many of whom are at university now, born after it started and weaned on it from birth. It has always been just part of the routine for many British young people: 'My childhood weekday routine always consisted of school, CBBC, Newsround and Neighbours. There was never any question of whether we'd watch it or not, it was just always on' - Schmindie. Occasionally, the Beeb even promoted it:

How many of you shouted 'No Toadie, don't drive' at that clip, and at several subsequent occasions when he took to the wheel, with disastrous consequences? In the early 2000s, when the Beeb got all retro-tastic, Neighbours was also a staple part of I Love 1986 despite most of the clips being from 1988. We *think* there was some stuff on it in I Love 1988 too, mind.

The earlier part of the 2000s saw Neighbours go properly rubbish, with the introduction of a bunch of characters nobody cared about, such as Taj and Tahnee and the Hancocks. Who? Exactly. We even stopped watching it every single day, something that had never happened before (or since). Perhaps because of this, the BBC promptly forgot all about it and never trailed it again.

It soon got all amazing again though, with the introduction of Izzy, The Timminses, Valda, Mishka, Elle, Rosie and Frazer, the return of Paul Robinson, the plane crash and evil RobRob's reign of terror and the comletely bonkers 20th anniversary episodes which made us cry. Thrice:

Then, in spring 2007, came the darkest hour of our telly-watching lives:

As if the programme sensed our collective despair, it had a silly revamp and promptly got all rubbish again, but now it's starting to improve, in time for its move to five. We'll celebrate that occasion on Monday, but today we must mourn at the real end of an era: the end of Neighbours on the Beeb, and the end of Neighbours at 5:35 (5:30 doesn't quite have the same ring to it). We've got our box of tissues ready.

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I hate to mention it since you have spent quite some time on this, but Neighbors has only switched channels. It is on Five now. Phew!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:21 am  

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