Warp your mind back till 1988 and picture an innocent young Jonny Scott Blair on the streets of Marlo in Bangor, Northern Ireland. Life was simple then. Life was exciting then. What excited me at that age was Kylie Minogue. She put Australia on the map for me and I started checking out everything about her and her country and therefore I started watching Neighbours on BBC1. It would be on twice a day – once during lunchtime while I was at school, and once around 5 pm where I would watch it every day. I was hooked on it – and it was a very popular TV soap opera. It seemed everyone around was watching it.
Back in those days it featured Madge Bishop, Charlene Mitchell, Paul Robinson, Mrs Mangle and Harold Bishop. Amongst many others. It was a golden age for Australian TV shows in the UK – Rolf Harris was popular as was Doctors, Crossroads and Home and Away was up and coming. I jumped on the Neighbours bandwagon and these Aussies living their everyday lives in Ramsay Street, Errinsborough, Melbourne became a part of our lives.
We associated ourselves with them and watched the characters develop. I watched how a sexy young mechanic turned into a popstar and how she romanced and sang with Jason Donovan, who played Scott Robinson in the show. From 1988 – 1991 I think I watched about 80% of the episodes. It was always on BBC1, and TV was much better when we only had 4 channels to choose from. I stopped watching TV when the whole SKY, Cable and Digital thing took over. When it comes to technological advances, some of them destroy what was once there. It didn’t become as much fun for me when suddenly Neighbours episodes from every single era were being shown on a host of different channels.
By the early nineties I had started “big school”, Kylie Minogue had left Neighbours, I was playing football every week for my local team and suddenly my interest in Neighbours had waned. I got briefly back into it for a while when Natalie Imbruglia came on the scene, she played Beth, many years before the same lady would emerge as a pop star with the hit single “Torn.” The return of Harold Bishop and the Toadfish wedding meant I still happened to catch a few of the episodes after that. But I must admit that from around 1993 – 2010 I watched less than 10 episodes of the show.
Twenty two years after I first watched Charlene and Scott flirt things out on the show, I found myself in Melbourne, Australia. So it was time to relive my childhood years by visiting Ramsay Street, walking round Errinsborough and doing the Neighbours tour. The only problem is:
– RAMSAY STREET doesn’t exist
– neither does ERRINSBOROUGH
Oh really?? So after all this time, I’m led to believe that the whole Neighbours phenomenom was all a scam. Where “nothing is real”, a quote the Beatles once used to describe fields full of strawberries.
That didn’t seem to matter one bit to me though, as we booked to do the official Neighbours tour. It costs $50 from Monday to Friday, $65 Saturday and Sunday or you can just do the Neighbours Night in a pub for $40. Neil and Daniel were also both up for doing the Neighbours tour, so we booked it. You have to do the official tour really. You could cheat and drive to the areas where everything is filmed, and even visit “Pin Oak Court”, the small cul de sac given the moniker of “Ramsay Street.” There is no Ramsay Street sign, there is no Errinsborough on my map of Melbourne, there is no Errinsborough High School. But by doing the official Neighbours tour you turn all those fantasies into reality, as for around 3.5 hours you become part of the whole Neighbours experience. We booked on the internet 3 seats on a Tuesday morning in early February (the 2nd) to do the Neighbours tour. Once we arrived in our Melbourne hostel, we met some other British travelers who wanted to do the tour as well. So they got booked on the same bus as us – Paul, Ali, Gemma and Lynsey.
The bus was due to pick us up outside our hostel (Urban Central) at 8.30 am. A few surprises were in store. After the hostel’s free breakfast (unlimited orange juice, milk, bread and cereal) we gathered at the hostel entrance. A young bearded chap wearing a grey Neighbours T-Shirt and shorts nonchalantly emerged chirping “you guys doin the Neighbours tour?” in your Colin Murray esque Belfast accent! You a Belfast boy? I asks him straight away, already knowing the answer would be yes. “Aye, I’m Gerry from Finaghy”, “Jonny from Bangor” I said. I come all this way to Victoria in Australia and the boy doin the tour is from just 20 miles down the road from me, and in a suburb of Belfast where I once played chess for my BB, and just next to Dunmurry, the suburb of Belfast where my Da spent manys a day kicking football from the un-famous Dunmurry Rec. At any rate, buzzing and with a fully charged camera I was ready for the tour – guided not by an Aussie but by a hilarious laugh a minute Belfast boy.
All the ones from the hostel got onboard, I was near the back of the bus, and we did a first stop by another hostel, Nomads I think, where I had to register by online ticket and confirm we were all onboard. That was the leaving point for the official Neighbours tour. I bought a wee Ramsay Street postcard there for my wee brother Danny (he probably doesnt watch Neighbours or even ever has for all I know – but at least a part of my cherished undigital childhood could work its way into his digital childhood brain). More people got on there and the bus was full, I even noticed a boy in a Northern Ireland football training top, I was wearing my Northern Ireland shirt as well. All on board and Gerry launches into the introduction and starts the stories coming. Flashing us back to the 80s and 90s in a way only a man with passion could, we are put at ease knowing a guy with a sense of humour is on the wheel of the bus.
A guy with a similar sort of rubbish sense of humour as me. We can laugh at our own jokes, and when the jokes on us we laugh. Gerry had a few one liners, as well as a mind of information about every Neighbours character since the show began. The statistics started flowing, as the on board TV started playing the theme tune: “Neighbours, everybody needs good Neighbours, should be there for one another”
Statistics such as the fact that in one street there has been about 40 weddings and 20 funerals over a period of just 25 years. Statistics such as the fact that more people die and come back than anywhere in reality. Statistics such as the fact that people of 5 different ages can be in the same class at school. The same class that has the school teacher, Susan Kennedy who lives next door to them all. What makes the whole speech funny is the fact that Gerry says, “and the reason most people watch Neighbours” is that it relates to normal people’s lives!!
“We’re puttin on a wee episode for yous now” says Gerry. “Jouse want a wedan or a fyunreal?” in a thick Belfast accent echoes round the bus. With most of the bus feeling shy and perhaps hungover (at 9 am), we settle for a wedding and a funeral. We are treated to an onboard vintage 25 minute Neighbours episode. Gerry uses a remote on the TV to transport to episode 4,000 or other. I laugh at the fact there have been so many episodes of this show, and that it is constantly being filmed. We watch the episode of Toadfish (Toady)’s stag do and wedding to the lovely Dee. We sang quietly and cheesily as ever to the theme tune as Gerry drove us onto a dual carriageway well out of the city of Melbourne. There were no street signs for Errinsborough. Or would there ever be. Its fictional remember.
Gerry throws in some anecdotes and stories from the 25 years worth of Neighbours. I remember very little of the storylines from the past and was glad for my memory to be reinforced briefly. We take a turn off the main road onto smaller hilly streets. Ones you CAN imagine and envisage as being on Neighbours. As we enter part of the suburb of Blackburn a blatantly false “Welcome to Errinsborough” is shouted by Gerry as we all cheer dreaming we’re in Errinsborough. Gerry then spoils all our illusions by mentioning that Blackburn is just one of 3 or 4 REAL Melbourne suburbs used in the filming of Neighbours. The fact that he is so blatant about the falsities and fictionalities associated with the TV show makes the whole experience even better. There is no bullshit it. Because its already all bullshit.
Down another fictional turn through the fictional streets of Errinsborough and we see Toady getting married on the screen. Just after the wedding there is a mix up over the wedding car and transport to the honeymoon/airport for Toady and Dee. The actor from Belfast, who plays the character of Patrick in the TV show Neighbours in is this episode. This added the third bit of Northern Irishness to the trip. It is Patrick who says to Toady “why dont you take that car?” pointing to a banger. Gerry pauses the action and says “never trust a guy from Northern Ireland with a car”!! Even funnier as he’s at the wheel and the day after I would be the main driver for 3 of the guys on our Great Ocean Road trip!
Once married Toady and Dee fly off the edge of a cliff and that particular episode ends. Just in time for us to pull up alongside Errinsborough High School. Oh really??? No, sorry we pull up alongside Blackburn English Language School which at times has posed and pretended to be Errinsborough High School. The fictionalities continue from the hilarious Gerry, as he mentions how the Victoria government once changed the laws on filming at schools due to the risk and threat of paedophiles. Therefore for a whole year they were unable to do any filming in and around “Errinsborough High School”, and they also needed the written permission of every child’s parent in order to have them even in the background of any filmage done. We pass on round to the entrance to the High School. “During the filming, they sometimes replaced the sign with an Errinsborough High School sign” says Gerry. Its non stop comedy…
The same entrance we are told is also used as a prison and a peeler station in different episodes. The false reality and fictionality of TV are as blatant as a Maradona handball. The first brief stop was at Blackburn English Language School. The next stop was inside the filming studios at Global Television Studios. A car drives past our “Neighbours Official Tour” bus, “I don’t know you, you’re not famous” Gerry shouts at a car driving past us. A white turnstile in the car park “was once used” as a scene. There are no actors about, “but thats Carl Kennedy’s car” over there we’re told. I’m loving it. We didn’t actually go inside the studios and there was filming happening at that time, unfortunately.
We get out at what must be a ridiculous custom built police station entrance. “Errinsborough Police Station” gives me the opportunity of a photo and a nosey. We all pose ridiculously in front of the fake Police Station. One of the girls wants a photo with Gerry in front of the bus. I do too! So I hop in front of the bus with Gerry for a photo. He notices the other guy (whose from Londonderry) with his NI top and remarks “everybodys got their Norn Iron tops on the day!” Back into the bus and a trip past some newsagents and a Milk Shop. Gerry also mentions a few scenes that were filmed here. We also “go past Lassiters”, there goes my chance of a pint of beer with Lou Carpenter I though. A custom built set for Lassiters is actually in the studio and this can actually be visited on the dearer weekend tour. But you still cannot have a pint at Lassiters. Remember it ain’t a real bar…Next its off to “Ramsay Street”.
We take a left hand turn into a long hilly road. Then we take a second left, where we pull up in a cul de sac called PIN OAK COURT. Just the perfect cul de sac and not dissimilar to the one where I grew up (Marlo Drive) in Bangor Northern Ireland. Of course, for now, this isn’t actually Pin Oak Court. Its Ramsay Street. It gets even more unrealistic as Gerry grabs two fake street signs from the bus, both with “RAMSAY STREET” written on them even in different style lettering than the way/font style and layout of the street sign for the real street “Pin Oak Court”. One of these fake street signs is given to the girl on the bus whose birthday was closest. The other street sign, Gerry grabs a pole and puts it on the end!! Making a fake Ramsay Street sign just for all them there photos!!!
There is no Ramsay Street sign, this is just another street in just another suburb of Melbourne. The entrance to the street is long and without housing on either side. There are only 6 houses on the street. They are all right at the back of the cul de sac. About 3 of the houses looked familiar to me as being from Neighbours. The others were just houses on a street. Where real people live. Yes that’s right this is simply just Pin Oak Court, just like any other residential street in the world. People own or rent the houses and people live there. Nobody from the cast of Neighbours lives there, and most probably they have never been inside any of the houses. All the inside scenes are filmed at the Global Television Studios.
Gerry gives us a few speeches before letting us walk round the street on our own taking photos. One of the speeches mentions an episode about a “Ben” (I think) who once fell down a manhole in Ramsay Street. Well I have news for you: there is no manhole on Pin Oak Court. Meaning there is no manhole on Ramsay Street either. But never fear – just for filming that episode they brought in a portable manhole!! You couldn’t make it up. Yet they did…
Pin Oak Court is a small cul de sac with just 6 houses on it. Numbered 1-6. Yet in Ramsay Street there were numbers up to 30 something, so how come?? Well basically they use the same houses for multiple houses in the show. They even doctor the street numbers on some of the houses to make it seem real. While standing by number 3, I couldnt help but notice the remnants of a zero beside the 3, which would have made it number 30 Ramsay Street, rather than number 3 Pin Oak Court. By number 2 there was also a noticeable empty “6” by the house number. The fiction had now become reality. And in the same way the reality had become fiction.
The houses looked the same. The blinds and curtains were all done. You couldn’t see in. cars were scattered round the street and in the driveway. At one point a resident came out of number 3 and drove their car away. “That wasn’t Harold Bishop” I shouted! I was finding the whole thing hilarious. There was also a slight path in between one of the houses, which apparently leads to the sports ground/baseball pitch in behind. This path is used to store the cameras and the actors and film crew also hide there sometimes. There isnt a lot of shading in the street and you can imagine the actors getting hot during scenes in the Melbourne sun.
A security guy sits in a car on the street, and gets out ocassionally. The street requires 24 hour security manning. Hardly a surprise. There were a few rules we had to adhere to before entering Pin Oak Court. No nudity, urinating. No trespassing. No stealing mail, no climbing on roofs. The usual stuff. I did walk onto one of the driveways though, imagining Beth (Natalie Imbruglia) once walking up it! You could tell they shot the scenes in this very street. You could see things happening and remember actors standing at certain points. It just all felt so unreal, standing there knowing it wasnt a custom built set and that people with jobs really live there and their families grow up as normal. Having to deal with the filming every now and then. And not just the filming. TWICE every day the Neighbours tour bus drives up the street and eejits like me pose around for photos in a street that really is no different to Bangor’s Marlo Drive.
After a walk round staring an admiring each of the 6 houses, it was time to hold up the street sign and pose for photos. Everything was such a joke and so false. There I stood in Blackburn, Melbourne in a street called Pin Oak Court, pretending to be talking to Mrs Mangle on Ramsay Street, Errinsborough. If there was any consolation, at least I had the right city. That bit was true – I was in Melbourne.
We took it in turns to pose for photos and hold the sign. I got one outside the house where allegedly Kylie Minogue and Natalie Imbruglia have once both lived. I got my photo by the street sign for Pin Oak Court. Actually that’s probably my favourite photo from the trip. At least its real. Me simply standing in a Melbourne suburb by the street sign for any other cul de sac. I had finally done it – visited Pin Oak Court. Soon we were all back in the bus though and Gerry took us round the corner. “Every car that ever leaves Ramsay Street has to turn left out of it” Gerry says. The reason is obvious. If they turned right, you’d see the glaringly obvious real street sign of the street Pin Oak Court. So in true Neighbours style, we turned right to see the baseball court of the Blackburn Orioles. A real baseball team and a real sports area. Where Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan once snogged. Believe it.
Next we have left the entire Blackburn area and I see signs for Doncaster (both English towns, both Melbourne suburbs). I didn’t go to Doncaster, but in 2009 I had gone to the real Doncaster with my old workmate Chris Bilsland to watch Doncaster Rovers v. Tottenham Hotspur in the Carling Cup. Tottenham won that one, in what was a real football match. Anyhow we drove up a carriageway where they once filmed a car crash on Neighbours, getting a real pensioner in the background shot in the spontaneity of it all. On the TV a documentary was on which included interviews by all the popular cast, Lou Carpenter, Charlene Mitchell, Scott Robinson, Beth and Toady. Jason Donovan’s single “Too Many Broken Hearts” even got an airing.
We take a bit of a detour next down Dandenong Road and an area called Orrong. WE are on the hunt to meet a real former or current Neighbours cast member. Gerry eventually drives us down to St Kilda Beach, and outside the famous Palais Theatre. He gets out of the bus and makes a phone call. Our star will be here soon and we all exit the bus. Soon we see a well built gentleman walking down towards us all, with a backpack on, wearing shorts and t-shirt and a baseball cap. Looking as normal as he could. I thought at first that it was the Swedish golf star Jesper Parnevik. But I was wrong it was Daniel O’Connor, who played Ned Parker in Neighbours. Some of the girls recognised him, Lynsey the Welsh girl was obviously a bit of a Neighbours fan and got her Mum to chat on the phone to him!
We all asked him a few questions. It turned out he was in the show from 2005 – 2008. I asked him how much money he made on Neighbours. He didnt give a direct answer but revealed it wasn’t that much so that’s why he ended up going to Holywood, USA and was now in London, UK doing some acting and pantomimes etc. He seemed like a pretty cool bloke. He posed for a photo with me and I got his autograph for my kid brother on the back of the Neighbours postcard which I later sent him. So we had now met a star from Neighbours! From there Gerry gave us all a lift back to the hostel, Urban Central on City Road, Melbourne and that was that over.
“See you tonight for the pub crawl” he said, which was great – Gerry was coming out with us for the organised pub crawl that night, which most of us had decided to go on. There will be another blog entry on that one – a real pub crawl with real people. The fictional visit to Ramsay Street, Lou’s Place, Lassiter’s, Errinsborough was now over. One dream was down…
So in short the Neighbours Tour was absolutely brilliant, made even better by Gerry our Belfast tour guide. It just wouldn’t have been as fun getting driven round in a bus by Susan Kennedy, a real Ramsay Street resident from the suburb of Errinsborough. It costs $50 and is definitely worth it. You can also buy T-shirts, DVDs and merchandise from the Neighbours shop as well. So I can now say I’ve done it – visited Ramsay Street! Or Pin Oak Court…
…and I didn’t fulfill one of my dreams and have a pint at Lassiters. Why not? It doesn’t exist that’s why. Everybody needs good Neighbours.
Where is it? – Ramsay Street, Errinsborough, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Where is it really? – Pin Oak Court, Blackburn, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Celebrities Met – Ned Parker (real name Daniel O’Connor) and Anton Rogan’s cousin.
Tour guide – Gerry from Finaghy, Belfast (who just happenned to be Anton Rogan’s cousin)
Places Visited – Errinsborough High School, Errinsborough Sports Ground, Errinsborough Police Station, Ramsay Street, Lassiter’s, Lou’s Place, Palais Theatre.
My favourite top 3 Neighbours actresses – Kylie Minogue, Natalie Imbruglia and Holly Valance.
Strange Currencies – Ramsay Street Dollars and Cents.
Key Song – The Neighbours Theme Tune
Nationalities Met – Northern Irish, Australian, English, Welsh
Website – www.neighbourstour.com.au and www.neighboursnight.com.au and www.bunyiptours.com
VIDEO ON BOARD THE NEIGHBOURS BUS:
VIDEO IN PIN OAK COURT (AKA RAMSAY STREET):
KYLIE MINOGUE IN NEIGHBOURS:
Her First Ever Scene –
Vintage Charlene –
Vintage Charlene –
NATALIE IMBRUGLIA IN NEIGHBOURS:
THEME TUNE TO NEIGHBOURS: