Monday 11 February 2008

Perfect Blend

Today's post was going to be about On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, as I've just come from Book Group where we discussed it. I was going to introduce the novel, say that I liked it, muse about the characters and the successful avoidance of a villain/victim scenario; maybe express surprise that I've read four count-'em-four of McEwan's novels; tell you about the group's response... but then I discovered a post about On Chesil Beach here... by me. Oh. So I have already written about it.

Instead, we're going to cast our eyes over to something rather less literary. Well, not literary at all. What's the opposite of literary? This. It is Neighbours. And today was a big day for followers of this Australia soap opera - it moved channels. Before you slope away to look at the view or flick through the newspaper, stay with me. Actually, you can probably skip the next bit. I'm just going to comment on the soap for a bit... So, Neighbours has been with the BBC for longer than I've been alive, and after 23 years a bidding way means that it's moved to the least successful of the terrestrial channels, Five (which was once Channel Five, but has jettisoned the 'Channel' bit). More importantly, Five is a channel my digital television refuses to pick
up... and so I have to go to a friend's house everyday. So worth it.

In its heyday, Neighbours got in excess of 18 million viewers in the UK - this is down at about 5 or 6 million now, but 120 million worldwide. There is sun, family, not a lot happens but it happens in a friendly way - everything exciting or tragic is offset by a fun run or a BBQ competition. Not for Neighbours the gloom of Coronation Street (I mean, listen to their respective theme tunes - it tells you everything) or the drama of Eastenders - they're happy meandering along with the occasional 'plane crash, and a lot of borrowed casserole dishes. You'd think they could just buy their own. The characters are all nice (Paul was evil, but then had an operation to remove a brain tumour, which turned him nice. As our American cousins would say, go figure); most are attractive; many are funny - that's something Neighbours does better than any other soap - humour.

Where is all this going, then? I'm talking about the lowbrow; the distractions for when I'm not flicking through Ulysees or reciting Latin to myself (ahem... or not). T. S Eliot idolised a music hall performer, Marie Lloyd. Shakespeare thrust dancing troupes into his plays. I daresay Chaucer read Heat magazine. What's your vice? Where do you leave the literature behind and enjoy something shamefully lowbrow, but, paradoxically, without feeling any shame? I started watching Neighbours when I was about 12 or 13, and am thoroughly addicted. If it stopped being shown on UK screens, I'd move to Australia. And I don't see that as being at odds with loving Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen... should I?

I'm aware I may just be locking myself in the stocks and awaiting the rotten apples... but I'd like to think that someone, somewhere out there empathises? No? Just me?

Bring on the apples.


  1. Not sure if it's a vice but it sure ain't literary - The Simpsons. And who says the Americans have no sense of irony...?

  2. Oh, Neighbours on Channel 5. So strange. Neighbours with adverts? Hmmm.

    I remember running home for tea in summer of 1987 (a wee child of seven) and hearing the Neighbours music blare from every house I passed. The streets were empty. Like a nuclear holocaust. Or the World Cup.

    P.S I couldn't possibly admit to watching America's Next Top Model. Several seasons. I also couldn't admit to being deliriously excited when I discovered they were filming Scandinavia's Next Top Model in my NYC hotel lobby. (I always did wonder if they could see me lurking in the background, trying to look inconspicuous whilst attempting to fathom which girl was being sent home. It became clear when one lovely gal rushed by in floods of tears. Poor thing.). Nuff said.

  3. I watch Neighbors whenever I am in the UK, and have done for years!

  4. Strangely enough I used to watch Neighbours when I was in Oxford. And so, apparently did all the undergraduates -- when I was a part-time tutor, I found out very soon that it was no good arranging tutorials during those magic hours when everyone was glued to Ramsay Street. Coincidentally I am about to blog about McEwan and agree entirely with your opinions here.

  5. I remember Neighbours from when Kylie and Jason were in it, so that will date me. Are Madge and Harold still going? And wasn't there someone called Joe Mangle? It's all coming back...

  6. Well, since I don't recite Latin to myself and I'm terrified of Ulysses, I'm not sure I ever hit the word "highbrow", but when I need a mental break I watch either House, M.D. or NCIS -- neither of which take themselves too seriously. Love that.

    Sadly, I've never seen Neighbors, Coronation Street, or Eastenders-- not even when I've visited the UK.

  7. Nice to know I'm not the only one!

    Bookfool - don't worry, all the Latin I know is gleaned from Just William... and you have inadvertently seen an ex-Neighbours cast member! The Australian in House (Casey? Cage? Chase? something like that) was Billy Kennedy.

    Karen - Madge died in 2001 or so, very sad. Harold still going! Joe Mangel's daughter, Sky, came back and was around for a while, before launching an unsuccessful pop career. Joe himself was back in for six months or so.

  8. Oh dear Simon, I'm an Australian and I don't even watch Neighbours. I was always more of a Home and Away girl; if I watched anything. I do have the piano music for the Neighbours theme song though:)

    I guess my guilty TV pleasure is Gilmore Girls! I just love it - but lots of literary references though.


  9. Sim, I could mention a few far lower-brow things you enjoy other than Neighbours, but....
    as it's Lent, I'll refrain :o) x

  10. My name is Ruth and I used to be a NEIGHBOURS addict in the late 80s and possibly into the early 90s.
    Toasted sandwich for lunch & Neighbours a winning combination.
    I must also admit to listening to the Archers. This addiction started in utero on the World Service and despite all attempts to wean me off the aforementioned radio soap there appers to be no cure.


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