More TV Memories – Take The High Road.

Take The High Road (ITV, 1980-1994)/High Road (ITV, 1994-2003)

Let’s look back at another soap, but this one isn’t Australian, and as this month is the 40th anniversary of the launch, it’s worth a review. This is a soap that was produced in Scotland, and it became very successful north of the border. It was never really considered to be an A-list soap by ITV though. Despite its success, coverage of the show didn’t exactly fill pages in every issue of Inside Soap or TV Times.

Take The High Road was created by Don Houghton and set in the picturesque village of Glendarroch in the West Highlands. There was the usual mix of characters, because every soap has to contain a battleaxe and a villain to keep viewers interested. Among the most memorable were Isabel Blair, who ran the corner shop, and there was also Mrs Mack, who had a great collection of hats. vlcsnap-00474

But there were lots of other characters who came and went, and they provided many memorable moments. If a misfortune could happen to these people, then it did. And of course, they always had the chance to drown their sorrows down the local pub. However, it could be said that the scheduling of the show caused more trauma for the viewers than the ongoing plots. Firstly, in Scotland it was shown in a primetime slot, where it was as popular as Coronation Street. vlcsnap-00199

South of the border though, it was considered more to be a cult daytime show. There were so many soaps around at the time there was just about enough space in the schedule for it. And then, in 1993 the non-Scottish regions dropped the show. There were so many complaints that it was eventually reinstated, but it would now be about a year behind the pace. vlcsnap-00200

In July 1994, the show’s name was shortened to High Road. This then continued for a while (including a special documentary celebrating the 1,000th episode), before the non-Scottish regions dropped it again, and it left the screen in the Carlton region at the end of 1998, curiously to much less protest this time round. But it continued in Scotland until April 2003, by which point there had been over 1,500 episodes, including a Hogmanay special or two. There were also four variations of the theme music. vlcsnap-00413

There have been plenty of repeat runs of Take The High Road, including on the short-lived late-90s satellite channels Sky Soap and Sky Scottish, and in more recent years on STV Glasgow. There were also some books released that accompanied the show, and the first 100 episodes or so were also released on DVD, but rather surprisingly there didn’t seem to be that much demand for any more. soap0001

More TV Memories – Home And Away.

Home And Away (Seven, 1988-present)

It’s Australian soap time. When Seven dropped Neighbours after a short while, only to see it picked up by rival channel Ten where it became a big success, they began to regret the decision, and decided that it was about time to launch a new mainstream soap that would fill the gap. So after some thinking, Home And Away was created, and much to their relief it did become a hit.

The show was set in the fictional town of Summer Bay in New South Wales. It originally concentrated on the foster home that was run by Pippa and Tom Fletcher. They took in various children who were tearaways or orphans and so on. Of course, they would then move on and be replaced by some more youngsters. This meant that the main core of the cast could always be about 16 years old, meaning that the show would always appeal to teenagers. vlcsnap-00486

So even though I watched it for a while, it probably isn’t a coincidence that I remember enjoying it most when I was in my mid-teens, and for about a year or two I did find the stories of characters including Shane, Angel, Shannon, Jack, and so on all rather interesting, I still remember them all these years later. This also meant that a pub wasn’t a regular feature, you’d be more likely to see people having a milkshake at The Bayside Diner. vlcsnap-00490

There were a few older cast members of course, including Mr Fisher who was the headmaster of the local school, and Alf, who was very grumpy, and is the only character who has been there since the first episode (which is now over 30 years, a record for an Australian TV series). Home And Away was shown in a primetime slot in Australia, the theme music was performed by Karen Boddington and Mark Williams (not that one) and was released as a single in the UK in September 1989, where it reached No. 73. vlcsnap-00488

The show came to ITV in an afternoon slot about a year after the launch in 1989, and the aim was clearly hoping that it would become their equivalent of Neighbours, even showing it twice a day. For a while it did succeed, with very good ratings, earning TV Times covers, and a few episodes were made on location in the UK. It’s a difficult choice to make, but this is among my favourite of the imported soaps from the 80s and 90s. There were also annuals released, along with a few classic episodes on DVD. annual0001

By 2000, ITV had been showing Home And Away for over a decade, and interest had begun to wane. It was then poached by Channel 5, who showed their first episode in July 2001, and it remains there to this day. There have now been over 7,000 episodes. There were also repeats on UK Living and ITV2, where some mid-90s episodes were shown around 2000 for some reason, but it was good seeing my favourite era again. five0001

More TV Memories – A Country Practice.

A Country Practice (Seven, 1981-1993, Ten, 1994)

This is yet another Australian soap, and it was one of the more successful ones. A Country Practice actually wasn’t created by the one and only Reg Watson, instead we have James Davern to thank from JNP Productions. The show could be described as a more rural version The Young Doctors, and a farm also featured, so you’d be as a likely to see a pig as a patient, as an actual person.

The show was mostly set in a small fictional town in New South Wales called Wandin Valley, and we’d meet a variety of characters. Along with the hospital, other locations included a vet, a police station, and of course there was a pub too. This was a show that would go on to do very well in Australia, and after a short while the cast would become familiar names with viewers. vlcsnap-00478

Among the most high-profile cast members was Dr Terence Elliott, although that would be partly because he appeared in more episodes than anyone else. The opening sequence always featured the regular characters, another memorable one was Esme, that old lady with the glasses. A Country Practice was shown twice a week in a primetime slot. Also, unlike most soaps, every episode was titled, and the story played out over two episodes. vlcsnap-00476

To give an indication of how popular the show became, it won several major television awards in the 80s, had very high ratings, and there were also guest appearances by various celebrities as it was a good place to be spotted, and even the Prime Minister took part in one episode. The plan to give viewers a feelgood show that ran for an hour and feature various characters was clearly working. vlcsnap-00479

A Country Practice ran for just over a decade and almost 1,100 episodes, I didn’t realise that there were as many as that. But in 1993, it was dropped by Seven after 12 years. Then, a year later, rival channel Ten decided to pick it up, and make some changes. It was somewhat past its best by this point though, and it ended for good after only 30 more episodes. vlcsnap-00485

A Country Practice was shown on ITV in an afternoon slot, where it received a good following. And you might be beginning to realise just how many imported soaps were being squeezed into this slot while there was a big demand for them. Again, every region showed it at their own pace, with Thames beginning in 1982, and the run was so long that the final episode wasn’t shown until 1996 on their successor Carlton. There were also repeat runs on Sky One, and even long-gone channel Carlton Select! Plenty of episodes have also been released on DVD, but only in Australia. acp0001

More TV Memories – Sons And Daughters.

Sons And Daughters (Seven, 1982-1987)

Here’s a look back at yet another soap that comes from Down Under, and this one was popular throughout the 80s. Was it created by Reg Watson? Why, of course it was! Sons And Daughters was destined to be a little more glamorous than most other TV soaps around at the time, it was shown in a primetime slot and was essentially an attempt to create an Australian equivalent of Dallas (but on a much smaller budget).

The opening sequence is rather memorable, as it featured sepia-tinted close-ups of the miserable-looking cast, accompanied by the theme song that was performed by Kerri Biddell And Mick Leyton, which was also released as a single in the UK, it entered the chart in April 1984 and reached No. 68. It definitely had a go at trying to stand out more than the average soap. vlcsnap-00466

The show originally focused around two feuding families, the Hamiltons, who lived in Sydney, and the Palmers, who lived in Melbourne. This was the first soap to be set in both cities, and there were plenty of scenes on location. Some of them then discover that they are related to each other, and this is where the excitement really begins, as the secrets begin to unravel and everyone’s lives become increasingly entangled. vlcsnap-00469

As the episodes proceed, there are plenty of cliffhangers (which were always taken to the extreme for the final episode in the series), there were eventually plenty of other families who took part, and just about every far-fetched plot was used (a lot of shock secret relatives!). Again, lot of of the cast members went on to appear in lots of other soaps. vlcsnap-00471

There were 972 episodes of Sons And Daughters, again ratings had began to slump by the end as all of the ideas were exhausted, and it ran for just short of six years. It was shown on ITV in an afternoon slot, usually before CITV, seemingly when they had run out of episodes of The Young Doctors, but it did gain a decent-sized following. Each region showed it at its own pace, but on Thames it ran from 1983-1990. It was also repeated on UK Gold from 1992-1996. vlcsnap-00472

It was then repeated on Channel 5 from 1998, and after a short while it was usually shown around 5am, which some might consider was the best place for it. Their aim was to duplicate the success of Prisoner: Cell Block H which had been shown in that slot and done well. However, even in that timeslot it still got higher ratings than their home-grown soap Family Affairs (only kidding!). It also won an award or two, and the highlights have bee released on DVD.

More TV Memories – Neighbours.

Neighbours (Seven, 1985, Ten, 1986-2010, Ten Peach, 2011-present)

When doing pieces about soaps, sometimes it is difficult to know where to begin, because there are so many characters, so many stories, and so many episodes that you can choose from. This is one of the more successful soaps, indeed, it is now the longest-running drama series in Australian TV history. But it could’ve been very different, as it almost didn’t happen.

This is yet another soap that was created by Reg Watson, aren’t we grateful. “Everybody needs good Neighbours“, as Barry Crocker said in the opening theme, and he wasn’t wrong. The show was set in the fictional town of Erinsborough, which was supposed to be in Melbourne. It concentrated on Ramsay Street, and originally featured some of the lives of the families that lived on the street. vlcsnap-00458

These included the Ramsays and the Robinsons. Everyone did seem to be rather friendly with each other on the show, almost every scene seemed to feature someone at the door who has come from nearby because they wanted to enter and tell them something. Neighbours launched on Seven in March 1985, but it didn’t make much of an impact, and it ended after 170 episodes later in that year. vlcsnap-00460

But wait, because it was at this point that rival channel Ten picked up the show, and relaunched it at the start of 1986. This was when it finally began to take off. In October 1986, Neighbours launched in the UK, when BBC1 realised that it might be a good idea to put some actual programming in their daytime schedule, instead of just showing endless hours of Pages From Ceefax, how could they. vlcsnap-00459

And then in January 1988, the repeat was moved to the slot after the end of CBBC, and this was when it really became a success, even though the episodes were still about a year behind Australia at this point. Several topics were handled, along with all the heartbreaks, all the setbacks, all the triumphs, viewers became engrossed, and some episodes achieved higher ratings than the entire population of Australia. And when Clive James made a cameo as a postman, you can imagine the excitement. vlcsnap-00462

There was also a lot of merchandise, including episodes being released on VHS, a board game, and endless repeats on UK Gold. It was also been shown around the world. As time went by though, the cast changed, and more memorable families came along, including the Carpenters, the Kennedys, and the ghost of Harold Bishop. It also spawned more pop stars than any other soap, but as is always the case, slowly its moment in the spotlight began to pass. vlcsnap-00463

The ratings began to slump, and in February 2008, Neighbours left BBC1 and moved to Channel 5, where it remains to this day, although for many people it’s reached the “is that still going?” phase. There have now been over 8,300 episodes, and the 35th anniversary is being celebrated soon, but for a short while viewers really did think that it was the perfect blend of everything that they wanted in a soap. harold0001

The YouTube Files – Richmond Hill.

Richmond Hill (Ten, 1988-1989)

It’s about time for another soap review. When Neighbours came to the UK, after a slow start, it achieved large ratings that any primetime show would’ve been satisfied with. So after this success British TV channels were very eager to import any Australian soaps to fill the daytime schedule, and by the late-80s they seemed there were lots of them being shown. This is one that I don’t remember from the time, but I have been interested in finding out more, and I managed to track down some episodes on YouTube.

Richmond Hill seemed to have a lot going for it. The show was created by Reg Watson, who was also behind Neighbours which was at the peak of its populartity in the late-80s, and unsurprisingly it was sold as “if you like Neighbours… you’ll like this!”. It was shown in a primetime slot, and the episodes were about an hour long. You can probably guess what the fate of this one was. vlcsnap-00453

The show was set in a small fictional sunny town near Sydney. The various families played out their lives, accompanied by some cheesy incidental music. Also featuring prominently was a police station. Some actors who are already established in soap were among the cast, including former members of Prisoner: Cell Block H, Sons And Daughters, and the mighty The Young Doctors. When I was younger, I did think that there were only about 25 actors in Australia, because the same ones appeared in all the soaps. vlcsnap-00454

There was also a younger generation of cast members featured, and one who went on to bigger things was Emily Symons, who played Anne Costello with a big late-80s hairstyle (in her TV debut). After this, she would join Home And Away, and she also appeared in British soap Emmerdale for many years, before returning to Summer Bay in the late-2000s. vlcsnap-00452

Richmond Hill seemed to receive a very average response from viewers and critics, it wasn’t the most action-packed of soaps. There were 91 episodes, and it all ended rather abruptly in 1989, with no proper final episode to finish everything off. They didn’t even get the opportunity to randomly blow up the entire cast on a boat, which is what usually happens in faltering soaps. It was forgotten rather quickly, having totally failed to live up to the hype. Strewth. vlcsnap-00455

Richmond Hill was shown in an afternoon slot on ITV in the late-80s. I don’t know if it was shown in every region though, but it was briefly shown on Thames. It didn’t make much of an impact with viewers though, and when Home And Away took off it soon vanished, not even gaining a cult following in this country. It was then repeated on a satellite channel in the early-90s, but it has barely been seen since, and there has been no DVD release. I’ll take a look back at some more soaps from Down Under soon.