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Home and Away (or H&A as it’s referred to by fans) is a long-running Australian soap opera, centring around the inhabitants of Summer Bay, a fictional coastal town in New South Wales. Beginning on 17 January 1988, the half-hour drama has run through the ratings year since, screening on the Seven Network in Australia.
It is also syndicated across the world, airing on Channel Five in the UK and RTÉ Television in Ireland, as well as in a host of other countries, including New Zealand, Norway, Lithuania, Greece, Estonia, France and Belgium. It is also shown through various streaming platforms worldwide. The series, which has found huge popularity in the UK and Ireland, has gone on to become the second-longest-running soap in Australian TV history — only rival Neighbours has been on for longer.
The show has launched the careers of several Aussie megastars, including Chris Hemsworth, the late Heath Ledger, Isla Fisher, Dannii Minogue and Naomi Watts. The show has won 46 Logie Awards from 153 nominations, making it the most awarded program in Logie history — it was inducted into the Logie Hall Of Fame in 2015.
Home and Away in development
Home and Away was created for the Seven Network by veteran drama executive Alan Bateman, who launched the soap in 1988 as an alternative to Channel Ten’s ratings juggernaut, Neighbours. He got the idea for the series, about a family raising foster children in a small coastal community, after visiting Kangaroo Point in New South Wales. During his visit he noticed residents were up in arms about the proposed construction of a foster home, worried foster children from the inner city living in the area would create tension in the small coastal town — perfect fodder for TV drama.
“Nobody in the community wanted them to move in and I began to wonder how streetwise city kids would adapt to the new lifestyle,” Bateman told TV writer Andrew Mercado for his book, Super Aussie Soaps: Behind the Scenes of Australia's Best Loved TV Shows.
“Suddenly I thought, ‘There is my slice of life in a community.’”
Bateman was commissioned to work on the series by then-Seven Network owner Christopher Scase, and after three years in development — during which time it had a name change from ‘Refuge’ to ‘Home and Away’ — the show went to air in January 1988.
Home and Away: the early years
Home and Away premiered as a ninety-minute pilot episode (later referred to as the Home and Away movie), which introduced viewers to the Fletcher family, which consisted of Tom (Roger Oakley) and Pippa (Vanessa Downing), and their five foster children, Frank Morgan (Alex Papps), Carly Morris (Sharyn Hodgson), Lynn Davenport (Helena Bozich), Steven Matheson (Adam Willits) and Sally Fletcher (Kate Ritchie). In the first series, the family took in a sixth foster child, Bobby Simpson (Nicolle Dickson), whose character would go on to become one of the soap’s most popular.
Along with the central family, there were a host of other regular characters, all inhabitants of Summer Bay, including town curmudgeon Alf “Stone the Flamin’ Crows” Stewart (Ray Meagher, who remains on the show to this day) and his wife Ailsa (Judy Nunn), high school principal Donald Fisher (Norman Coburn), and loveable caravan park inhabitants Neville (Frank Lloyd) and Floss McPhee (Sheila Kennelly) — remember them? They owned that awesome old Gypsey caravan!
Home and Away controversy
Right from the get-go, this Aussie soap — which has always aired in a family-friendly dinnertime time slot (it started at 6.30 pm, then moved to 7 pm) — has courted controversy. During season one, it didn’t shy away from some seriously hard-hitting topics, including teen pregnancy, rape, suicide and drug and alcohol addiction in storylines. It has since had its ‘G’ classification changed to ‘PG’, but even in its early days, it had people talking — anyone remember Carly’s rape? It was considered truly shocking at the time.
Since then, all manner of terrible things have happened at the Bay — they’ve had stalkers, cult kidnappings, car, bus, plane and boating accidents, and that’s not even counting the numerous cyclone, storm, flood, landslide, earthquake and bushfire storylines. And who knew, there’s even the odd disused mine shaft dotted about. Yep, Summer Bay a truly perilous place to live.
The soap has been involved in some real-life tragedy as well, with former castmember Ben Unwin passing away at the age of 41 in late 2019. Ben played Jesse McGregor from 1996–2000 and then 2002–2005 before making a career change and becoming a lawyer.
Where is Home and Away filmed?
While Summer Bay is fictitious, the location where it’s filmed is very real — and you can even visit! Home and Away is filmed on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, mostly in and around Palm Beach, which is about an hour’s drive north from Sydney, and at Fisherman's Beach in nearby Collaroy.
Though all the interiors are filmed at the network’s studios at Technology Park in Sydney’s Redfern, exterior locations, including the surf club, Alf’s bait shop and the original house in the caravan park (now owned by Leah, played by Ada Nicodemou) actually exist.
The ‘Jackeroo Ranch’ estate in Kenthurst, NSW, which was used as the original exterior set for the Fletcher’s house, was destroyed when bushfires ripped through the area in 2002. Sets were then moved to Waratah Park Earth Sanctuary from 2007-2009, then the Lane Cove River Tourist Park from 2010-2015, before the house was eventually rebuilt in 2015. Exterior scenes are once again filmed there, though now the house has a grey roof instead of the recognisable red one from years gone by.
Who is Home and Away’s longest-running character?
Alf Stewart, of course! His portrayer, Ray Meagher, holds the Guinness World Record for the longest-serving actor in an Australian serial. Everyone’s favourite bait-shop-owner-turned-Mayor has been on the show since the very beginning — that’s a whopping 32 years! And he’s not done yet — last year Meagher, 74, signed on for another three years playing his iconic character.
“I don't really think much about retirement,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald at the time.
Other long-standing castmembers include Alf’s wife Ailsa (played by prolific novelist Judy Nunn, who left the show in 2000 after 12 years), Norman Coburn who played Donald Fisher (he left in 2003 after 15 years) and arguably the show’s biggest star, Kate Ritchie, who joined the show from its pilot episode in 1987 as eight-year-old Sally Fletcher and left in 2008 after 20 years. She still has fond memories of her time on the show, telling TV Week last year, “it was such an incredible part of my life and I still feel so fondly about it.”
Other cast members who have clocked up serious mileage in recent years include Lynne McGranger (loveable Irene), who has been on the show for 27 years, making her the longest-serving female cast member, Ada Nicodemou (who plays Leah Patterson-Baker) who has been with the show since 2000 and Emily Symons (Marilyn), who has been with the show on and off since the 1980s.
Home and Away is one of Australia’s most successful exports
The Aussie soap has been sold to a whopping 80 countries around the world, making it one of Australia’s most successful media exports — in its heyday, it would regularly attract in excess of eight million viewers in the UK alone.
Home and Away cancelled?
Despite its enormous global reach and millions of dedicated fans, rumours swirled in mid-2019 that the long-running soap was about to be cancelled. Globally, ratings of the drama had fallen, thanks, in part, to a shift in viewing habits of its key younger demographic, who now prefer to consume TV on-demand.
Thankfully Irene, aka Lynne McGranger was on hand to set things straight.
“NO!!! Ok getting s****y now!! To my knowledge this is [horse poo],” she wrote on social media.
“Enough already. We are not going anywhere. I turn up to work. People film me. I get paid. Pretty sure that means the show will keep going to air. AND we’re 5-6 months ahead with the filming.”
Seven Studios, who make the show, continue to produce it predominantly for the overseas market. With viewing figures in Australia at record lows, it’s simply not financially feasible to make it purely for a local audience.
COVID-19 and Home and Away
While McGranger was able to boast of production being 5-6 months ahead last year, the same can’t be said 12 months on. Last year’s deadly Australian bushfires, which were followed in quick succession by the unfolding Coronavirus crisis in early 2020, meant production had to temporarily shut down, meaning the show got behind on their schedule and are yet to catch up.
“[Seven Studios] confirmed that no cast or crew had tested positive for COVID-19, but that the decision was made due to the increasing logistical hurdles related to the COVID-19 situation,” a Seven spokesperson said of the decision to halt production.
On April 13 Home and Away returned to the air in Australia and in mid-May filming also resumed, albeit radically altered to accommodate social distancing guidelines for the actors. Don’t expect to see any steamy kisses on-screen any time soon.
Home and Away’s famous guest stars
Over the years a number of super famous guest stars have made an appearance in Summer Bay. Everyone from John Farnham — who famously serenaded little Sally Fletcher in the early days of the show — to Sia, Michael Palin, Ian Thorpe, Lleyton Hewitt, Ed Sheeran, Jessica Mauboy and British girl band Atomic Kitten have shown up.
Who sings the Home and Away theme tune?
It’s a banger, alright! The original theme song was written by Mike Perjanik, and sung by Karen Boddinton and Mark Williams — that version was used from 1988 until mid-1995. Since then there have been eight more incarnations, and for a while there, no vocals were used at all. Thankfully, in 2018 the original vocals made a comeback of sorts and these days an uncredited male singer belts out the last two lines of the theme: ‘Closer each day, Home and Away.’
Home and Away and Hollywood
Home and Away is a veritable training ground for Aussie actors, with some of our biggest acting experts having cut their teeth on their craft in Summer Bay. Some were cast as total unknowns — Isabel Lucas, who went on to star in Hollywood blockbuster Transformers 2, was cast as Tasha in 2003 when she had no acting experience. Producers wrote her character in as a girl who spoke only Pig Latin.
Some, like ex-Bachelorette star Sam Frost and ex-Australian Idol Axel Whitehead already had a profile. Arguably the show’s biggest export is Chris Hemsworth (aka Thor), whose first professional acting gig was playing Kim Hyde on the show.
Co-star Ray Meagher says he knew instantly the Aussie actor was destined for great things.
“As soon as Chris walked in, he looks like a Greek God, he's a good actor and he was always working on his craft to get better. I knew he'd go far. You would have to have been an idiot not to know,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.