Dee Woods: Don't take away my Home and Away you flamin' galahs!
But they said we belonged together…forever and ever?
If you experienced a pang of sadness when you heard the recent rumours that Home and Away might be facing the axe, then you’re not alone. It’s one of those shows many Irish people claim to have “not seen in years”, yet it’s a big ratings’ draw in our country. The Home and Away closet must be a pretty big one – you know who you are!
I wouldn’t call Home and Away my guilty pleasure because I don’t feel the least bit guilty in saying I’m a lifelong fan of the show.
Sure, it’s got corny storylines, its stars are impossible-looking and it’s set in a place where winter never comes (think Love Island without the diary room) but I’m not looking for reality when I switch on my Aussie soap. I’m looking to escape just that. And H&A has been the perfect teatime accompaniment in my house for three decades. It’s actually hard to imagine sitting down on a weekday evening without it.
Long before the ‘Blur or Oasis?’ battle took place in schoolyards up and down the country, we were choosing our ‘Home and Away or Neighbours?’ camps. You couldn’t possibly keep up with the breaktime goss if you didn’t watch at least one of these soaps back in my day. There was one clear winner for me: young people with young people’s problems set against the backdrop of sand and sunshine. What was not to love?
Of course the earlier episodes were of their time. If you compare clips of the shows from the 80s to now on YouTube you’ll probably wonder how it ever made it out of the decade. Cheesy music, dreary sets and flat scripts have been replaced with big budgets and production values and racy storylines over the years. Not to mention the actors’ fake tan and flashing flesh contract clauses (I’m assuming that to be the case).
So despite all its efforts to evolve with audience’s demands, word on the beach street now is that after 30 years of drama, Home and Away just may not be able to keep up anymore. The Seven network in Australia claims H&A lost half its audience recently, although the show still averages well over half a million viewers in its home country alone. The most recent figures I could find show it’s also watched by 60 million people in 50 countries around the world, including ours where it racks up 180,000 viewers between RTÉ 1 and 2. Enough one would think to stem the tide?
Ten years ago, I went to Australia with a backpack and not much else. One of the first things on my to-do list was to visit ‘Summer Bay’ aka Sydney’s Palm Beach. It didn’t disappoint.
After years of watching the surf through a screen, I was watching it in real life with those trademark trees flanking the wooden posts down to the beach where so many of Summer Bay’s troubled souls have pondered their problems. (I’d love to know how many times the phrase “I thought I’d find you here” has been uttered over the last 31 years).
With live on-location shoots happening in front of our eyes, we got to nab actors for photos – no point in trying to act cool now – and chat to some of the behind the scenes staff. I was astounded at just how much work goes into churning out a 5-episode-a-week show. With so many actors going through so many plotlines simultaneously and so many locations to shoot at, there are a lot of balls in the air for the H&A production team.
We also learned that the actors we were watching filming outdoor scenes on Palm Beach wouldn't be doing the matching indoor shots at Seven's studio until a full week later. Look closely next time you’re watching and you might notice the hair and make-up doesn’t exactly match up on someone who leaves the diner and, say, heads out to the beach. We watched polaroids being taken of actors’ looks for continuity. And that’s not counting those River Boys’ tattoos that have to be painted on every time!
If you ever notice the giant houses set in the hill sloping to the strand it’s not surprising to learn Palm Beach is an affluent area of Sydney. Since me and my now-husband were in a camper van, we got to hang on there long after the fan bus tours had left and watch the night time filming too. The whole experience was magical. Not just for the H&A fan in me but because it’s a truly stunning part of the world.
This one-time carefree soap fan has grown into a busy, working mother of two who looks forward to her daily beachside escapism. How many other daily TV shows can you describe as feelgood, clean fun? Sixty million viewers can’t be wrong and this one believes it’d be a crying shame if Home and Away was taken off our screens. Rack off and leave our soap alone! Flamin’ galahs.
Dee Woods’ Lunchbreak is on Radio Nova weekdays 1-3pm. Also her love for nostalgia has her presenting Friday Night 80s from 7-10pm on Fridays. @RaDeeOh