You know we belong together...
Lisa Jewell on the Irish love affair with Aussie soap Home and Away
Twenty years ago this week, a new soap opera called Home and Away appeared on Australian TV screens. It followed the lives of Tom and Pippa Fletcher and their ever-increasing brood of foster children who always seemed to get into scrapes and dramas.
In the intervening years, the show has become a fixture on Irish television and a whole generation have grown up watching the goings on at the Surf Club and hearing Alf Stewart shout 'Flaming galah'.
Home and Away started airing in Ireland during its first series' run in Australia. The show regularly tops the ratings for RTE Two and is most popular among younger people.
"It's kind of like an institution -- it's part of growing up in Ireland," says Katie Galvin (22), who was involved in setting up the Home and Away Society in DCU two years ago. "Most people watch the show -- even those who pretend not to."
Fellow member Louise Bruton (20) agrees that it's somewhat of a guilty pleasure.
"I think it's part of the Irish thing of 'We watch it but we don't really watch it'."
The society was formed out of a group of college friends who all got together to watch the soap. They decided to put together an official society and attracted 140 new members the first year and 60 more the following year. They get together for screenings, parties and have even made it over to the UK to see Home and Away stars appear in pantomime.
Both Louise and Katie have been watching the show since an early age.
"I think the woman who babysat us watched it and I think I watched it from around four or five years of age," says Louise. "The thing I like about Home and Away is how ridiculous and outlandish it is. The characters are living in a parallel universe -- you can be hit by lightening nine times and no one will bat an eyelid. And there are so many mineshafts falling in and floods hitting the town.
"I love the transformation of characters -- one character will enter the town as a rebel and, within a month, they've become a goody two shoes and become a lifeguard or something else. Nothing makes sense in the show but you get so into it, it doesn't matter."
Like lots of other people her age, Katherine Kenny (27) used to watch the show when she'd come home from school.
"It was usually the first thing I'd watch when I came in from getting off the bus," she says. "I didn't start watching it faithfully until I went to college -- I'd sit around the house watching it with flatmates."
Katherine and her boyfriend Mal O'Brien, who live in Dublin, tend to stick the programme on when they get in from work and are preparing dinner.
"We don't watch it religiously -- it's a case of if we're home, we'll watch it," says Mal (31). "It's the kind of show that if you miss a few episodes, you can pick up the storyline again."
Two years ago, Katherine set up a Home and Away blog (www.homeandawayireland.com). She and Mal regularly post about old and current storylines. "It's fairly irreverent -- we don't take the show too seriously," says Mal.
And so with 20 years under its belt, what's in store for the future of Home and Away?
The soap has organised a number of anniversary events this year and there's also the question of how Summer Bay stalwart Sally Fletcher will leave the show. Let's hope it's not in another flamin' natural disaster!
Julian McMahon now plays womanising plastic surgeon Christian Troy in the TV show Nip/Tuck. But back in 1990, the actor had a recurring role on Home and Away as soldier Ben Lucini who married Carly (one of Pippa's original foster kids).
Isla Fisher appeared as troublesome teen Shannon Reed from 1994 to 1997. She later took on roles in the films Scooby-Doo and The Wedding Crashers and is now engaged to comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen, with whom she had a baby girl, Olive. Following in the footsteps of her big sis, Dannii Minogue (below) also became a soap star (albeit in the rival show to Neighbours). She played teen rebel Emma Jackson for less than a year before quitting to launch a pop career. Rumours have surfaced that she'll make a guest appearance during the show's anniversary year.
Several big name Hollywood stars made fleeting appearances on the show -- Heath Ledger had a bit part role as a surfer, Naomi Watts played a paraplegic character and Guy Pearce had a six-week stint as teacher David Croft.
Summer Bay favourite Sally Fletcher nearly met her maker at the end of 2006. Viewers were glued to the screens to see if Sally could survive a vicious stabbing by disturbed teen Rocco -- thankfully, she lived to see another day.
Angel walks again
After a two-year relationship, Angel and Shane were set to tie the knot but accident-prone Alf Stewart managed to knock down the bride before her wedding day. In a blatantly tearjerking moment, Angel got out of her wheelchair and walked up the aisle.
Bobby comes out of the fridge
This storyline was like something out of The Twilight Zone! Ailsa, the wife of Alf Stewart, was going through a nervous breakdown and was dosed up on tranquilizers. Late one night, she saw the ghost of her friend, former rebel teen Bobby (who had drowned two years previously), coming out of the fridge door to impart some pearls of wisdom to her.