The street that gave us Harold Bishop’s return from the dead and Bouncer’s dream, and where good Neighbours became good friends, it was must-see teatime viewing for generations. It was the home of Kylie Minogue and Margot Robbie before they became mega stars, the street that gave us Harold Bishop’s return from the dead and Bouncer’s dream, and the street where good Neighbours became good friends.
While the soap moved from the BBC to Channel 5 and lost UK fans over the years, it was always more than simply a TV show for people who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s.
From Paul’s affair with his wife’s twin sister – discovered by the baby monitor! – and Todd’s death while trying to prevent Phoebe from having an abortion, to the tornado and plane crash in recent years, Neighbours delivered typical soap melodrama, tragedy, and sexy affairs, but as the sunnier, more glamorous Australian cousin of its British counterparts.
While the big screen and polished dramas receive critical accolades, the great majority of viewers will never witness the affection that soap operas develop with their viewers. The personalities, the (usually) welcoming faces who invite us into their highs and lows and supply hot subjects for the school playground and, let’s be honest, office catch-ups, are a constant in our lives.
And none more so than Alan Fletcher’s Dr. Karl Kennedy. He and his on-screen wife Susan (played by Jackie Woodburne) are officially Ramsay Street’s longest-serving residents after 28 years in Erinsborough.
Despite Dr Karl’s relationships (remember Susan’s slap?) and illegitimate kid, as well as a recent questionable investment, he and Susan are still together, and he is undoubtedly Neighbours’ most popular character. He has a fan base as a musician as well, first with his band Waiting Room and now as he prepares to release his first solo album.
So, as we get ready to say our goodbyes to Ramsay Street (sob), who better to talk to?
“On the 10th of June, we’ll finish filming the last scenes,” Fletcher explains (must remember to call him that, the urge to write Dr Karl is strong). “I’m taking a vacation from Neighbours until mid-May, so I’ll return and do the final four weeks of the programme, which promise to be – and this is a huge statement – probably the best episodes of Neighbours ever made, since we have a lot of returning guests,” she says.
“It’s going to be a complete filmmaking hurricane, and I think the fans will adore it.”
So far, Harold Bishop (Ian Smith) has been confirmed to return, and he claims there are many more on the way. Is it possible that Kylie and Jason will bring back Scott and Charlene, as well as Margot Robbie and Russell Crowe? Is Fletcher able to share anything about how the story will end? Surely it couldn’t have all been a Dallas-style dream? Or, like Byker Grove, could it end with a T-Rex attack? (It’s true.)
“Well, if I knew,” Fletcher adds, “I would dearly want to [provide a spoiler].” “Here’s the deal… I can’t tell you something about which I am unaware. That last episode’s ink is still drying; they waited as long as they could to write it since they didn’t know who would return… and now they’re keeping it so closely guarded.
“I don’t know when I’ll find out because it’s such top-secret information.” I imagine it’ll be three weeks before the event, and my script will arrive in my mailbox. So I could call you up on the sly.” (Obviously, Sky News is putting pressure on him to do so.)
He says, “I’m assuming that whatever the last scene is, everyone will show up and fill the studio.” “This has happened before when actors have left the show, where they’re recording their final moment and there are 150 people in the studio, in the dark, waiting for the sequence to finish, and it might just be two people on the set, you know, discussing their love.”
“I have no doubt that this will be remarkable. It’ll be quite emotional. I believe that many people will be stumped for words. They will be at a loss for what to do. “What do we do now?” it’ll be like.
Karl and Susan to relocate to the United Kingdom?
Has he ever considered creating a Karl and Susan spin-off because they’re such beloved characters? “What would be fun is if Karl and Susan went on a trip around the UK and ended up as tourists in every UK soap,” he offers.
“We could be in EastEnders and go for a pint at the pub, and then I could be asked to help save a life on the street on the set of Doctors.” We’d have a great time together. Go up to Corrie, then go over to Emmerdale. Brilliant.”
Is it possible for him to keep any Neighbours memorabilia? “There’s one piece of memorabilia in particular that will be incredibly crucial to obtain,” he says. “It’s Helen Daniels’ painting of the three Kennedy children, which hangs over our fireplace. It’s been there for almost a quarter-century. That’s hilarious.
“I also have a photograph of myself from the 1970s, when I had a moustache and semi-long hair, which was taken for a play and belongs to me.” So on the last day of filming, the first thing I’m going to do is rush over and actually grab what belongs to me.
“However, I doubt there will be any opportunity to slyly pinch anything because I believe it will be stored as historical material.” Basically, it’s history, and I believe it’ll ultimately end up in a museum.”
‘I don’t want to be a pop star,’
Fletcher admits that acting after Neighbours might be “a little tough,” because “of course, everyone links me with Dr Karl.” He has decided to focus on music for the time being.
He began to realise his affinity for Americana and folk music in 2020, after performing with rock band Waiting Room from 2004 and publishing two albums and touring the UK ten times in eight years, as well as keeping a weekly residency in Melbourne for 12 years.
Dispatches, the resulting album, is expected to be released later this year, with the first track – Sorry Is The Word, a duet with former Neighbours star Alyce Platt (Jen Handley and subsequently Olivia Bell; changing characters is permissible in soap operas) – being published earlier this month.
“The music is something I’m very excited to work on, and I’m looking forward to taking a break so I can actually compose and record it,” Fletcher says. “Right now, I have ten songs, but you know what? It’s extremely probable that I’ll write another one that I like better, and certain things will be dropped. So, sure, I’m excited about the future.”
“I’m not searching for any form of pop celebrity or anything,” he says afterwards. I just want to play my music as honestly as possible, regardless of how many people are watching.”
Fletcher says his solo shows will be very different from his appearances with Waiting Room back in the 2000s, which often took place at university nights as students turned out to see Dr Karl on stage. Inspired by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, and Keith Urban, Fletcher says his solo shows will be very different from his appearances with Waiting Room back in the 2000s – which often took place at university nights as students turned out to see
He says, “That was party time.” “There’s a lot of silly hopping around, but the music is a little more sombre.” And when I perform in the UK, I’ll be performing as a three-piece, so the focus will be on the words and what I’m singing rather than the shenanigans.”
What’s the deal with the blue box?
Fletcher also has his “evening with” show, The Doctor Will See You Now, which is slated to tour the UK in September following the cancellation of COVID. And, of all the inquiries people have for Dr. Karl, the one about his sex life is the most common.
“Everyone wants to know what’s in Karl and Susan’s blue box under their bed, since it’s their marital help,” he jokes. “It’s practically hinted that it’s a big part of their relationship, but no one knows what’s in it.”
Fletcher is keeping quiet about this one, much like he did about the ending of Neighbours. You’ll have to wait until the end to discover if a blue box revelation is included in the grand finale. Perhaps improbable, but stranger things have happened in soap operas.