Goodbye Neighbours: Question time with producers Ben Michael and Stephen Vagg

We asked two former story producers Ben Michael and Stephen Vagg, as well as the show’s final ever, Shane Isheev, a few questions about the series. Here’s what they had to say.

What was your favourite story during your time on the show?

Ben: Karl’s affair with Sarah was huge for us and a lot of fun. I also really loved the story with Lana Crawford. The letters we got from teenagers thanking us was really touching.

Stephen: Hard to pick a favourite. A few leap to mind when I was story producer, some big ones like the Return of Dee, the arrival of Paige, Piper and Tyler. There were some I really loved when I was just a writer: Robbo’s murder, Sonya’s death, David-Aaron’s marriage, Mackenzie and Hendrix.

If I had to pick one maybe I could chicken out and say the first story I plotted for the show, during a two-week period while then script producer, the fabulous Lesley Lewis, was away on holiday: it was a little arc during the Kate-Georgia-Kyle love triangle where Kyle and Kate were both single, and tried dating but he was still hung up on Georgia. It was only a two week story, and the awesome Faith McKinnon did the bulk of the plotting but I have a lot of affection for it. It was simple, emotional, heartfelt… very Neighbours. Maybe I’ll go with that one.

Shane: My favourite story has to be the Toadie/Dee/Andrea saga. So many twists and turns. So many jaw dropping moments. I still remember being in the writers’ room when the idea of Sonya watching Toadie and Andrea sleep together was conceived. I gasped out loud and thought it was genius soap storytelling.

What character did you enjoy playing a part in developing, whether creating or telling their story?

Ben: Creating Toadie with the awesome Liz Packett was wonderfully silly. A sidekick who became an institution. He was only a bit player at first but we writers loved him so much we kept writing more stories for him. We also loved Marlene and Colin.

Stephen: Again very hard to pick a favourite. You try to love them all equally. Whoever plays the role is hugely important. I did have a soft spot for mischievous trouble makers, villains who thought they were totally justified in their bad behaviour, and characters who tried to stand by their morals. I’m aware that’s chickening out again!

Shane: Overall, the one that stands out the most for me is Mackenzie. We worked very closely with Georgie Stone every step of the way. I felt a huge responsibility to tell Mack’s story authentically and none of us wanted her to be a token inclusion.

At one stage, we knew the character wasn’t reaching her full potential, so we corrected course and were rewarded with some amazing dramatic stories and hilarious moments. Correcting the course of an established character doesn’t always pay off… But in this case, it definitely did, which I’m extremely proud of.

What is one story you always wanted to tell that never came to fruition?

Ben: I remember we wanted one of the dads (can’t remember which one) to hit his teenage son in a moment of madness and really play out what this does to the family and his relationship with the son, but that was deemed too dark. Possibly correctly, but I remember we thought it’d be a good anti-violence message and a great story.

Stephen: A couple. I would love to have done the reunion between Steph Scully and Libby – for those two to become friends again. I wanted to bring in a sister for Nate Kinski, and would’ve loved to have brought back Beth (Natalie Imbruglia) when Brad, Lauren and Ned were on the show. There were some others as well but I may still repurpose them for other shows!

Shane: Gosh, there’s too many to choose from.

One was the discovery that Amy Williams wasn’t really Amy Williams… You know how the police release images of what missing children might look like today as adults? Well, imagine Amy watching the news and suddenly her face appears. The report is about a girl who was abducted in New Zealand decades earlier and this is what she might look like today.

It would have led to Paul and Amy finding out Nene stole Amy when she was a child. Which then led to bigger questions – who is the Amy we know and why did Nene take her? And what happened to the real Amy? Is she still out there somewhere?

Regardless of the answers, it would have been a story about Paul proving to Amy you don’t need blood to be someone’s family.

I have plenty more untold stories… Like the return of Josh Willis, or Mark Brennan discovering he has a child with dead Kate Ramsay he never knew about. I’ll leave you guessing how I would’ve achieved all that!

What about Neighbours resonated with the fans?

Ben: It’s daggy and fun but also has heart. And it’s there every night, like a nice cuppa.

Stephen: The simplicity of the concept, the strength of the cast and characters, its relatability, optimism and good nature combined with heavier storylines.

Shane: Life is colourfully made of ups and downs… Neighbours was a show where you could be howling with laughter one minute, then completely bereft the next. That’s why it resonated, because it reflected the roller coaster we’re all on. Even when the stories were far-fetched, they all possessed an emotional truth everyone could relate to.

The other factor was the community Neighbours portrayed. Even though most of us don’t actually live in a tight-knit community like Ramsay Street, it’s definitely aspirational. None of the characters had to face anything by themselves. They had love, friendship and a support network on tap 24/7… Who wouldn’t want that?

Neighbours Through the Years

Back to the Cul-de-Sac

For sixteen years, Back to the Bay only covered Home and Away. It wasn’t until 2020 that the team expanded into Neighbours coverage. It has been our absolute pleasure over the last two years to bring you week-to-week spoilers about what’s happening in Erinsborough. We never imagined it would be coming to an end so soon.

We’ve crowned Toadie the most popular character of all time, received a photo of Ryan with the inaugural trophy and interacted with some amazing people.

It’s clear for everyone involved that Neighbours is a lot more than just ‘another television soap’. It’s connected people across the world over something amazing. Whether that be on one of the amazing forums, through the fan sites, through NeighBens, Neighbuzz, or Ramsay Speak, or by those who would send VHS recordings from Australia to other parts of the world, it’s the tight-knit community that the fans have created that echoes exactly what the show is about – people who are there for one another.

Vale Neighbours, you will be missed.