The Battle Down Under

No, this isn’t a blog post about the woman’s long and tiresome battle with stubborn tarantula-like pubic hairs. Nor is it an Anne-Robinson-style expose on the shocking lives of lice which live in the nether regions. I should probably delete that sentence but I’m feeling daring, so I’m going to leave it in. Also, if the first paragraph of this blog post can help motivate just one sufferer of pubic lice to go and do something about it, then it was worth writing (not that I have any experience with that…it was a friend…OK, going to shut up now).

What this is, actually, is a blog post about something far less menacing but equally serious: the two greatest Australian soaps of all-time – Neighbours and Home & Away. A debate which I remember raging through our house-hold during all of the 1990s…which one is better? How do you even begin to decide?

There was no doubt about it, though, in the beginning Neighbours was always slightly ahead. I’m not sure if it was thanks to Mrs Mangle’s ruthless streak, Charlene’s frizzy hair or Paul Robinson’s ability to make an evil conclusion out of even the most innocent episode, but it just always had a little extra something. That was, until Home & Away attacked with a vengeance. And once that had happened Neighbours and Home & Away fans all over the world were locked in intense rivalry over what to watch between the hours of 5 and 6pm…

Originally I was going to write an essay about this subject – it was the only way I could see myself getting anywhere near the bottom of this: the truth. But then a better idea occurred to me, and the following match-off was born.

For the sake of consistency and fairness, I have made comparisons between cast members of roughly the same age and constitution. Otherwise it’d be ridiculously unfair, like pitching Mrs Mangle’s earthquake-shaken, testicularly-wrinkled face against the blissful, youthful exuberance of some large-chested Home & Away filly like Marilyn (And by the way, there will be no breast-only face-offs or ‘her bum’s better than her bum!’ talking here. I wouldn’t abuse my favourite characters in that way. Instead it will be an intellectually fuelled combination of the two, with as much info as I can remember).

The HAROLD!

Harold Bishop (N) versus Adolf Hitler, sorry, Alf Stewart (H&A):

Believe it or not but it’s a known fact that there is a dark cult of people – shadow movers, those who do not speaketh in daylight – who are secretly plotting to somehow resurrect the power of soap main-stays Alf Stewart and Harold Bishop, and have them fight it to the death. Role-play geeks like the ones that hang out in Games Workshop and are obsessed with computer games, you know the sort, there’s probably one within ten feet of your house. And I have to agree, it’s awful that these two never got to cross paths in soap-land, like the bad guys so often do in horror movies (Jason Versus Freddy, etc). What would Harold have made of Alf Stewart’s incessant chant of “Stone the flamin’ crows!”? What would Alf Stewart have made of Harold resurfacing in the soap years later with several hot babes in tow? Probably he’d have said Stone the flamin’ crows! but you get the idea. The point is that both Harold and Alf inhabited roles which nobody else could have. Nobody could have been called Jelly Belly in the same way as Harold Bishop. And nobody, not nobody, could have thrown youngsters out of the Surf Club with the kind of forceful rugged excellence that always-angry Alf possessed. One of the longest serving soap stars ever, Alf – played by Ray Meagher – went ape-shit at least once an episode, and the best times were undoubtedly when he didn’t. If there was a run of two or three episodes before he went berserk, you knew it would be good, leading to a shocking climax, but if you were lucky enough to go five or six or seven episodes without one, well, then you really knew things were about to go off. When they did, it was usually in the Surf Club or about the Surf Club, and it was always a moment to behold – something you could cherish forever. No wonder Ailsa had so many problems…imagine waking up to Alf’s angry face every morning!

Winner: Alf Stewart.

Ah, Steph 🙂

Steph Scully (N) versus Sally Fletcher (H&A):

Battle of the babes! Hmm…Steph Scully was a hard one to work out all right, and kept viewers guessing right from the very beginning in 1999 until her unforgivable departure in 2010. Conforming to many of the popular She just has to be a masssssssive lesbian! stereotypes — was a mechanic, a tomboy, and drove a motorcyle — Steff had all the boys hot under the swimming shorts, while also simultaneously getting all the girls to hate her – a sure-fire sign that they all secretly loved her after all. And Steph was pretty, wasn’t she? Not that she could compete with Home & Away’s Sally Fletcher in the looks department. Or that may just be my eyes. After all, Kate Richie’s breasts are renowned worldwide for being so large that looking at them too much causes the lens of your eyes to warp and buckle. It’s a miracle any Home & Away viewer can still see. Think yourself lucky that I have had the good gentlemanly taste to not include them here.

Going back to Steph, one thing any fan will know is that Steph had all the bad luck. A grand-scale of bad luck. Seriously, you’ve never seen or heard anything like it. In fact, Steph Scully was to relationships what a kick in the bollocks is to any man alive – usually with the kicking foot wearing the sharpest pointy shoes imaginable.

To say that Steph purely had bad luck is not doing her frequent mishaps – or fantastically debauched script-writing – justice. The kind of ultimate crash-test dummy for sick TV producers to experiment their darkest most disturbing fantasises on, Steph was subjected to everything bad about the world – and that was before making the ominous mistake of marrying vile nut-job Max Hoyland. In her time, Steph bravely battled breast cancer, was the victim of multiple cheating bastard partners, and managed to cheat on a few people herself. All this and she got pregnant. Not that pregnancy is a bad thing of course, it’s wonderful, but making Steph Scully pregnant was bound to end in disaster at some point. The only surprise was that Freddy Krueger himself wasn’t the father.

No stranger to the mistress of debacle herself, Sally Fletcher saw her fair share of misfortune – growing up from the age of eight on the show, into a woman who would become more known for her sex-tapes than her acting.

Winner: Steph Scully.

Believe it or not, but from a thousand feet this looks exactly like Jackie Woodburne (Susan Kennedy) from Neighbours

Susan Kennedy (N) versus Irene Roberts (H&A):

Ah…now we’re really talking. These two female heavy-weights were – and are – nothing if not staples of the soap. Blessed with morals, dignity, and enough female pride to make a man seriously question what the point in ever arguing against a woman might be, Susan Kennedy – wife of doctor Karl – has long been known as the street’s golden girl and put-righter of all things uneven…shortly before things spiral wildly out of control, thanks to her meddling. Played by real life Jackie Woodburne, her soap CV is handed out to people at counselling sessions, who are then instructed to do exactly the opposite of everything she ever does – a process which is bound to lead to eternal happiness. See, sadly for Susan, she couldn’t seem to take one step forward or even blink without bringing political, family or just good-old general chaos tumbling down all around her. In 2009 a shocking storyline saw Susan boldly offer to be a surrogate mother for her daughter Libby, while earlier story-lines had her suffer from every ailment under the sun, have multiple flings with many men – including a priest, which rocked the boat a bit – and split from her husband Karl so many times that any future partner would vomit at the thought of getting together with her, for fear that the smallest decisions would cause a seismic rift to tear all the way through Lou’s Coffee Shop.

And what she lacked in misfortune – which was unsurprisingly little – Home & Away’s Irene Roberts made up for with terrible mentoring skills and an aggravating ability to say “Luv” about fourteen times a minute. Seriously, it was as if someone could see the future, could see exactly how to mess it up, and gave Irene the privilege of doing so to every single person in the whole of Summer Bay. Time after time, people went like lambs to the slaughter to Irene for “good advice”. At the beginning it was great – the advice worked a treat, a lot like when Susan Kennedy got on her high horse of moral riches. But before long grim circumstances would surround the person, before they would either be killed, horribly maimed or forced to leave Australia.

Winner: it has to be Irene Roberts.

Oh yeah, it’s Drew!

Drew (N…Libby’s husband…can’t remember his second name and in the interests of being completely inconsistent I am not going to Google it) versus any of the flaccid hunks that Home & Away could possibly ever produce.

This post might seem a bit biased towards Neighbours, but take a look through the history books yourself and you will see for yourself that flaccid is the only way to describe any of the Home & Away genetically modified hunks. Yes they are muscle-bound and blonde and good-looking, but charisma and charm? Not something found in the waters of Summer Bay. The husband of Libby, Drew was a star and a much-loved character on the show until he made the mistake of falling off his horse and dying an instant soap-ruining death (if anyone could fall off a horse with lethal accuracy, though, it was Drew. No doubt about it).

While Drew – ah, Kirk was his name – wasn’t around for too long before his sudden demise, he left a lasting gap in the hunk market that I doubt has been filled since. His funeral will always be remember for being the shortest funeral ever conceived, and Libby will always remain the most loyal soap star. At least, until she started having sex with everyone else on the street (but not before she sang at Drew’s funeral, probably making everyone slightly suspicious as she had never ever sung before…hmm…).

Winner: Drew Kirk.

The Dastardly, evil, Paul Robinson of Neighbour’s fame!

Paul Robinson (N) versus…anything Home & Away could chuck at them:

See what I did there? Yep. I couldn’t think of one person who has ever appeared in Home & Away who was even on the same planet of dastardly maliciousness as Paul Robinson – the twisted financially-minded megalomaniac who has made the demon smile his calling card. Never one to miss an opportunity to accidentally-on-purpose push someone down a flight of stairs, or by chance wander past a cauldron of burning hot oil while a small puppy walks unknowingly beneath, for the endless time that Paul – played by Stefan Dennis – has been in Neighbours, ever since the beginning, he has been pure soft-core evil at its very best. Among his list of terrible deeds are the aforementioned opportunistic murders – OK, we never saw the puppy incident but I’m sure the producers at least considered it – as well as numerous scams and plenty of absurd bouts of bad luck, followed by a bouncing back that Alan Partridge couldn’t even begin to fathom. My theory is that the makers of Home & Away simply didn’t know where the hell to begin with constructing a monster of equal measure, and who can blame them? So instead they made a valiant attempt to mask their ineptitude by having as many as a dozen bikini-clad babes in the surf club in any one shot. And by all accounts, it worked.

Winner: a dozen bikini-clad babes in the Surf Club in any one shot. That versus Paul Robinson’s face really is no competition.

I set myself a serious challenge: draw Helen Daniels in under 20 seconds. I succeeded, but the result isn’t exactly pretty…

Helen Daniels (N) versus Mrs Mangle (N):

The battle to end all battles…the legends of all legends. In soap-land, it’s a well-known fact that the mere mention of Helen Daniels and Mrs Mangle still makes countless children and adults alike instantly wet the bed. Both carved out of wood and hell-bent on taking complete control of the world in their own unique ways (Helen by pure niceness, Mrs Mangle by her very nature).

Of course, this comparison is completely unfair on Home & Away, seeing as both members featured in Neighbours. I don’t care about this. So be it if fans of Home & Away come after me.

While doing a quick Google search for this one – I know that’s unfair too, but I really wanted to find out if Mrs Mangle was born with a real name like other human beings – I ran into a number of difficulties. Firstly, the internet suddenly stopped working, and secondly, Google point-blank refused to search for Mrs Mangle’s full name. It was then, only by chance and while sweating with a feeling of doom descending all around me, that I discovered the truth was far less sinister. Rather than the ghost of Mrs Mangle looking over anyone who dared speak or type her name, like some Bloody Mary kind of character, I found she was actually called Mrs Nell Mangel. Although I still insist that just then as I typed her name again the lights flickered…as if to warn…

Superstition aside, Vivean Gray was the actress charged with commanding this villainous and highly iconic role – a role which saw her frequently threaten and harass Madge Bishop in that loveable way that family’s found really enthralling while eating their dinner.

Going back to Helen for a second, don’t think that just because she was mostly nice she was always nice. That is simply not true, and demonstrated by her slew of epic mistakes – the blue-print that Susan Kennedy lived by, perhaps. The best of these hideous foul-ups was a rampant sex-romp with her daughter’s fiancé – quite a feat considering her nun-like nature that was the complete and utter opposite visual manifestation of the words sex appeal.

Winner: Mrs Mangel.

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