Home and Away

Friday, November 7, 2003 by

Here’s a blast from the past for all you Summer Bay fanatics. The last time I watched this show that scheming bitch (but utter fox) Alison Paterson was at the centre of all things mean and moody. Roo and Bobby were at loggerheads and Donald Fisher was still to attain the moniker of Flathead.

Heady days indeed and almost 15 years ago, if I recall correctly. Even more bizarrely, such was the “phwoar” factor of the aforementioned Alison that my colleagues of the time and I wrote her a valentine card in which we pledged to her our undying devotion. Not even a sniff of a reply. I told you she was a bitch. So that was it for Summer Bay and we switched back to the goings on in Neighbours – after all, Kylie Finkler was beginning to look hot by now.

So there I am, Friday evening and the house to myself. Idly flicking onto Teletext, I espied my former favourite due for transmission in a matter of minutes. What the hell, I sighed – once more for old time’s sake. And, man alive, am I glad that I did. What an episode to hook back in on. Nearly choking on my Marks & Spencer’s kebabs, the familiar face of Ailsa drifted onto the screen. I may not have watched it in a decade and a half, but I was still sufficiently up on the show to know that Ailsa had pegged it some time ago. It immediately transpired that what we had here was an episode in which Alf died on the operating table and the ghost/spirit of his former wife was taking him on a journey through a Summer Bay of the future, to show him what could happen if he continued onward to the white light. Sound familiar?

You have hand it to the producers. Brazen it may have been but it was treated with a reverential dose of sympathy and respect. I kept waiting for the Zuzu’s petals moment but, thankfully, it never arrived. Ailsa certainly made a more attractive guide than Clarence but she lacked his depth of performance and loveable charisma. The only wobble came when Alf was given the opportunity to walk in another man’s shoes and – you could hear this one coming from over the hill a mile away never mind see it – lo and behold, he was transformed into an aborigine for this purpose. Utterly contrived, but the whole set up was so shameless it made no difference at all.

This was a lovely departure from the normal confines of soap-land. Once you gleefully suspended disbelief and conceded that the characters of Alf and George Bailey were closer than you gave them credit for, this became a charming piece of well acted whimsy. Factor in a monstrously magnificent over-the-top performance from Flathead Fisher (a sly tribute to the Lionel Barrymore role, perhaps?) and you had, in essence, the most entertainingly leftfield slice of soap nonsense that has been screened in quite some time. The performances from Alf, Ailsa, Donald and the Aboriginal Alf captured the mood and heart of the show’s premise. My lack of familiarity with the other characters rendered my judgement on them meaningless but they too seemed to be imbued with a sparky sense of mischief that also suited the mood.

The final reflection that I was left with after watching this marvellous slice of entertainment was this: what classic films could our own home-grown soap operas emulate? We could have a Kill Bill homage at Kat and Andy’s wedding this week perhaps? Or maybe, just maybe, we could have had Brookie bowing out with a “Look Ma! I’m on top of the world!” moment in tribute to Jimmy Cagney. It’s a wonderful thought, eh?


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