Opinion

In honour of Toadie – the longest, mightiest soap opera runs in Aussie TV history

It’s quite an odd thing for someone to keep the same job for three decades, and odder still when it’s the job they got as a 15-year-old; the very first job they ever did.

That’s the story of Ryan Moloney, who has played Jarrod “Toadfish” Rebecchi on Neighbours since 1995, and who announced last week that he would no longer suffer the ignominy of answering to the name Toadie, although I fear this fate is his for life.

By the time he wraps up filming this year, he will have been on the Neighbours set for 30 years. He is retiring an all-timer at 44.

As Toadie, he was the ratbag student, a university DJ, and — once the naughty kid schtick got old — he chopped off the mullet, switched out the Lowes Hawaiian shirts for a Lowes power suit and became Ramsay Street’s crack legal mind for the next three decades. He also married five times, with only two of those wives dying in tragic circumstances, which is fairly smooth sailing in soap opera terms.

Ryan Moloney first appeared on screen in January 1995, meaning he started on set in late 1994. A 30-year career is impressive, but is it Hall of Fame impressive? How Hall of Fame impressive?

Well, let’s take a look at the longest soap opera runs in Australian television history, why don’t we, and see where the mighty three-decade reign of Toadfish sits among the pack?

First, a few rules. Actors are people, and people take holidays, and therefore there are those times where a character leaves a show for months at the time. These gaps don’t stop a streak – nor did the period where Neighbours was axed by Ten, had a big ratings-busting finale, and then started up again – because, seriously, nobody but Guy Pearce truly believed Neighbours was over. I’ll also introduce some arbitrary rules throughout, and we’ll work out the rest on the fly. So, who holds the longest soap opera streak?

RAY MEAGHER as ALF STEWART
STREAK: 36.5 YEARS and counting
SHOW: HOME AND AWAY

The overall record is held by Ray Meagher, who has been playing Alf Stewart on screen since January 1988 – that’s 36-and-a-half flamin’ years and rolling – and who turned 80 this past week. He’s even in the Guinness Book of World Records for it, because that’s where records are kept.

Here he is celebrating his 80th with Kate Ritchie, whose streak we’ll get to.

Sidenote: Emily Symons is also in the background of that shot; she has played Marilyn on Home and Away for 21 years – but broken up over four different runs. So, she doesn’t make the Hall of Fame. That’s another rule. But, back to Ray. And by Ray, I mean Alf.

Alf Flamin’ Stewart, a man who is single-handedly responsible for keeping Australian bush vernacular in the lexicon; who has worn a steady rotation of the same flannelette fishing shirts since the Bicentenary; who has owned and lost almost every single business in Summer Bay; who has fist-fought every character his age over a 36-year sparring run (including the time he punched headmaster Don Fisher in the school, in front of numerous students); who is comfortable being the only one drinking a beer from a can at a Summer Bay wedding; who only married three times – twice to the same woman, who faked her death the first go around – but who did discover three secret love children along the way.

“Stone the flamin’ crows” – that’s his – Meagher said he stole the phrase from “a stock and station agent in a small Western Queensland town called Dirranbandi”, which sounds about right. “Strike me, roan”, that’s another Alfism; turns out ‘roan’ is a shade of red. And what is Steve Irwin’s “Crikey” if not a pale imitation of Alf’s mighty “Strewth!”?

Last year, TV Week readers named Alf as the Greatest Australian TV Character. That’s the same readership that’s decided the Logies for the past 65 years. Case closed.

LYNNE MCGRANGER as IRENE ROBERTS
STREAK: 31 YEARS and counting
SHOW: HOME AND AWAY

When you first hear the quite proper speaking voice of Lynne McGranger, the actress who plays the brash, raspy ocker Irene Roberts, it’s quite a shock. I suppose when you get a role on a soap in 1993 as a washed-up, alcoholic country singer looking to get her kids back after DOCS placed them into a foster home, you bung on a bit of a bogan rasp. You certainly don’t expect to be doing the voice for 31 years and running, and for this alone, she deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Shamefully, it took until last year for her to receive her first Logie nomination.

Irene Roberts quickly sorted her drinking problem out, got her kids back, and then proceeded to foster dozens of troubled teens over the decades. The Department of Correction Services are very unevenly portrayed on Home and Away throughout the years – one minute DOCS are swooping on Pippa like a SWOT team after Sally shows up at school with a skinned knee, the next they are allowing characters whose kids they forcibly removed a year ago happily foster half-a-dozen highly-traumatised teens in a three-bedder.

JACKIE WOODBURN as SUSAN KENNEDY
ALAN FLETCHER as KARL KENNEDY
STREAK: 30 YEARS and counting
SHOW: NEIGHBOURS

Is there a more memorable soap opera moment in Australian TV history then Susan’s ringing slap across Karl Kennedy’s cheating face? It’s less a slap then a right hook to the head, coming after one of the greatest acting performances by Jackie Woodburn as a humiliated, hurt Susan Kennedy. Rewatch the video, and look how shocked Alan Fletcher is at the severity of the blow. If this was 2024, he would have been taken to the sheds for an HIA.

Susan and Karl entered Ramsay Street in 1994 as the hot new headmaster and the hot new doctor, with three moody teenage kids and a 12-month window before an annoying mulleted neighbour named Toadfish would start hanging around, Urkel-style.

RYAN MOLONEY as TOADIE
STREAK: 30 YEARS once he leaves
SHOW: NEIGHBOURS

We’ve discussed him enough, so instead I point you to his two finest moments.

Where he drives himself and his new bride off a cliff, and the mannequin’s blonde wig clearly flies out the car window.

Where rock star Dave Graney threatens to call the cops on a scheming university-era Toadfish, and neither of them can believe this is a real Neighbours storyline.

ADA NICODEMOU as LEAH MORGAN (NEE: POULOUS, NEE: MACGUIRE, NEE: PATTERSON, NEE: PATTERSON-BAKER)
STREAK: 24 YEARS
SHOW: HOME AND AWAY

In 2000, back when Sydney had the Olympics, and Home and Away was still furiously trying to pretend it wasn’t shot there, Ada Nicodemou joined the cast of the show, fresh off a three-year run on Heartbreak High, and with her character, Leah, having just left a man at the altar. This would become a theme. Leah rivals Toadfish when it comes to being unlucky in love (or repeatedly lucky in love, depending on your view of the world), having married four times, and been engaged two more. Two of her husbands wound up dead, too, both off-screen deaths, and both in mysterious circumstances. You gotta wonder if that will come up in future episodes…

Also, her character introduced Moussaka to the Australian public decades before Masterchef or any of that.

TOM OLIVER as LOU CARPENTER
STREAK: 24 YEARS 
SHOW: NEIGHBOURS

Remember Lou? Harold Bishop’s foil and best friend, and a shady Donald Trump-style shyster to boot, Lou started on Neighbours in 1992 as a kind-hearted villain, and stayed for 24 years, slowing winding back his filming commitments as the actor got older and the character realised Harold and Madge had left and there was nobody else to fight with but Toadie.

As with 95% of characters who leave Neighbours, Lou moved to Queensland to be nearer to un-named family members.

KATE RITCHIE as SALLY FLETCHER
STREAK: 20 YEARS
SHOW: HOME AND AWAY

In the pilot episode of Home and Away, Kate Ritchie is knocked over and bursts into tears so convincing, I’m surprised the scene wasn’t interrupted by Bert Newton entering screen right to hand her a Gold Logie. Oh, and she was eight years old.

Australia watched Kate Ritchie grow up, so it’s not surprising that she’s been such a steady success on radio in the years since leaving Home and Away. Sally went through the ringer, as you’d imagine for a character who started as a foster child, had to fight Isla Fisher for bathroom space in her teen years, and was then thrust into the obligatory foster parent/school teacher funnel travelled by every Summer Bay resident (man, you thought your local zoning laws were strict). She was only married once, but had three failed engagements. Heath Ledger took her character’s virginity during his brief pre-fame cameo on the show, and one memorable episode in the mid-90s had her bribing a foster sibling with the irresistible: “C’mon, I’ll let you borrow my Silverchair CD”.

A stellar, two-decade run.

Where’s the rest? What about Harold Bishop? What about Don Fisher? Why didn’t any Breakers cast members make the list? Surely, Stefan Dennis?

Okay, let’s address “surely, Stefan Dennis?” He started on Neighbours in March 1985, appearing on the very first episode as the ruthless, cartoon-ish Paul Robinson, a character he plays to this day. Time for Alf to hand back the trophy?

Not so fast. Stefan Dennis first left the show in 1992, popped back in during 1993, and then returned in 2004. Technically, he has been there for 20 years, plus the initial 7-year run. Shouldn’t he be right up the top of this list?

This is true, but unfortunately Stefan Dennis has been disqualified for releasing the 1989 plastic pop single Don’t It Make You Feel Good.

Sorry, I don’t make the rules to the Hall of Fame – I just enforce them.

And the answer is no, Stefan, it don’t make me feel good.

Enjoy your weekend. We’ll get serious again then, I promise.

For a slightly more serious take on the week’s news under the media and marketing umbrella, listen to The Mumbrellacast.

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