When I found out Neighbours had been cancelled, I cried so much my husband thought someone had died

I’m autistic – to me, I’m not just losing a TV show, I’m losing my life’s most constant and reliable comfort

Sara Gibbs
Friday 10 June 2022 12:06 BST
I was transfixed by the cheery, Australian brightness and the familiarity of characters who began to feel like friends
I was transfixed by the cheery, Australian brightness and the familiarity of characters who began to feel like friends (Fremantle Media/Shutterstock)

It is the news I’d hoped would never come: after 37 years on screen, the Australian soap opera Neighbours has been cancelled. The cast have even shared a photo of the filming of the final episode on set.

When I first found out the show was ending, my sobs were so loud and guttural that my husband tripped up the stairs running to me, assuming somebody had died.

I understand if you think this is the kind of melodrama worthy of the soap itself. There are so many terrible things in the world that the loss of one silly little soap doesn’t seem earth-shattering. But for me, that’s exactly what it is. I’m not just losing a TV show – I’m losing my life’s most constant and reliable comfort.

I have been watching Neighbours since before I had a television of my own. I grew up in a new-age community where TV was up there with the societal ills of microwave ovens and medical science. We had a TV set but it wasn’t hooked up to anything. It spent most of its time hidden under a silk cloth, topped with crystals (either to ward off evil spirits or so my parents could tell if I’d sneaked a verboten peek).

I happened upon Neighbours at my godparents’ house on the day that Madge, iconic wife of even more iconic Harold, died. While the high drama of a character being killed off is what hooked me in, that’s not why I stuck around. I was transfixed by the cheery, Australian brightness, the gentle everyday-ness of it and the familiarity of characters who began to feel like friends.

For an undiagnosed autistic kid, it was hard to put a value on friends who would be there every day no matter what. The characters on Neighbours weren’t just there for one another, as the theme song promised – they were there for me. The least I could do was be there for them in return. Come hell or high water, I started making sure I was at a TV-owner’s house every afternoon at five-thirty-five, whether I’d been invited or not. Usually the latter.

Being autistic almost certainly played into the level of obsession that was to follow. Autistic people tend to have what are commonly known as special or focus interests, where we spend an extraordinary amount of time thinking or learning about one thing. Neighbours has taken up an embarrassing amount of my brain space since I was thirteen years old.

Not long afterwards, my parents’ divorce resulted in the acquisition of an actual television – hooked up to an aerial and everything. The real deal. While we adjusted to life without my dad, Neighbours became my comfort blanket. And it has remained so through every traumatic life event, providing safety and security when my real life couldn’t.

When I left my childhood behind and moved across the country to go to university, Neighbours came with me. I staked my claim on the timeslot, making sure to plant myself in front of the common room TV in good time, like a sunbather leaving their towel on the good deckchair.

When it moved to Channel 5, I resorted to desperate measures to ensure I never missed an episode, waiting hours for pixelated and permanently buffering episodes to load on my primitive Internet connection.

Through housemate dramas and devastating dumpings, I could always rely on Susan rolling her eyes at Dr Karl, or Toadie’s inexplicable luck with the ladies to get me through. Years later, as I sat by my dying father’s bedside at the age of 25, I obsessively rewatched clips from classic episodes. They were my light in the darkness.

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As I got older, I started to feel self-conscious about my Neighbours fixation and declared myself to be an “ironic” viewer. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon the Facebook group, The Art of Neighbours, a community of seriously funny folks who would comment on the latest ludicrous storylines through the medium of Microsoft Paint art.

Through that, I found the side-splitting Neighbours recap podcast, Neighbuzz, and became a proud member of their Facebook group. Through these groups I’ve made some of my most precious friends. Logging on to read their hot takes has become an irreplaceable daily ritual. I even guest starred on a live London Neighbuzz recording, getting to meet much of my Neighbours-loving fam in person.

Losing the show is a body blow. While I pray that it will be picked up by another network, the outlook isn’t good. But as corny as it sounds, what started as a stand-in for real friends helped me to find my people.

The outpouring of shared grief at the news has reassured me that those relationships aren’t going anywhere. Neighbours may be over but the people it has brought into my life are here to stay – and that’s quite the legacy.

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