This month Australian soap Neighbours celebrates its 25th anniversary and we just couldn’t let this milestone pass by without recognising it.
Neighbours creator Reg Watson, who produced The Young Doctors, Prisoner Cell Block H and produced the early years of Crossroads, was made an ATV Icon in February and now another important figure in Neighbours history is given the same status – Helen Daniels. Helen Daniels was the original matriarch on the soap, crafted after Meg Mortimer of Crossroads, and for 12 years was a mother not only to her own family but her neighbours as well. Here we remember Helen’s time on Ramsay Street.
Anne Haddy played Helen Daniels between 1985 and 1997.
This month marks the 25th anniversary of Neighbours, the popular Australian soap which for over twenty years had a home on BBC One. Indeed it was thanks to Michael Grade’s acquisition of Neighbours and his daughter’s advice to repeat it in a 5pm slot on BBC One that Neighbours is still with us today. In its heyday nearly 15 million viewers regularly tuned in to see the residents of Ramsay Street argue, fall in love and fall out of love with each other.
While few would disagree its golden days are long behind us now the soap still continues on air though in a new home on Five [in the UK]. So even though the soap is now a shadow of its former self we couldn’t let the occasion just pass by. Last month we made Reg Watson an ATV Icon for his contribution towards television producing the early years of Crossroads and creating classic Australian dramas The Young Doctors, Prisoner Cell Block H and, of course, Neighbours. Now we honour another important figure in Neighbours history; matriarch Helen Daniels.
Helen Daniels was a shoulder to cry on for her friends and family, someone to turn to in a time of need. Helen would always provide a sympathetic ear and motherly advice to anyone who needed it and frequently in Ramsay Street it was needed. Many fans of Crossroads and Neighbours have pointed out the similarities between Helen and Meg Richardson of the Motel and its not surprising given Reg Watson was behind both creations. However, we won’t concentrate on those similarities – we’ll concentrate on what made Helen such an important part of the soap for 12 years.
Helen had married her childhood sweetheart Bill Daniels and by him had a daughter Anne but Doctors informed her that she wouldn’t be able to have anymore children. So several years after Anne’s birth Helen and Bill adopted Rosemary – someone who would be a frequent visitor to Ramsay Street during the 12 years that Helen was in the soap. Although Rosemary moved away from Australia and settled down in America – where she ran part of the Lassiters business – Rosemary frequently returned to see her adoptive mother and family – even offering some of them jobs in the company back in America.
Debbie Martin, Helen’s great grand-daughter, was one such relative to be offered a home and new life by Rosemary. But we’re skipping ahead a little. While Rosemary moved away to start a new life Helen’s daughter Anne remained in Ramsay Street and married engineer Jim Robinson who Helen got along with very well. Together Jim and Anne had three children; Paul, Julie and Scott but Anne died giving birth to a fourth child, Lucy. This was several years after tragedy struck for Helen herself when husband Bill died.
All of this was before the start of Neighbours in 1985 but was still an important part of the shows history because it set the foundations for the storylines that would follow in the years to come. Lucy was sent away to boarding school to be brought up – lacking a mother around – the family felt it was better for her. While helping Jim to raise his children Helen continued with her artistic career as well as helping out in the wider community and helping to resolve disputes between her neighbours. For example Helen’s close friend Madge [Anne Charleston] was often in argument with Mrs Mangel and there were various other arguments and quarrels for Helen to try and resolve.
When Helen wasn’t busy painting or acting as mediator she was running her own company…so it was easy to see why their were comparisons with Meg Richardson. Homes James, her company, was part of The Daniels Corporation which was run in Australia by Paul Robinson, her grandson. Helen’s love life was also just as ‘tragic’ as Meg’s when she was conned into parting with her life savings by a man called Douglas Blake. Helen had met him at an exhibition and the two had started to date but he tricked her into parting with her savings and then disappeared.
However, Helen was able to make sure justice caught up with Blake when he reappeared and tried to the same trick to her friend Madge. Helen and Madge joined together and made sure he was arrested. There was further headache for Helen in a later romance with Gerald Singer; Rosemary’s fiancée. Although the two tried to fight their feelings for each other it wasn’t easy and eventually a romance started. Gerald was older than Rosemary and so nearer to Helen’s age so while Rosemary hoped Helen and Gerald would hit it off she wasn’t expecting them to have an affair.
When Rosemary discovered the affair she cut off all contact with Helen. Gerald left Ramsay Street realising the damage he had done and before Rosemary returned to New York she forgave Helen – however, it could have been a very different story. Losing Rosemary would have devastated Helen. Another brief romance Helen enjoyed was with a fellow artist; Frank Darcy, and Helen enjoyed considered leaving Erinsborough and moving to be with him at Bungle Bungles but in the end Helen couldn’t bear to leave her friends and family behind.
Over the years Helen helped many of her neighbours with various problems and also “adopted” various waifs and strays that came into her life. One such person was Nick Page who Helen befriended and later invited him to live at Number 26 when his grandmother died. Helen tutored Nick as an artist and he later won a place at a London arts school. Helen also took Todd and Katie Landers under her wing when they moved to Number 26 with her aunt Beverly Marshall – Jim Robinson’s new wife. Helen helped her grandson Scott’s relationship with Madge’s daughter Charlene back onto a smoother path after a rocky patch [the Scott/Charlene romance was one of the most popular storylines in Neighbours history] and together with neighbour Daphne Clarke she helped shy Jane Harris out of her shell. However, ill health also plagued Helen at times and when she had her first stroke it was Beverly who saved her – recognising the symptoms and rushing her to the hospital.
The road to recovery for Helen was a long and difficult one but despite her familiar concerns she was determined to recover and paint again. Helen had to take her family to task though when they got in her way and made it quiet clear to them that she would do things her way. Some years later Helen was hospitalised again when she fell down a flight of stairs while searching for Todd Landers who had run away with his girlfriend Cody Willis.
Helen’s friendship with Madge Bishop was one of the cornerstones of Neighbours for many years with each other providing a word of advice, shoulder to cry on or a cup of tea whenever the other needed it. Although it briefly looked to be over – due to the tricky issues of leaves and a swimming pool – it stood the test of time. When Madge’s husband Harold was lost at sea it was Helen who consoled Madge and offered her the support to carry on. Years later it was Helen who spotted Harold alive, well but without his memory working in a charity shop. By this time Madge had decided to leave Ramsay Street to start a fresh life elsewhere but when Helen contacted her with the news Harold was alive she returned to see the husband who had forgotten all about her. Helen and Madge together helped Harold slowly regain his memory while Helen also offered support to Madge in the difficult time.
Further heart-ache for Helen came in her love life after a whirlwind romance with Michael Daniels; the couple married and spent their honeymoon travelling the world. But while they were away Jim had discovered that Michael was already married – making his marriage to Helen illegal! Jim revealed the truth to a devastated Helen and while Michael explained that his first wife was institutionalised and he couldn’t divorce her because it would kill her. Although Michael had explained why he married Helen illegal she couldn’t continue to life in a sham marriage and Michael moved away. Some time later Michael wrote to Helen to inform her that his wife had died and they were free to marry legally – Helen considered “re-marrying” Michael but ultimately decided against it.
Helen’s grand-daughter’s return to Ramsay Street also saw Julie return with her family – husband Phillip and daughter Hannah. Martin also had two children from a previous marriage; Michael and Debbie. Helen accepted Michael and Debbie as party of the family and was glad she could once again have members of the family close by. Although the Martin’s later moved to No. 32 they were still close by. It was a troubled family though with Michael resentful of Julie and trying his best to spilt them up – by making Julie out to be an alcoholic. Debbie meanwhile suffered from bulimia and Hannah started to pretend she had an imaginary friend – all of these took place over a number of years though.
After a few years on Ramsay Street the marriage between Julie and Phillip was strained and when Julie was found dead it was initially suspected that Phillip could have killed her. However, Debbie later revealed she had been with a drunken Julie when she had fallen to her death – it was accidental and not murder. The death of Julie hit her hard as did other deaths across the years such as Todd and Jim’s – particular as at the time of Jim’s heart-attack he and Helen had fallen out because of his liaison with Annalise Hartman’s mother. Fiona Hartman was a gold-digging and calculating woman who was out to rip Jim off for all the money she could get and while Helen and others could see this Jim couldn’t. When Jim had a heart-attack it was before he and Helen had made up and Helen felt guilty he died while the two weren’t speaking – Fiona skipped town with a lot of Jim’s money. However, despite Fiona’s actions Helen got along well with daughter Annalise taking her in for a while as a lodger.
Throughout her time on Ramsay Street Helen’s family provided her with many worries with Lucy’s various troubles, Paul eloping to Brazil, Rosemary’s breakdown and Julie’s alcohol and subsequent death just some of the trials and tribulations that Helen went through across the years. However, despite all that her family put her through and all the ups and downs that came with family life Helen loved them greatly. In 1997 Helen decided to sort out an argument between her great grand-daughter Debbie Martin and her old, and best, friend Madge Bishop. Helen decided to remind the Bishop’s and her family the things they had in common and dug out the wedding video of Scott and Charlene. As the family with Harold and Madge sat down to watch the video Helen passed away peacefully.