Little did I know that included in La Boite’s alumni was none other than the creative originator of Australia’s longest running television series Neighbours . His name is Reg Watson. Peter Pinne, editor of Stage Whispers on-line magazine, knew of his early involvement with Brisbane Repertory Theatre and told me the story. Here it is:
Born in Brisbane in 1926 the now retired TV producer’s first job was in a jewellery shop in Innisfail in North Queensland. Heading back to Brisbane, Reg Watson involved himself in Brisbane Repertory Theatre, cutting his teeth as a writer and director with his play The Play Within which had a short season at Albert Hall in 1948. Thereafter he had various acting roles in Brisbane Repertory productions including Present Laughter by Noel Coward and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale in 1950; Love in Idleness by Terence Rattigan, in 1951; and in 1952 Cockpit directed by Babette Stephens and also starring Ray Barrett. His final directing role for Brisbane Repertory was Master of Arts in 1953. For his day job Reg worked extensively in radio in Brisbane and Charleville; in fact he had worked as an announcer and actor on radio from the age of sixteen.
In 1955 he left Australia behind to pursue what was to be an outstandingly successful career in the UK. There he spent twenty years working in Birmingham and London for ATV as Head of Light Entertainment. During his time there, he set up ATV Midlands and created programs including Lunchbox, Britain's first live daily daytime chat show and variety series.
When 27,000 fans turned up to see Lunchbox at an outside broadcast, ATV boss Lew Grade was keen to invest in his star talent. So in 1964 Lew Grade gave him the task of creating Britain's first full-length daily half-hour soap opera. And thus Crossroads was created, which was to become one of the UK’s longest-running soap operas. The Reg Watson Crossroads format would be one he would use over and over again to create other serial hits.
It was whilst producing Crossroads that Reg met Reg Grundy, who eventually persuaded him to return to Australia. Once back home in 1973, Reg was made head of drama at Reg Grundy Productions where his numerous other soap creations, including The Restless Years and The Young Doctors and Prisoner were quickly put into production, proving to be big hits. Following the success of his latest serial, Sons and Daughters, he submitted the idea for Neighbours - a soap set in a cul-de-sac with a strong emphasis on comedy, a concept he firmly believed could run for twenty years. The show was put into production by the Seven Network, who cancelled it less than a year later, before it was picked up by Channel Ten, where the show has remained ever since, attracting huge national and international viewing audiences. In 2015 it celebrated its 30 year anniversary.
Reg retired in 1992. In 2006, Reg was nominated for Australian of the Year, due to his work in Australian television and particularly the way in which his shows have brought a positive image of Australia to the rest of the world. In 2010, Reg Watson was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for service to the media as a pioneer in the creation and production of serial television drama.
Writer: Christine Comans
Sources: Peter Pinne; The Reg Watson Website; Wikipedia; the Perfect Blend Neighbours Website