The local who killed off Neighbours’ Madge

April 25th, 2022The local who killed off Neighbours’ Madge

FOR many of us who grew up watching iconic Australian television series Neighbours, news of its axing after nearly 38 years on our small screens is unthinkable.

FOR many of us who grew up watching iconic Australian television series Neighbours, news of its axing after nearly 38 years on our small screens is unthinkable.
From Scott and Charlene’s wedding (Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan) the show kick started the careers of many actors including Margot Robbie, Natalie Imbruglia, Holly Valance, Russell Crowe, Liam Hemsworth and former local Guy Pearce to name a few.
And for Daylesford resident and former Neighbours writer Philippa Burne, pictured watching the show with Lilly, news of its demise is bittersweet.

Philippa was responsible for killing Neighbours matriarch Madge Bishop. She died of pancreatic cancer on screen in 2001.
“I remember being at a party in Amsterdam and started talking to an avid Neighbours fan. When I mentioned my work and involvement in Madge’s death, she yelled at me telling me Madge was like a grandmother to her,” she said.
“The world has changed the way it gets its entertainment, but back then free to air TV was what we all watched and we all got involved with the characters and for many, watching a show like Neighbours helped people escape the world and be part of something.”
Philippa, who is also a published author and journalist, was part of the team which, 15 years ago, controversially wrote Neighbours’ first lesbian kiss into the show. It was a groundbreaking moment in 2004 for Lana and Sky (played by Bridget Neval and Stephanie McIntosh) and a moment Philippa is still proud of.
“So much time and energy goes into writing storylines, working out characters and in this instance there was a lot of concern with the lesbian kiss, particularly by the producers. We all worked hard to get it to happen.”
Philippa spent more than 10,000 hours of her career writing for Neighbours and over that time she was part of storylines that became Aussie folklore, but it was Madge’s death that stays with her till this day.
“People often say Neighbours is crap but over 37 years it has honed the skills of many in the local industry and has been the place for many to get the grounding they needed in the entertainment industry. And Neighbours has played such a major part in people’s lives that many feel connected to the characters and storylines.”
After a number of years developing storylines for Neighbours, Philippa took a position at Fremantle Media’s head office in London and became the ‘Fix It’ doctor for the media giant’s TV soaps across Europe.
Philippa had always travelled to Daylesford, be it on writing escapes or simply getting away from a hectic city schedule. When the opportunity came to buy a house in the small town in 2004, she seized it.
“Again, Neighbours played a major role in that. Having worked for Fremantle Media steadily I was in a position to buy a property and have that security. I eventually moved here full time just before the first Victorian lockdown and feel extremely fortunate,” she said.
“I was able to continue working remotely but was aware of many in the area who were out of work and businesses struggling to cope. Takeaway became more frequent simply because it was a small way I could support the businesses. I was very fortunate to keep working and extremely grateful.”
Philippa, a university lecturer in screenwriting at VCA, was able to continue classes online.
While Philippa had known a number of people in Daylesford, it wasn’t until she lived here permanently when strong connections with women were made.
“I became part of a local sewing group and the bond and friendships I developed with the women was incredibly special.”
It was those friendships that became a significant part of Philippa’s lockdown experience.
For many women in the entertainment industry, there are plenty of stories of unspeakable misogyny. Philippa could write a book on what she has seen, encountered and lived through but now is devoted to ensuring women in the industry don’t feel powerless.
Philippa also works with many aspiring screen writers around mental health issues and is a qualified mental health first aider. Mentoring, advocating for and supporting young women entering the cut throat world of the entertainment industry.
While Philippa continues to inspire young writers through lecturing, there was a stint in the public service and a History of Art degree that came before writing.
“It took me a while to get around to writing. I always knew I wanted to be a writer but school has a way of stifling creativity. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20’s that I studied editing and screenwriting at RMIT and wrote my first novel,” she said.
Her debut novel Fishnets was entered into The Australian/Vogel Literary Award and while she wasn’t shortlisted, her novel was picked up and published by Allen & Unwin publishers.
For Philippa, travelling the world working alongside some of the best scriptwriters, working in an industry ruthless and exhilarating at the same time didn’t compare to the moment when a young student came up to her and said her book changed her life.
“In the late 90’s Fishnets was used in schools and one school turned it into their school play. I would go into schools and talk about the book. After being at an extremely rough school, a young girl sneaked back after we had finished and told me my book had changed her life,” she said.
“The young girl said she finally felt someone understood what she was feeling and said she didn’t think anyone else felt the way she did. She was 15. While I am grateful for my career and the opportunities that I have been presented with, it is that moment that will stay with me forever.”
Words: Narelle Groenhout | Image: Kyle Barnes

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