David Clencie joined the cast of The Sullivans as a young member of Australia’s most famous famliy and a few years later spoke the first lines in Australia’s most famous street – as Danny Ramsay in Neighbours.
What was it like as a young actor joining such an established show?
It was fine. In some respects because I was playing a Sullivan it made it a little bit easier. I was one of the country cousins who came into it after the war. Terry and Geoff Sullivan had left the show and I guess they wanted to bring someone in who was a bit younger, so I came in as Jim Sullivan’s brother, Steve. It was a fantastic experience, other than it was late 1970s and of course long hair was in at the time, but they gave me a short back and sides and wherever I went everyone thought I was a policeman!
You came in as part of a whole new branch of the family, didn’t you?
That’s right, we were pretty much the new family. We lived in the shop, which had originally be owned by the Kaufmans.
Steve got an apprenticeship as a sign writer and got quite friendly with Juliana, a Dutch refugee girl who was living with Maggie and Norm, so he was pretty happy – he came down from Horsham and hit the big smoke!
Was the idea of bringing in a new part of the family hopefully to keep the show going for years more to come?
That’s a good question, yes it actually was. They had intended to do a time jump from I think 1949 to about 1953, which was the Korean War. My character was going to go to the War and they were also going to do a jump with Norm and Maggie, who were going to go to the Snowy Mountains River power scheme. But unfortunately, Paul Cronin, who played the head of the family, had had enough. I think he was a bit tired and he decided not to go on with the show. Crawford Productions were prepared to put a concept to Channel Nine that they would continue the show, but Channel Nine said ‘look, if Dave Sullivan isn’t in the show we’ll have to wind it up’. In hindsight, it was a bit premature. A lot of people were very disappointed, it was still rating very well – but that’s showbiz!
I interviewed Stephen Tandy last year and he told me how his part of Tom was set to be elevated to the head of the family.
Yes, that’s right. Tom, Stephen Tandy, would have made a fantastic head of the family, so yes, it was disappointing. Good party though, very good wrap party!
You’ve mentioned some of the actors, I wonder which you remember working with in particular? Your mother was played by Dinah Shearing, Juliana was Saskia Post…
I actually caught up with Saskia a couple of months ago at Richard Morgan’s (Terry) funeral. I hadn’t seen her since the show and it was a very sad time. I kept in touch with Richard, and Jamie Higgins (Geoff), or James as he likes to be called these days. I was best man at his wedding, I actually introduced him to his wife, he’s still a great mate. He got out of the business after The Sullivans. He worked as a nurse for a while and now he’s the state manager for a company here in Melbourne. He’s still a fantastic guy, he doesn’t look any different. He looks like Geoff Sullivan, he’s not changed at all!
If we talk about Neighbours, you were part of the first family of the show, weren’t you?
That’s right. I was the first person to speak on Neighbours. I was in scene one, episode one. It’s hard to believe it was 22 years ago. I went back as my character Danny for the twentieth anniversary a couple of years ago, and I couldn’t actually believe that people would remember me. I was welcomed with open arms and did my little scene as Danny, you know, ‘where is he know?’. He’s building pools in Brisbane, so that’s a better life than he had in Ramsay Street!We started in 1985, and the original cast were the Ramsays, Robinsons and Des and Daphne, and we had an absolute ball at the time. We started at Channel 7 and we got axed and then Channel 10 picked it up and that’s history and most people know that.
I think people remember those early years very vividly, it’s actually difficult to believe it was more than twenty years ago.
Well, at the time the proof was in the casting. John Holmes was the original producer and the casting was just magnificent. The actors were good, we changed the scripts, we did what we wanted, we did a lot of sight gags – we’d walk into walls, we’d have a good laugh, something that’s probably missing a bit from a lot of television these days. And the directors went with it, they said ‘this is great, let’s do it’. When it was axed we were just gobsmacked to be honest and we all went home with our tails between our legs.
A couple of weeks later I got a call from my agent saying ‘they’re going to do Neighbours again’ and I thought I was dreaming, I said ‘what are you talking about?’. She said ‘another network’s picked it up, Channel 10 are going to take the show and they’d like you to be in it, they’d like to give you a year’s contract’. I said, ‘give me a minute, yeah, I’ll be in it!’. I was just elated, and most of the cast were, because we had really felt robbed at the time.
That had never happened before had it, that another network had taken a show?
No, it had never happened before. It was an extraordinary situation and I think the networks really learned from that.
One of the storylines from the early period was when Danny and Scott ran away and you ended up with Gwen Plumb. What was it like working with her?
She was great. We used to call her “the Womble”! She used to just mutter to herself and we were a bit in awe of her to be honest because she was such a well known actress. We were pretty young and she was the ants pants. We didn’t really get to know her personally; we tried to but she just sort of muttered a lot and would walk off! She was just like the character she played in The Young Doctors (Ada) and the character she played in Neighbours. We did have a lot of respect for her though, she was great.
If you were asked, would you go back to play Danny Ramsay?
I would. I actually raised the issue with them when I went back for the twentieth anniversary and they said they’d take it on board. I think it would be a wonderful idea. He could come back and decide he wants to live in the old house, there are so many great storylines there could be for a character like Danny.
Having a Ramsay back in Ramsay Street would be a good move.
That’s the thing. All those who’d like to see Danny back in Neighbours, email Grundy television and wave the flag. I’ll wink at you in my first scene!