Reg Watson, the creator of Neighbours and many other successful soaps, has died at the age of 93.
Born in Maryborough, Queensland, in 1926, Watson’s career started as a radio actor and announcer and he had also dabbled in theatre. By the mid-1950s, he had moved to the United Kingdom and in 1956 was appointed Head of Light Entertainment for the new commercial station, ATV, being launched in Birmingham. As well as his executive role at the new channel, he also helped set up the sales department, wrote scripts for announcers and advised on presentation.
He produced various programs for ATV, including a popular daytime variety show, Lunchbox, and a game show called Hit The Limit. At ATV he offered a proposal for a new serial drama which would ultimately launch as Crossroads, starring Lunchbox presenter Noele Gordon. It was the UK’s first five-day-a-week soap, and Watson produced the series to high ratings for over 2000 episodes.
In 1973, Watson and director Alan Coleman were headhunted by Reg Grundy to help build his fledgling drama empire in Australia — although Watson had been turning down offers from Grundy for two years.
He was a director for Grundy’s first soap, Class Of ’74, and his first creation for Grundy was a Brisbane-based daytime serial, Until Tomorrow, starring Hazel Phillips, Barry Otto and Babette Stephens. Until Tomorrow was short-lived, and another proposal called Two-Way Mirror was not picked up, but Watson had far greater success in creating The Young Doctors a year later for Nine. The Young Doctors ran for six years and at the time became the longest running serial drama produced in Australia, clocking up 1396 episodes.
Watson went on to create popular dramas The Restless Years, Prisoner and Sons And Daughters for the Grundy Organisation. His next creation was a suburban-based drama in the early 1980s that had working titles like One Way Street and Living Together. It became Neighbours and debuted on the Seven Network in 1985.
He was given the task to re-launch the series when Network Ten took over the series from 1986. Neighbours became one of Australia’s most successful television exports, screening in up to 50 countries at its peak and is now approaching its 35th anniversary with over 8000 episodes.
Other series credits included Glenview High, Taurus Rising, Starting Out, Waterloo Station, Possession and Richmond Hill. He also worked on Grundy’s overseas dramas Goede tijden, slechte tijden (Netherlands), Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten (Germany) and Dangerous Women (USA).
Watson retired in the 1990s. In 2010 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in the Australia Day Honours List, “for service to the media as a pioneer in the creation and production of serial television drama”.
Source: TV Tonight, ATV Today, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. TV Times, 11 January 1975.