Beloved soap star signs whopping five-year deal to stay put | The Sun

HE’S been dubbed the ‘Godfather of Australian television' by Hollywood superstar Chris Hemsworth.

And as the only original cast member from that very first episode of hit Aussie soap Home and Away, it’s easy to understand why.

But in an exclusive interview with The Sun Online, actor Ray Meagher, 78, who is celebrating 35 years as Alf Stewart as the soap reaches its special milestone today, reveals that he initially refused to sign a two year contract and would only commit to six months in Summer Bay.

Ray said: “It seems ridiculous now but I wouldn’t agree to the two-year contract they wanted me to sign.

“We’d done the pilot and to be honest, I was older and more cynical, and was convinced it would crash and burn like most do. So when they said we’re going to series and we wants all the main characters to stay for two years, I was like you’ve got to be joking!

“It seemed like a lifetime, so I told them there was no way I was signing for two years. Then they tried to get me to sign for a year, but again I refused.

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"In the end I agreed to six months. I thought it would be nice being able to go back to my own bed after work every night rather than shooting something in Melbourne or Western Australia, or being all over the shop which I had quite enjoyed over the years.

“Having been home for six months I was a bit seduced by that and signed for another six months.

“Then they said what about another year? And then it became three year deals and five year deals, and here were are 35 years later and I’m a lot older.”

Ray has been at the heart of Summer Bay ever since it first aired in Australia on the 17th January 1988. The Aussie soap, which initially revolved around foster parents Tom and Pippa Fletcher and their foster kids, burst onto British screens the following year.

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It became an instant hit for ITV who had snapped up the show following the huge success of Neighbours over on BBC One.

Ray said: “It was pretty unbelievable, having that success early on. Neighbours had been with Channel 7, which and it completely bombed so they got rid of it.

“It was picked up by Channel 10 who promoted the hell out of it and as you know it became a huge hit.

“Channel 7 were left scratching their hands going ‘how did we miss that?’ the head of drama at the time was driving past this nice little costal town when he came up with the idea of putting a bunch of young foster kids into a house, and then like what Neighbours had done before, they put the promotional dollars behind it, and it worked.

“There would be crowds waiting for us outside the studio, we were all invited over to the UK, even now I still find it quite amazing every time I’m offered work outside of Australia, that people would come and see me in a theatre show or pantomime.

“And then of course to get Priscilla Queen of the Desert in the West End, well that was all as a result of the popularity of Home and Away.

“I mean, me being a bloke from the bush in Australia who couldn’t sing or dance, and being in a West End musical, well it certainly appealed to my bizarre sense of humour, it was great fun.”

Ray is often asked whether he can spot those youngsters on the show that will go on to have massive world-wide success like Chris Hemsworth, 39, Isla Fisher, 46, Melissa George, 46, Julian McMahon, 54, and Dannii Minogue, 51.

He said: “I get a lot of people ask me, and I think it’s wonderful that so many of them have had so much success.

“But you know it is a tough industry, it’s hard to make a career in this business there’s always way too many actors who are very good that are up for far too few roles.

“And it is tough to survive. So when you see these kids kicking goals it doesn’t matter what the arena is, whether that’s in movies or television or whatever, whenever you see them kicking goals, you’re like good on ya!

“The thing is when an Aussie kid drops that they’ve been in Neighbours or Home and Away for three years, those producers are going to know that they’ll be able turn up and do it, whether they’re any good at it they’ll be the judge of that but they know that they are going to be able to do it.

“With Chris he definitely had something, I mean he certainly wasn’t standing behind a tree when they gave out the good looks!

“He had a great sense of humour and all that but he wasn’t outrageous or anything he just isn’t that type of guy.

“He had a fabulous work ethic and he worked on his craft while he was working on our show, he always thought he’d want to try his hand in a bigger pool, and my god did he do that!

“He was just a lovely, humble, nice guy. We’ve stayed in touch, go out for dinner, and speak on the phone from time to time.

“I’ll always drop him a text when he’s got a new movie coming out.”

Ray admits that he never planned on staying in Summer Bay all these years but has just signed a new five year.

He said: “I didn’t ever really have a target of years or anything like that, people often say, why would you stay that long?

“I think the basic answer is the people. We’ve got a wonderful crew and some of them have nearly been there as long as me.

“We have some wonderful actors who are now in the 10, 15 and 20 year bracket, and by and large I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time on the show.

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“I signed a contract last year for another five years! So I’ll definitely see that out.”

Home and Away airs weekdays at 1.45pm on Channel 5 and 6pm on 5STAR.

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