My Labrador Retriever Jake, also known as TCH. T.S.Grand CH. Aussielab Tomb Raider RN ET performed on the TV series Neighbours for the show’s 30th Anniversary Special! How does this happen?
Sylvia Power, LRCV Committee member and contact for ‘Animal Actors’, was asked to source a ‘Well behaved, adult, male yellow Labrador Retriever’. Sylvia could not think of a dog to match the description. She asked Noelene Jordan (President - LRCV). That resulted in me receiving an email from Sylvia in late September, 2014, asking if I would be happy to have my email passed on to ‘Animal Actors’. I wanted more details but Sylvia had none, so while I wasn’t sure if Jake fitted the ‘well behaved’ category, I agreed.
Next I was contacted by Christine Ross, from Animal Actors. She explained, they were looking for a Labrador Retriever, of Jake’s description to be Bouncer, in Neighbours 30th Anniversary Special. Christine asked for an image of Jake to see if he was suitable. Meanwhile, I ‘Googled’ images of ‘Bouncer. Jake certainly looked like him. For those too young to know, Bouncer was the much loved Labrador Retriever, owned by the Robinson family in the original Neighbours episode aired in 1985. After thirty years, the original Bouncer needed a stand in! In Australia Neighbours was first telecast on Channel 7. Less than a year after it began Seven announced they were axing the show. Channel 10 bought the rights in 1986. It was shown on Ten, until 2011 when management moved it to Eleven.
I was to discover that, while the filming would take place in Australia; Producers from the United Kingdom were the driving force behind the venture. The episode, Jake (Bouncer) would be filmed in would not even be screened in Australia. Here, there is no money forthcoming, but there is in the UK. There it screens on Channel 5. For decades I was aware that several ‘Soapies’ from Australia were ‘must see viewing’ in the U.K. Skipping forward a little - the set was configured in such a way that Jake was positioned near two actors from the original episode; Tom Oliver, who played Lou Carpenter, and Stefan Dennis, who has played Paul Robinson since its inception. I had the opportunity to ask them why the show is so popular in the U.K. Stefan said it’s our weather, outside lifestyle, beaches, ‘bronzed Aussies’, and the size of the houses. It is an escape from their, very different living conditions.
Back to Jake; soon to be Bouncer. At that stage Christine was not sure what Jake would be required to do. She wanted to see him though, so I agreed to meet her at Glen Waverley, where Neighbours is filmed. On arrival we met not only Christine, but Bossy, the small red kelpie who is a current cast member. Bossy would be in the same scene. They were very pleased to meet each other, and would have happily played together if given the chance. By this stage Christine thought Jake had to run, jump onto a stand/rostrum, and stop; but had no idea from what distance, height, or for how long he had to stay. We looked around the permanent outdoor set for something to use as a make shift platform. One such item was a built in brick barbecue. It was very high, and although cold, the hot plate took up much of the surface area. I was concerned. It wasn’t that Jake could not jump up, he did that easily, it was the fact he had to ‘put his brakes on’, after the speed and spring he’d generated to jump, and stop completely. Initially we had a few near ‘fly overs’, as he got up with ease, but his momentum and eagerness took him ‘up and away’, landing near me. Did I tell you that, Christine thought I would not be able to use verbal cues, as my voice would be picked up during filming? An extra degree of difficulty! She provided advice on hand signals and we tried again on an area with tiered, flat seating. Not every attempt was successful; however, I signed a contract which included agreeing to divulge no information about filming, nor use a camera, phone or social media. We left with ‘homework’ to do over the following 12 days.
I knew making time to practice daily would be challenging, with work commitments and weather, yet I discovered the most difficult part was to find a free standing platform, that was not too slippery for dog paws, to give Jake a chance to stop safely. We went to various venues in the local area to practice. Jake enjoyed the 1:1 time, and the dog treats, oblivious of my uncertainty about how he would go.
Bossy’s owner/handler was to be our contact/liaison. Thanks to our human navigator we successfully travelled the 110kms to Coburg North and found the studio. Then, the waiting began… We waited for the morning filming to finish, it was already afternoon. Glamour shots were being taken, months later I discovered why. More than an hour after I was required to arrive, Bossy, her owner Sally, plus a rabbit appeared. Sally tried to find out when the scene with the animals would start. She didn’t get an answer. Another hour passed. Tom Oliver arrived; he had been contracted for a guest appearance. However, there was still no ‘lights, camera, action’. Those terms weren’t actually used, but you know what I mean.
Finally, after waiting four hours the cast was called in. Yay. It had been challenging for the dogs waiting around, plus it was a warm afternoon outside with minimal shade or breeze. As quickly as the excitement began, it was dashed. They would organise the human actors first. Initially that was disappointing, as it meant further waiting. However, when at long last we were called in, we experienced how hot and stuffy it was inside. The studio is simply a warehouse with scaffolding, lighting, props, etc. Despite that, we had begun. To paraphrase writer, Robert Burns, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. What I was asked to practice was not what Jake was required to do, however, it helped. The scene was set in a circus Big Top with a Magic Act taking place. The camera panned from left to right as it moved from balancing, juggling, a disappearing act, pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Bossy and Jake being shown off to the audience by a young magician, and Lou Carpenter directing everyone’s attention to Ring Master Paul Robinson who ‘magically’, lit up the sign to celebrate 30 years. With that happening a cannonball went across on rollers and hoops spun suspended from the rafters. The dogs were to sit on a 2-level, double pedestal, with a circus design. Bossy’s size allowed her to be lifted to the top, but Jake, with his 26kgs (at least, not the 40kgs the set designers had allowed for) needed to jump between the first level, where a magician/actor later knelt to feature them, and then jump again to the smaller, circular upper level. Sally and I were positioned about 10 metres from the dogs behind the camera tracks while all of the movement, distraction and near the end minor explosions were happening, next to and in front of them. The ‘dolly’ pushed the camera and cameraman across the tracks. The distance was a challenge, yet they were magnificent, holding their position, looking up in the camera’s direction, towards us. Not an easy task!! The quality of Jake’s and Bossy’s performance, could have seen filming finish after one take, however, the timing of the human actors meant the sequence had to be filmed again, and again and…By that stage the dogs, and particularly the rabbit, needed some fresh air due to the heat generated in the studio. On returning it took at least the same length of time before ‘it was a rap’. The dogs were just about ‘over it’ by then; I was so very proud of Jake. Sally, who attends shooting 3-days a week with Bossy, was really impressed by Jake, and me for my patience. I knew Sally had been frustrated by the delays. She said it is usually much easier; Bossy has her own dressing room where she can rest; Sally is notified what time/s she is required and if there is a delay an updated time is communicated.
Before our commitment was over all crew, cast, and dog handlers were grouped together for a still photograph. This was taken by the professional photographer who had taken the cast photos. Next I was asked if he could take individual photos of Jake. This was done in an area I hadn’t noticed earlier, to the side of the stage where a mini photo shoot had been set up. The top platform Jake sat on earlier had been moved there. Jake was photographed sitting in a variety of poses. I had more treats at the ready to maintain his interest and enthusiasm. He looked very handsome with his bow tie; Bossy had ditched her pink tutu by the time filming first began!
Sally asked if it would be possible to get copies of the photos taken; I was very excited by that idea. On the day we were told it was likely. Monday I received an email from Christine asking for banking details for Jake’s payment. Previously I hadn’t asked what he would be paid. I wanted the money he earnt to be used for him, so once payment came through I bought Jake a bright blue collar. The remainder I put towards something we could use together; a road bike suitable to use in the Endurance Test-he attained that title and Rally Novice after his TV performance. I mentioned accessing the photos to Christine. She believed that could occur after the Neighbours 30th year episode was shown in the UK. They are 3 months behind. I waited about five months before checking with Christine again. She wasn’t sure if the screening had occurred. At that point, following the advice of a friend, I ‘Googled’ to find the episode. I could not find YouTube footage as I’d hoped. I did find an image on the Channel 5 website, which is a montage of the days, posed photographs. Jake is sitting on the single height rostrum, as he was in the individual photos.
Unfortunately I have not been able to access Jake’s image in its original form, but as they say, “That’s showbiz”.