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Played: Helen Daniels
Born 5th October 1930 in Quorn near Adelaide in South Australia, Anne Haddy was an only child and attributed her love of acting to having spent so much time alone growing up, in which she would invent characters, dress up and produce plays with the children next door. When her parents presented her with a gift of the Complete Works of Shakespeare for her 15th birthday, Anne inscribed the letters IWTBAA on the spine – meaning "I want to be an actress."
At Adelaide High School, Anne appeared in the play Androcles and the Lion and upon finishing school, worked in radio plays and school broadcasts while also working at the Book room during the day at the Adelaide University. In the early 1950s, Anne worked in the UK as a typist for Kelloggs where she met and married her first husband Max Dimmitt, a close friend of Rolf Harris. They returned to Australia to live in Perth where Anne gave birth to children Jane and Tony. In 1960, the family relocated to Sydney where Anne worked steadily in theatre, radio and on TV as presenter of Playschool. Her marriage to Max broke down, however, and by the end of the decade, they divorced.
The love of Anne’s life arrived on the scene in Sydney when she met fellow actor James Condon. They worked together initially, became good friends and in 1974, started seeing each other. Anne and James married in 1977. The 1970s was also the decade in which Anne rose to prominence on Australian TV screens. She appeared on Prisoner Cell Block H, Skippy, Division 4, Homicide, Chopper Squad, Glenview High and many Australian mini-series, including A Town Like Alice and 1915. Her biggest role on television came in 1982 when she was cast as Rosie Andrews, housekeeper to the Hamilton family, in Grundy Television's pre-cursor to Neighbours, Sons and Daughters. Anne remained on the show as Rosie until 1985.
Anne's life had been plagued by ill-health since 1971 when she fell and broke her wrist while performing in a production of National Health, set in the public ward of a London hospital. However, it was on 20th March 1979 that Anne experienced her most serious health scare when she collapsed from a heart attack in the kitchen of her Sydney home. After undergoing a quadruple bypass operation, Anne was just getting back on her feet when she fell and broke a hip. Then she was diagnosed with stomach cancer and had to have an operation to remove the cancerous growth on the wall of her stomach. In 1983, she was back in hospital – this time to unclog one of her four heart bypasses. But within six weeks, she was back on the set of Sons and Daughters.
Undoubtedly, the role for which Anne will forever be associated is that of Helen Daniels on Neighbours. Anne was offered the role of the much-loved Robinson family matriarch and everyone's favourite 'Gran' in late 1984, and had to re-locate to Melbourne from Sydney for the part. "We took a chance relocating to Melbourne... we had no idea, just hopes Neighbours would succeed," her husband James recalls. James appeared on the show in it’s early years himself for a time as con artist Douglas Blake, who tried to rob Helen of her life savings. On 2nd January 1985, Anne began rehearsals and the series debuted on the Seven Network on 17th March 1985, but after only 171 episodes, was cancelled due to poor ratings. However, Channel Ten stepped in and in an unprecedented move, picked the show up. The following year, Neighbours returned on Channel Ten, and within two years, had become a phenomenal success not just in Australia but around the world and in particular, the United Kingdom.
In 1987, Anne won the Penguin award for Sustained Performance by an Actor in a Series and her role as Helen made her a household name. In 1988, she, along with 9 other cast members, appeared before the Queen Mother in London at the annual Royal Variety Performance and was proudly made an Honorary Member of the Corpus Christi Junior Common Room at Oxford during the visit. As the years passed, Anne was one of the few original cast members who stuck with the show. By the time it reached the 1,000th episode mark in 1990, only Anne, Alan Dale (who played her son-in-law Jim Robinson), Stefan Dennis (who played her grandson Paul Robinson) and Paul Keane (Des Clarke) remained. By 1993, Paul, Stefan and finally Alan had all left the series leaving Anne as the only remaining original cast member. Despite ups and downs in the show’s popularity, Anne's commitment to Neighbours and Helen Daniels never waned. She was very faithful to the programme and on the 10th anniversary in 1995, she commented "Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be cast in a long-running television show that is so successful and which I love doing."
On the set, Anne was adored by her co-stars, young and old. The younger stars in particular would look to Anne for advice and she was famously strict on punctuality and didn't suffer fools gladly. Sadly, soon after the show's 10th birthday celebrations, Anne’s ill health began to cause problems once again. In 1996, she was forced to take a few months off to have a hip replacement operation and upon returning to the show, was visibly frailer. However, Anne embraced her return to work with huge enthusiasm and turned in some of her finest scenes when Helen had a stroke and struggled to come to terms with the fact that she would lose mobility and be much more dependent on those around her. Off screen, James was a constant presence on set from this point on, as Anne needed help to get around and could only film scenes for short periods of time.
In 1997, Anne was written out of the programme for several months when she was hospitalised with kidney failure. She was so ill at the time that doctors told James and her children that she would not pull through. However, Anne confounded doctors by coming back from the brink. “About two weeks after my family gathered round my hospital bed, I finally gained enough strength to ask what had happened," Anne told Inside Soap magazine in 1998. "James told me the doctors were convinced I was going to die and that rocked me. In the past I have been seriously ill, but nobody ever told me I was going to die."
The brush with death led Anne to make a decision which she had never wanted to make – the time had come for her to leave Neighbours. "Leaving the show has been a huge decision for me. I have lived and played Helen for a large part of my life, so it's hard to leave her behind. But it was a decision I had to make." While Anne had been so ill off screen, Neighbours producers had made the difficult decision to write her out and scenes were shot where Helen died off screen. But Anne insisted on returning to the set one final time, to film Helen’s death scenes. In a moving episode, Helen returned from a lengthy spell in hospital to her home on Ramsay Street, called a halt to the years old Ramsay-Robinson feud by gathering the two families together to watch the wedding video of Scott and Charlene, the ultimate union of the two clans, and then died peacefully on the sofa beside great-granddaughter Hannah. After the scenes were shot, cast and crew gathered to present Anne with a bouquet of flowers and other gifts to pay tribute to the committed and loyal involvement she had had with the programme since day one.
Anne then retired to her home in Melbourne with James. She would continue to come into the Neighbours studios to answer the fan mail she received from Neighbours viewers around the world. As a child, Anne had been a great admirer of film legend Bette Davis and always recalled how pleased she had been to receive a personally signed photograph from her idol, which led Anne to always take care to personally reply to all fan mail she received. She also made a triumphant guest appearance at the party to mark the 3,000th episode of Neighbours in 1998.
Throughout her many years of ill health, Anne never let it dominate her life. “It sounds corny, but we are thankful for every day. We are making the most of every minute. Every day’s a bonus.”
On Sunday 6th June 1999, Anne finally succumbed to the illnesses that had plagued her for so long. She passed away peacefully in the arms of her devoted husband James at a private hospital in Melbourne. Her death made headline news around the world, and her contribution to Neighbours was marked by a memorial service in the grounds of the Neighbours studios in Nunawading a few days later, where cast and crew from all eras of the show gathered to pay their last respects.
Anne Haddy’s portrayal of Helen Daniels was the backbone of the entire Neighbours saga from 1985 to 1997
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