Shortland Street: The 10 best characters

By Michele Hewitson

Which residents of Shortland Street do we remember the most? MICHELE HEWITSON takes a personal poll.

Best Character

Marjorie "Marj" Neilson/Brasch (played by Elizabeth McRae 1992-96)

No, it was not love at first sight. But when we first saw her - peering over those glasses on that chain, lemon-lipped, disapproving, - we knew who she was all right. She was that woman who sat outside the headmaster's office and made you sit on the hard bench outside while you waited for an appointment about a little matter to do with smoking behind the bike sheds. She was, later, that woman outside the bosses office who made you stand while you waited for an appointment about a little matter to do with being caught photocopying your bum at the office party.

Her receptionist's desk, wrote Herald critic Barry Shaw in 1992, was "about the only place where the makers of Shortland Street have got it right".

"There is definitely a special breed of female dragons who see it as their duty and right to fend off any mortals visiting medical portals."

No, says Elizabeth McRae who played Marjorie, viewers did not take her character to their hearts straight away. Not until the writers realised that she could be played with "a bit of comedy and a bit of warmth".

What McRae liked most about Marj was that while she could be judgmental, "her saving grace was that she could admit her mistakes".

Her mouth made that moue like a cat's bum over the introduction of a lesbian nurse, but she conceded "I was very close to a girl once ... I can understand this".

She was against the move for the clinic to answer its phones with a cheery "kia ora". But once she embraced telephone biculturalism, nobody mangled the phrase with more gusto than our Marj.

Best phrase: "Mind your own beeswax."

Silliest scene No 1: When Marj's scarf got caught in the photocopying machine and she was almost strangled. She was saved by Nick who just happened to be washing the windows outside.

Silliest scene No 2: When Marj took the wrong medication, went psychotic and came over a bit sexy.

Maddest storyline: Husband number one, Tom Neilson was sent to the dairy on Christmas Day to get the cream. He never returned. A psychic was brought in. McRae says the actor had to beg to be allowed to come back and be killed off because people would say to him, "Why don't you go home? Everyone's looking for you. Your wife is looking for you."

Most useful character trait: Marjus interruptus. "I did a lot of interrupting sex scenes. If anyone was going to interrupt a sex scene, it would be Marj."

She was bossy, opinionated, a terrible gossip. She was everyone's favourite Aunt, with the flapping mouth and the big heart. The one you never wanted your friends to meet (especially not friends you happened to be having sex with) but who would be around in a flash with chicken soup when your body or soul needed mending.

The other nine best

2. Stuart Neilson (played by Martin Henderson, 1992-95)

Because he was cute. Okay? And, oh all right, because we had a thing about brooding boys in school uniform. But we grew out of it.

3. Darryl Neilson/Damien (played by Mark Ferguson, 1994-97/98)

Because he was much, much nastier than Coro Street's Peter Barlow will ever manage to be. He played Darryl like a weasel wearing a man suit.

4. Lionel Skeggins (played by John Leigh, 1995-98)

Because he was such a cuddly old romantic. Because as a cupcake, he was as sexy as a bran muffin.

5. Nick Harrison (played by Karl Burnett, 1992-2002)

Because, in his never-ending quest to be cool, he joined a band and played in it for months before realising they were a Christian rock group. Duh. Because he had Nick's slacker/unlikely entrepreneur character down to such a fine art that he made Ken Barlow look animated.

6. Dr Hone Ropata (played by Temuera Morrison,1992-95)

Because he managed to play Hone with a barely concealed sense of amusement and a faraway, pining for Guatemala look in his eye.

7. Carla Crozier Leach (played by Elisabeth Easther, 1996-97)

Because she was our very own psycho-bitch; our very own multiple-personality sufferer (all of them psycho-bitches.)

8. Kirsty Knight (played by Angela Dotchin, 1992-98)

Because, by her own admission, she perfected that "sulk-faced pout". And because she, like Kylie, survived a horror perm to become a glam chick with chic.

9. Rachel McKenna (played by Angela Bloomfield 1994-99/2001)

Because, when she left the show in 1999 she listed the highlights as: one marriage, one divorce, one arrest, one hostage, caused a heart attack. And, 47 Zambesi outfits. Gosh, we asked, how will life post-the-Street ever match all this? It obviously didn't.

10. Dr Chris Warner (played by Michael Galvin 1992-95/2001)

Because he appeared in the very first episode bonking Susie Aiken as pneumatic aerobics instructor Jill. And because, despite being widely referred to ever-after as Dr Sleaze/Lurve, he kept insisting his character was really a caring, sharing sort of guy.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 03 Sep 2014 11:16:59 Processing Time: 709ms