Nobody could have foreseen how Home and Away would convert several of its early cast members into major household celebrities when it first debuted as a rival soap opera to Neighbours in 1988.
Donald Fisher, the school’s principal, Shane and Angel, Marilyn Chambers, nurturing foster mother Pippa Fletcher, and a host of other characters were almost as well-known to many people as their own friends and family.
Another one of those names is grumpy old Alf Stewart, who was once married to Ailsa, a soap opera mainstay, and was one of the original 18 characters in the programme.
Although many of the people of Summer Bay have since moved away or even passed away—sometimes in actual life as with unfortunate Dieter Brummer, who played Shane—Alf and Marilyn are still alive today, about 35 years later.
The only original cast member of Home and Away is Ray Meagher, who has played Alf since the show’s first episode and holds the Guinness World Record for the longest-running actor in an Australian serial.
Emily Symons, who plays Marilyn, has joined and left the drama multiple times since her initial appearance in 1989.
Ray, who turned 79 in July of this year, began his career in Australian film and television in the 1970s by first serving as the host of the late-night folk music programme Around Folk.
He later joined Home and Away for filming in 1987 after playing three different crooks in Prisoner between 1979 and 1980.
He was named the most popular television personality in Australia in 2010 and again in 2018, winning a Gold Australian TV Logie Award.
He self-deprecatedly responded, “Oh, look, I think it’s all accidental,” when asked by Australia’s 7 News about the secret to his success. Since I lacked the qualifications for anything else, I ended up choosing this profession, and the rest has really just been common sense.
Therefore, if you get the fundamentals right—such as showing up on time and knowing your lines—that’s a good start, and hopefully you get better at it over time.
Ray hasn’t been filming the Australian soap for 35 continuous years. He first appeared as Bob the mechanic in the musical production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert in Australia in 2007, before assuming the role in London’s West End the following year, which he later returned to.
More than 17 Christmas pantomimes in the UK have included him, including Aladdin in 2008 and Peter Pan in 2009.
In 2013, Ray revealed to OK! in an exclusive interview what he loved and didn’t like about his soap opera character Alf, discussing Alf’s occasionally gloomy personality.
“In my opinion, Alf is a highly community-minded individual who cares a great deal about the Bay. He claimed that he would fight against major developments if he believed they would damage the coastline.
“Probably when he was younger, he would fly off the handle, sometimes without all the information, and when it was pointed out to him, he would eventually apologise, but the apology was very brief,” he continued. You might miss Alf Stewart’s apologies if you went to get a cup of tea or use the restroom.
For Ray, things haven’t always gone well. He underwent extensive heart surgery back in 2019 when physicians found three significant blockages during a routine tourine wellness check.
He had a triple heart bypass, then took some time off to heal.
Fans of Home and Away experienced the shock of their life two years ago when they believed Ray had genuinely passed away in a weird mix-up that could have been lifted right out of a soap opera.
Some people misinterpreted a Facebook link to a news story honouring him on his 77th birthday because they saw the phrase “tributes are flowing” and assumed it was about his passing.
I feared he had passed away. Wow. One fan exclaimed, “Just scare a nation,” and another quoted one of Alf’s well-known catchphrases, “Stone the burning crows. I initially believed he had died.
But in January of this year, Ray told The Sun: “I signed a deal last year for another five years! Just in case anyone thought Ray was considering slowing down as he approaches 80! I’ll surely take care of that.
Therefore, it appears that Alf will continue to be active in Summer Bay for some time to come.