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Home and Away takes the cake

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Home and Away takes the cake

The Advertiser

23 January 2008

IT HAS been a mainstay of the Australian TV landscape for two decades, but Channel 7 beachside soap Home and Away is still going from strength to strength.

Rather than being relegated to the ranks of a daggy has-been series, the residents of Summer Bay have been continually updated and a grab to capture the youth market has been a niche move.

The success of this format has never been more evident than this year when Home and Away celebrates its 20th birthday but farewells its first lady.

There have been some familiar faces which have been along for the bulk of the journey - soap stalwarts who boast world records for the longest appearance on an Australian soap - until now.

With Summer Bay's favourite daughter - Sally Fletcher (Kate Ritchie) - set to exit stage left this year, changes are afoot. Notably, her exit leaves Ray Meagher (Alf Stewart) with the Guinness World Record title. With an audience which is on the increase, it will be interesting to see if the soap continues its ratings stronghold in 2008.

While Kate Ritchie has always been fiercely protective about her private life, on the cusp of her exit from the series she is much more circumspect about her life - and her time on the show.

``I spent 20 years telling someone else's story on Home and Away. Now I am going to have to start telling my own stories,'' Ritchie says.

``I finally got to the point in life where I realised that I was going to be OK without Home and Away. It wasn't about proving I was more than just that girl from Home and Away - the only one I really had to prove that to was myself.''

With no time to catch her breath before she started on radio at Nova (joining comedic duo Merrick & Rosso), Ritchie says it probably won't hit home that she has left Home and Away until her final scenes air in April.

She already misses the cast and crew who ``were like family''.

But growing up in the public eye was hard at times, particularly during those awkward teenage years.

``People still come up to me and say `I remember when you got your first bra','' Ritchie says. ``Getting your first bra can be embarrassing enough, let alone watching it happen on television in the lounge room with your dad and your brother and then having to go to school the next day.

``But that was one of the nice things about playing Sally. She was just an ordinary girl. She had puppy fat and spots.

``She didn't have the coolest clothes or the cutest boyfriends.''

Ritchie had been thinking of leaving Home and Away for years but made the decision early last year, just before winning a Gold Logie.

Working on a made-for-TV movie Stepfather of the Bride, Channel 7's reality series It Takes Two - first as a singing contestant and then Grant Denyer's co-host - and on drive-time radio with Akmal last year gave her the confidence to leave the soap and try something new. ``I tested the water a bit and did a few bits and pieces,'' she says.

One of the first people she told about her intentions to leave was co-star Meagher, to whom she has passed the veteran baton . . . with no regrets.

``Over 20 years, I have grown from a child actor to his peer,'' she says. ``We talk about everything from work to our love lives`` she says. ``We have been joint Guinness world record holders until now. Actually, I think he's been trying to push me out for some time so he could have it to himself.''

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