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Kate Ritchie

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By Declan Cashin

Tuesday April 29 2008

This month marks the end of an era for soap fans as actress Kate Ritchie, who has played Sally on Home and Away for 20 years, bows out of the Aussie sudsfest.

The 29-year-old has played the role of goody-two-shoes Sally Fletcher since the first episode of the soap went out in January 1988, and was the longest-serving performer on the show along with co-star Ray Meagher (Alf Stewart).

Ritchie's emotional departure from the show, which will be screened on RTE2 in mid-May, attracted huge coverage in Australia, making it onto several news shows, and even earning a 24-page supplement covering the actor's time as Sally in the magazine TV Week. Her final episode on April 3 in Australia drew in 1.5m viewers, which was unprecedented for an early evening soap in Oz.

After 4,609 episodes, and two Logie Awards -- one for Most Popular TV Personality -- Ritchie is no doubt leaving on a high, and is relieved to be moving on from playing a girl who, in her own words, "grew up and got her first bra on telly".

But the actress may soon find that life after a long spell in a soap is not all it's cracked up to be. The dustbin of television history is littered with examples of stars who enjoyed wild popularity on a hit soap, and who mistakenly believed they could channel that appeal into a successful acting career in film or other TV projects.

Julie Goodyear is one such example. Her role as brassy, leopard-print-obsessed barmaid Bet Lynch on Coronation Street made her a television institution. After first appearing briefly in the role in 1966, Goodyear became a regular cast member in 1970, and stayed at the heart of the soap's action in the Rovers Return until 1995, when she climbed into the back of a black cab and sauntered off to pastures new.

It didn't exactly work out that way, however. Goodyear filmed a pilot for her own talk show which network bosses later labelled 'untransmittable'. Her colourful private life and reportedly difficult, diva-ish behaviour quickly made Goodyear persona non grata in TV circles, meaning she has had to slum it in increasingly tacky reality TV shows -- such as I'm Famous and Frightened and Celebrity Fit Club -- to keep the wolves from the door.

The 66-year-old attempted a disastrous comeback to Corrie in 2002, but she was unable to keep pace with the pressurised filming demands, and left the show again after just a few episodes, citing ill health. She was last seen in a brief role in teen soap Hollyoaks.

Martine McCutcheon is another star who struggled to make it big after soap life. The 31-year-old became a household name playing barmaid Tiffany Mitchell in EastEnders from 1995-1998, and when her character was killed off, McCutcheon believed she had the world at her feet.

She immediately pursued a pop career, topping the UK and Irish charts in 1999 with the single Perfect Moment. Subsequent single and album sales proved to be a disappointment, however, and her contract was pulled in 2002.

A successful stint as Eliza Dolittle in the stage production of My Fair Lady led to McCutcheon's biggest role to date, opposite Hugh Grant in the 2003 festive romantic comedy Love Actually. However, Hollywood failed to take notice, and work dried up -- save for the odd TV appearance -- until this year when she starred opposite Jason Donovan in the bizarre Echo Beach/Moving Wallpaper, which lasted for 12 episodes.

Another EastEnders star, Michelle Ryan, appeared to have struck gold after leaving the soap, only for it all to turn sour soon after. The 23-year-old, who played Zoe Slater in the show, stunned Hollywood when she landed the plum role of Jaime Sommers in the US re-imagining of the classic TV show Bionic Woman.

Ryan mastered an American accent, and undertook intensive physical training for the role in the series, which initially garnered favourable reviews when it debuted last September. However, the show plunged in quality, viewers deserted, and production halted after eight episodes of a planned 14 due to the Hollywood writer's strike. The NBC network didn't renew the series after the strike, and it was cancelled, crushing Ryan's hopes of cracking America.

The good news for Kate Ritchie, however, is that Aussie soap stars have a better track record of making it once they leave the soap bubble. Indeed, many Home and Away stars have gone on to bigger and better things, amongst them Julian McMahon (now in Nip/Tuck), Melissa George (Alias, The Amityville Horror), Isla Fisher (soon to be Mrs Sacha Baron Cohen), Dannii Minogue and the late Heath Ledger.

Similarly, former stars from Home and Away's rival, Neighbours, have also established successful post-soap careers, including singers Kylie Minogue, Delta Goodrem and Natalie Imbruglia, and actors Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe and the ubiquitous Alan Dale (Jim Robinson), who is now the go-to guy for TV villains, appearing in The OC, 24, Ugly Betty and Lost.

Ritchie herself has refused to comment on her post-Sally ambitions, but she has been guest presenting on breakfast radio in Sydney, and has hinted at a move into more broadcasting. And even if that goes pear-shaped, Ritchie always has panto in the UK, or she could make a return to Summer Bay, either as Sally or her long-lost sister/mother, a move that all Home and Away fans know is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

- Declan Cashin

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MILLIONS of people around the world are Leona Lewis fans, but the UK pop sensation was bleeding love for Kate Ritchie when she popped into the Nova 969 studios yesterday.

A self-confessed Home and Away tragic, Lewis nearly fell off her chair when loudmouth larrikin Merrick Watts cracked a joke about Ritchie making an ugly exit from Summer Bay.

As Ritchie's alter ego Sally is yet to have left the soap in the UK, a starstruck Lewis was audibly concerned.

"Oh my God, you get killed?," she squawked.

After a little consoling, the love-in continued, with the visiting singer even requesting a quick fan snap with a clearly amused Ritchie.

Source: news.com.au

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