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Neighbours legend Annie Jones: Jane returns on a mission for Mrs Mangel!

Neighbours, Jane Harris

After 29 years away, Jane Harris, is returning to Neighbours. Actress Annie Jones reveals what brings Jane back and the reason she put her own acting career on hold...

After 29 years away, former Neighbours actress Annie Jones  returns to Ramsay Street as Jane Harris, the character that catapulted her to fame in 1986.

Back then, Jane, the grand-daughter of fearsome Erinsborough resident, Mrs Mangel, was nicknamed,  "Plain Jane Super-Brain," because of her serious studious personality and geekish demeanour.

Jane, who was great friends with Charlene and Scott Robinson, (Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan),  later blossomed, had an image makeover and enjoyed romances with Mike Young (Guy Pearce), before leaving Mike and embarking on a relationship with widower Des Clarke, (Paul Keane), who she later got engaged to.

She left Ramsay Street in 1989 in a storyline that saw her moving to the UK to care for Mrs Mangel who had become ill.

Here Annie Jones, 51, who lives in Melbourne with her husband,  tells What's On TV,  why Jane Harris is back in Erinsborough after so long away, which former Neighbours pals she's still in touch with and why she's ready for a new challenge....

What's On TV: What brings Jane back?

Annie Jones: "There’s some unfinished business that she needs to take care of for her grandma, Mrs Mangel. Jane left Ramsay Street to look after her in London, but Mrs Mangel thinks something isn’t quite right back in Erinsborough and she’s sent Jane to sort things out!"

WOTV: So who is still there from Jane’s time?

AJ: "Paul Robinson! When Jane comes back she stays at his hotel, Lassiters, so they bump into each other and he’s like, ‘Oh my good lord, what are you doing here?’. Stefan, (Dennis), who plays him and I got to have quite a few scenes together which was so much fun. He and Geoff Paine, who plays Clive, are the only people from my days so I got to see both those lovely men again. Everyone else is new for me."

WOTV: What was it like being back after 29 years?

AJ: "It felt strangely familiar. A lot has changed in that the show has grown up, they’ve got beautiful sets and amazing cameras and lighting, it looks so wonderful, so in that respect it’s changed quite a bit but in other ways it really is like going home. There were so many familiar faces with the film crew and everyone made me feel incredibly welcome so it was lovely to be back."

'Plain Jane Superbrain' is returning to Neighbours! Actress Annie Jones reprises her legendary role

WOTV: Which cast members do you still see from your Neighbours days?

AJ: "Guy Pearce, (who played Jane’s onscreen boyfriend Mike Pearce), and I still meet up every now and then. We worked together a couple of years ago on his series Jack Irish and he also asked me to be in a film clip he made for his music album. We had a hoot making that together. His album is fantastic."

WOTV: What about Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue? Jane was great mates with their characters Scott and Charlene Robinson. Are you still in touch?

AJ: "Not so much, they live over your side of the world. The only other person I see a lot of is Fiona Corke who played Gail Robinson. She and I became great friends."

WOTV: You’ve had lots of acting roles since being in Neighbours. Which ones have you enjoyed?

AJ: "They’ve all been quite short, guest type roles. I’m really ready to do something long term now.  When you do a guest role  it’s over within a day or two which is why it’s been great to be back on Neighbours, where it's  for a good stretch of time. I've really enjoyed it."

WOTV: You took time out from acting roles to care for your mum, who had Alzheimer’s….

AJ: "Yes, I spent a good 15 to 20 years looking after mum until she passed away in 2016. It got progressively harder and harder until she went into private care. That was one of the reasons I’ve only taken on small guest roles. I just didn't have the emotional resources or the discipline to be on something like Neighbours, where you're working flat out, learning loads of lines and  it's so full on. Being a carer is exhausting enough without having to worry about other stuff, but things are different now.   The time is right and I really want to get stuck into something bigger acting-wise. That’s what I’m really craving."

WOTV: What kind of roles would you like? Comedy maybe or a period drama?

AJ: "I’ve never done a period drama. I’m sure that would be a lot of fun."

WOTV: Did you watch the Oscars this year?

AJ: "Yes I did. I was rooting for Three Billboards. I was so glad that Frances McDormand won Best Actress. I think she is amazing and I loved her in that movie although I was also a little bit sad that Margot Robbie didn’t win for I Tonya, being a former Neighbours star.  (Margot played Donna Brown between 2008-2011) . I don’t know Margot personally but I’ve heard a lot about her, she’s very fondly spoken about at Neighbours."

WOTV: Do people still recognize you from Neighbours and call out your old nickname, “Plain Jane Super-Brain”?

AJ: "People do recognize me but they tend to be a bit cooler than that and don’t shout out, which is good!"

WOTV: Vivean Gray, who played Mrs Mangel, and who sadly passed away in 2016 aged 92, got really sick of all the attention from being in Neighbours didn’t she?

AJ: "Yes, she did, she had a really hard time of it, kids can be cruel sometimes. In those times there were no computer games, or Facebook to take children’s attention away from harassing little old ladies! Vivean and I stayed in touch, every couple of years we’d send each other cards and things."

WOTV: How do you like to chill out when you're not working?

AJ: "I’m a mad gardener. I’ve got loads of bamboo and roses, tomatoes in pots and a few herbs like mint and rosemary. I also like to paint, especially pictures of the ocean."

WOTV: How do you keep fit and healthy?

AJ: "I’ve got a beautiful little whippet, he’s called Clarry, he’s fawn with a black nose. I take him for lots of walks and he’s my constant companion. I live in the middle of Melbourne, so he’s a city dog but we have lots of nice parks nearby.

"I think all the walking I do with Clarry is my main exercise. We go for a good hour and a half every day in some direction."

WOTV: Your character Jane has been living in London. Have you been to the UK recently?

AJ: "I’m planning a trip later at the end of this year. I’ve got some gorgeous friends who live in the UK who I haven’t seem for some time so I’m busting to come over and say hello."

Annie returns to Neighbours on Monday April 6th,  Channel 5, 1.15pm and repeated 5.30pm

Tess Lamacraft
Tess Lamacraft

Tess is a senior writer for What’s On TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite and She's been writing about TV for over 25 years and worked on some of the UK’s biggest and best-selling publications including the Daily Mirror where she was assistant editor on the weekend TV magazine, The Look, and Closer magazine where she was TV editor. She has freelanced for a whole range of websites and publications including We Love TV, The Sun’s TV Mag, Woman, Woman’s Own, Fabulous, Good Living, Prima and Woman and Home.