'Joe Mangel will never leave me'

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ONCE upon a time he played the most-loved Aussie character since Dame Edna Everage.

ONCE upon a time he played the most-loved Aussie character since Dame Edna Everage.Now Mark Little, the man who brought Neighbours star Joe Mangel to life, is back in Peterborough in a movable feast of a comedy.

The Safari Party, by Calendar Girls writer Tim Firth, tells the story of a dinner party which moves between three different households for each of the three courses.

Mark plays a nouveau rich businessman, one of several owners of a table which has a lot of history behind it.

Speaking exclusively to The Guide, Mark said: “He’s a bit of a bigot, a bit of a fool. He’s a bit of new money who made his fortune from golf courses. He’s one of those city country folks who doesn’t understand it – he totally hates tractors and noises and the smell, but he’s into being in the country.”

He has drawn on his own experiences of being country-born to play the part.

He is featuring alongside fellow TV stars Jack Ryder from EastEnders, and David Brown and Helen Noble from Hollyoaks, with original Crossroads star Lynette McMorrough playing his wife.

The Safari Party is the latest chapter in Mark’s long career, which began back in the ’70s with popular Australian series’ such as The Sullivans and The Flying Doctors.

He also used to perform stand-up – something he attributes to having a family from a young age.

He said: “I’m a classically trained actor. I’ve dabbled in a lot of things because I had to pay the rent. With stand-up it meant I could keep working. I’m a jack of all trades.”

It was Neighbours and the likeable rogue Joe Mangel which really got him noticed in 1988, especially with UK audiences which numbered 10 million at the time.

Mark said: “Joe Mangel will never leave us – he seems to have been accepted in English society like Eddie the Eagle Edwards. He will never leave me, and I don’t know if I want him to.

“He’s a good mate and he gets me a lot of love out there in the community – a lot of care in the community!”

He did try to bring Joe back to Erinsborough last year, but found Neighbours a very changed place.

Mark said: “This new Australia had got a bit mean and nastier. There didn’t seem to be a place for Joe Mangel. It does seem to be a bit of the state of the nation – Neighbours used to have a nice airiness to it and a lot of humour. Now it has got very dark and there’s a terrible post 9/11 Neighbours.”

He felt the changes in Neighbours reflected a change in Australia as a whole.

He said: “Joe is like one of a dying breed – I don’t know if there are really too many Joe Mangels left. He was a genuine, easy bloke that is dying out. He knew the language. He could have been one of the last Australians!

“Australia has changed dramatically. I have lived over here in the UK for 15 years – I like the way England copes with everything.

“In Australia there is too much terror. It changes people’s laid-back attitude.

“Australia has become very Americanised in the last 10 years. It used to be quite English – England was a great part of our culture. I don’t know if I like it – you can’t just follow America, you have to find your own culture.”

For now he is looking forward to carrying on the tour and continuing the close contact with the audience that he gets from theatre work.

And there is more great news for Mark Little fans as his one-man show, Defending The Caveman, is set to return to the road next year.

Mark said: “It’s really nice – it can be very up and down in my business, so it is nice to go into a purple patch.”