Inside Shane Withington and Anne Tenney’s private marriage

The couple’s on-screen daughter Emily Nicol opens up about their famous romance.
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During A Country Practice’s golden years, millions of Aussies would tune in every week to watch the love story between Molly (played by Anne Tenney) and Brendan Jones (played by Shane Withington) unfold.

WATCH: Molly’s Death on A Country Practice

But devoted fans had no idea that, away from Wandin Valley, Anne and Shane had also fallen head over heels in love with each other, and were desperately trying to keep their real-life romance a secret.  

Even Emily Nicol, who played their on-screen daughter, Chloe, was oblivious about the relationship for years, despite the former child actor exclusively telling New Idea that Shane and Anne became like parents to her.

On-screen, Molly and Brendan fell for each other. Off-screen, Anne and Shane did the same thing. (Credit: Supplied)

“There was a close bond with both of my on-screen parents,” Emily reveals, 40 years since ACP’s first episode went to air on Channel 7.

“Both Shane and Anne are the loveliest of people and most of my scenes were of course with them and in their care. I don’t think it would have worked if there wasn’t a natural affinity.

“I had names for them on set – ‘Brendaddy’ and ‘Mollymum’ – so that says a lot about our bond.”

Molly and Brendan’s love and commitment to each other, and to Chloe, was a big part of what made so many Aussies fall in love with ACP, and it’s why Molly’s on-screen death from leukaemia 35 years ago remains one of the most heartbreaking farewells in Australian television history.

Shane and Anne’s on-screen daughter (Chloe), played by Emily Nicol (pictured), tells New Idea that the actors became like real-life parents to her. (Credit: Supplied)

“People do remember Molly because the dying scene was such a huge thing,” Anne says. “I really did love playing her. The character, Molly, was so popular that I had fans from 5 to 92, so I knew that was going to be a huge thing. It was a shock. The impact was huge.”

Anne, now 67, famously went on to play two more iconic mums – Sal Kerrigan in Aussie comedy, The Castle, and Liz Taylor in the TV drama series, Always Greener – but kept her life with Shane extremely private.

“I stayed at home and I was a mum for a while,” Anne says, explaining that she turned her back on fame to raise daughter, Maddie, now 30, with Shane at their home in Church Point, NSW, for six years before making her comeback in The Castle.

While Anne revelled in being a stay-at-home mum, Shane, now 62, continued to wow fans with a series of TV and film roles.

Since 2009, he has found a new generation of fans playing cantankerous but big-hearted John Palmer in Home and Away – where daughter Maddie even made a guest appearance in 2015.

WATCH: Anne Tenney reflects on her iconic roles (Article continues after video)

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Meanwhile, Emily grew up long ago, and now that little girl with the big brown eyes that Australia fell in love with has a daughter of her own! Emily is also making waves as a digital radio and TV producer. She left ACP when she was just 5 years old and says it was difficult saying goodbye to Anne and Shane.

“There was definitely a period of adjustment,” Emily tells. “At the age of 5 when you’ve spent most of your life so far surrounded by certain people, and then stop seeing them, it’s hard to understand. I feel really honoured and lucky to have been a part of a show that holds a special place for many people.”

Emily, who quit acting at 12 years old, is now raising her own 2-year-old daughter, Tia, with partner, Dan, and working on an album collaboration with her dad, Johnny Nicol, who is one of Australia’s top jazz musicians.

“I was offered a part on Home and Away, which I turned down,” she reveals. “It’s funny to think where that might have led.”

For more, pick up a copy of New Idea. On sale now!

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