There are few actors who can lay claim to bringing to life not one but two of the most memorable characters in the history of Australian television.
Such is the case for Home and Away’s much-loved star Shane Withington.
WATCH! Shane Withington celebrates 10 years on 'Home and Away'!
This year celebrating his 10th anniversary on the hit weeknight series as the often cantankerous but always warm-hearted John Palmer, Shane is also known to viewers for his portrayal of nurse Brendan Jones in the wildly popular ’80s drama A Country Practice.
Through it all, Shane – happily married to his former A Country Practice co-star Anne Tenney, with whom he has a grown-up daughter, Madeleine – has never lost sight of what’s most important.
Here, the acclaimed star reflects on a hugely enjoyable career and gives a revealing insight into his work and life away from the Bay.
Shane, when you were offered the role of John Palmer, did you imagine you’d still be playing him a decade on?
Not at all. I was invited onto Home and Away for 12 weeks and I’ve ended up staying 10 years.
So, the moral of the story is: don’t ask me for dinner – I’ll never go home! [Laughs] But I had no idea it would be such a long and, I must say, wonderfully enjoyable run.
John Palmer came in as an angry naval father and I thought, “Angry dad is not going to have legs, but I can make him an angry funny dad,” and that’s when the character really took off. I made him vain, jealous, egotistical, but still lovable. He shows all my weaknesses – it’s great. It’s like therapy playing John Palmer – he’s wonderful. And doing light comedy is what I like the most – I love it to pieces.
Which storylines have been particularly memorable for you?
When John had his brain tumour and went off the rails and became an arsonist – that was a tremendous storyline to play. It was a big one and I was really flattered the writers trusted me with it. I also adored working with Sonia Todd, when she played my wife on the show, and also with young William [McDonald] who plays Jett – we get on like a house on fire. And the courtship and marriage to [Palmer’s current wife] Marilyn [Emily Symons] has been really good fun. Just the way they bond and have a sense of humour.
And Emily makes every day so easy for me.
What have been the best things about the job on a personal level?
Well, I sail to work – that’s one thing I really like! I’m one of the few people, I think, in Australia who can get up in the morning and jump on to his little boat and tootle up the bay and go to work and then sail home in the afternoon. Another really lovely thing about Home and Away is all of the lifelong friendships that have formed and continued through the show.
Was that also the case with A Country Practice?
Oh, without doubt. A Country Practice was one of the few shows – because it doesn’t often happen – where everyone in the cast remained lifelong friends. I’m proud of that and I’m really grateful to all those people – all of them – for being in my life.”
Last year saw the passing of the wonderful Penny Cook [who played Vicky Dean Bowen in ACP]. That must have been devastating.
Yes, you really mourn the ones you love, and Penny was the last person you’d expect to go. She was such a vibrant, beautiful, intelligent and witty person. She was a great loss
– not only to the theatre but as a person.
You’re also very involved in community work.
I’m a heritage activist. I’ve always, since I was a boy, placed a high value on preserving our historic buildings and our historic sites.
Finally, what are your future hopes for John Palmer?
Longevity! I hope he remains in the Bay. I wouldn’t mind being there until it’s Nursing-Home and Away, but that’s entirely up to the producers. I just hope he remains a vibrant figure in the show whose humour is welcomed by the audience.
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