Pappa Was A Rolling Stone

Why being a child of Brad Willis isn’t plain surfing

Brad Willis, played by Kip Gamblin since 2013, has never had an easy relationship with his children. When the family first arrived in the street, we saw only two of his offspring, twins Josh and Imogen. Younger daughter Piper was apparently ‘on a school exchange programme in Canada.’ (A convenient ruse when the writers want to introduce a new family member at a later date.) But long-time viewers also knew of an older son, Ned, whom Brad had fathered with his first wife, Beth. That marriage ended when Brad had an affair with Terese, who he subsequently married. Before his marriage to Beth, Brad had had a brief affair with Lauren Carpenter. Are you keeping up? We then learnt about, and were introduced to, the child of that union, Paige. Brad knew nothing of Paige’s existence until she was twenty, whilst Lauren believed that neonatal death had snatched her daughter away. The revelation of Paige’s existence, together with the back-story of how Lauren’s mother secretly, and illegally, handed Paige over for adoption, brought about one of the most emotionally gripping and tense familial storylines in recent years. And the fallout continues.

In the aftermath of the recent Lassiter’s explosion, Brad has to be afforded some empathy. After all, he and estranged wife Terese have lost their beloved Josh, whilst Brad has also lost his father. But it’s clear that Brad never really found it easy to relate emotionally to his children, and that some of his past decisions would come up and bite him on the bum at a later date. We could understand that he was immensely proud of Josh and his potential to be a champion swimmer. Josh was committed to his goal but having his father as coach led to conflict and misunderstandings between the two. And Imogen felt neglected. She expressed several times during her time in Erinsborough, that whatever she achieved, it seemed to pass her father by, so hell-bent was he on getting Josh to the Commonwealth Games. That was never to be achieved, of course, after Josh’s accident which rendered his swimming career over. Brad arguably should have given his distraught son more support, but by the time Paige was on the scene, his attention was turned to this new daughter and by association, to Lauren. Brad doesn’t often get his priorities right!

Clash of the half-sisters

With Paige’s arrival, Imogen once again felt pushed out; the half-sisters clashing repeatedly, whilst eventually settling into a more amicable relationship. Then, a year ago, younger sibling, Piper, came home. Independent and strong-minded like Imogen, Piper had been used to making decisions for herself during her remarkably long stay in Canada. But it didn’t mean that she wasn’t vulnerable. Still only sixteen, she had arrived back to one big mess, her father about to leave the marital home to live with Lauren. She was understandably upset, and carrying a burden of her own, which we later discovered was a love affair in Canada with Brodie, a guy her father had coached alongside Josh, until Brodie had implicated Josh in taking illegal steroids. When Brodie came back on the scene and the fact of his and Piper’s meet-ups in Canada was discovered, Piper needed her father’s understanding and guidance. Brad, however, seemed unsure of how to handle the situation. Again, he seemed to have his mind elsewhere. It isn’t that he doesn’t love his children, but he tends to fail to notice when each one, in turn, is having an emotional crisis.

During Josh’s tragic death scene, we saw Brad and number two son say their sad goodbyes to one another. Brad surely must have realised at that point that he needed to shape up to being a more consistent father in the here and now. Cue the arrival of oldest son, Ned. Whilst Ned believed his dad had taken little interest in him when he was growing up, viewers knew that his mother, Beth, had deliberately prevented Brad from seeing Ned. But you have to question just how hard Brad had tried to fight for access. It is typical of Brad to attempt to avoid conflict at any cost. This mess was largely of his making, and running away from the problem caused greater heartache. In Ned, we saw an angry young man, resentful that his father had, in his eyes, abandoned him and his mother, and started a new family without so much as a second thought. Not only that, this was his first meeting with half-sister, Paige, slightly older than him, with her feet now firmly under the family table. Ned felt like an outsider, felt let down by Brad, and wanted to let his father know it.

The angry young Ned

It’s fair to say that Brad wasn’t in the best emotional state when Ned, played by the super-sexy Ben Hall, arrived. But again, instead of making any attempt to talk frankly with Ned, Brad flounced around apparently not knowing what to do or say, serving only to cement Ned’s view of his father as irredeemably selfish. Quite why Brad didn’t try to put the record straight about Beth’s blocking his access to Ned, goodness knows. Ned grew angrier and acted out, sabotaging his father’s Citizen Of The Year award ceremony by replacing the selected video with CCTV footage of Brad and Lauren kissing. Ned, you could argue, had reason to feel resentful towards everyone. To his half-siblings, because they’d had their father in their lives whereas he hadn’t, to Terese, for stealing Brad away from him and his mother, and to Lauren, for causing the family further pain. He acted-out his resentment, even trashing Josh’s grave because, for reasons best known to Brad and Terese, Josh’s headstone commemorated him as sibling of Imogen, Paige and Piper – with no mention of Ned. Viewers could readily understand Ned’s anger.

Again, instead of noticing Ned’s pain, Brad’s mind was elsewhere, in the quest to get justice for Josh’s death. And Ned’s attention turned to Lauren. Neglected by the amount of time Brad was spending comforting Terese, Lauren’s surrogate step-motherly kindness towards Ned started to confuse him. He saw it as something more. Not that Lauren wasn’t partially complicit in Ned’s obvious flirting. Ned is without doubt an extremely attractive young man. Rippling muscles, smouldering eyes, sexy smile, slightly mysterious. He has sex appeal writ large. And Lauren was definitely flattered by his attention. Why else would she manage to find so much time outside of running a business to sit by the pool sketching, all of a sudden? It might be that Ned reminded her of a younger Brad. (Although he reminds this viewer of what a younger Matt, Lauren’s late husband, might have looked like.) Ned had started to get to Lauren and he knew it. Did he really think that his father and Terese had hooked up again in secret? He claims he did, but was it just an excuse to win Lauren’s attention, or even worse, get revenge against Brad?

I like to think that Ned is basically a good guy, even though we were told he’d been in trouble before, belonging to a notorious criminal gang, and even being an accomplice in a robbery at his grandparents house. He seems to be genuinely remorseful for this act, though. Hence, Doug’s ploy, with Josh’s help, in bringing him to Erinsborough before just before the explosion. Doug was desperate to see Ned and Brad reconcile. Ned’s proven to be a popular character, not least because of his looks, but also because he’s complex and interesting. I have come to the conclusion that he genuinely believed his dad was neglecting Lauren, from whom he was receiving mixed messages. That slightly-too-long pause before she turned away after he’d ‘accidentally’ dropped his towel, causing a lot of viewers hearts to beat very fast! The way that she didn’t exactly pull away immediately when he went in for the kiss, showed us that Lauren was tempted alright. Thankfully for all concerned, she came to her senses just in time, although some viewers were rather relishing the scenario, one which, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t been tackled before in Neighbours.

Clan Willis: torn apart again

The revelation of the illicit kiss, which, to give him his due, Ned took full responsibility for, has caused further ructions in the already-torn apart and tortured Willis clan. But even Brad has realised that he can’t put all the blame on his son for this latest crisis. He might need to do a lot of soul-searching now that Ned has gone back to Sydney, having been totally honest and explaining that he does still have feelings for Lauren which he needs to get over. If Brad had perhaps been more honest in the past himself, then he might have had a better relationship with all of his five children. He recognises that he can’t condemn Ned too much for his actions, because it would be hypocritical. And having lost one of his children, he has to face up to his own shortcomings and ensure that he scores higher on the parental scale from now on.

Neighbours fans have been very taken with Ned, so are hoping desperately that Ben is invited to return. We don’t mind if Ned causes more friction in the family, or if he takes up with a new love interest, just as long as he returns. And after all, Brad needs Ned just as much as Ned needs Brad. Currently, Brad is at risk of being as neglectful a father as Paul Robinson, and perhaps Ned is the one to turn that around. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Ned’s stay on Ramsay Street, and surely there is plenty of scope for his character to be developed further. Thank you for your acting, Ben, and we hope this is just ‘see you soon’, not ‘goodbye.’ Keep your mobile on loud, for when the call comes!

© Carol Ann Wood
June 2016


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