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Alf Stewart on stage

Home and Away's Ray Meagher joins Priscilla: Queen of the Desert this week. He talks to Diana Simmonds.

Alf Stewart on stage

By Diana Simmonds

On Tuesday night, Ray Meagher will carry his toolbox on stage in Priscilla Queen of the Desert and, as Bob the Mechanic, he and Tony Sheldon (Bernadette) will slowly and sweetly fall in love.

For Meagher, star of Seven's long-running soapie Home and Away, it's a busman's holiday engagement (while Michael Caton is taking a break) and one he has been looking forward to for weeks. Not least because it means a working reunion with Sheldon after a 35 year gap.

"We were at the Adelaide Festival," recalls Meagher, "In the Peter Kenna trilogy." (An experimental marathon then known as The Cassidy Album consisting of A Hard God, Furtive Love and An Eager Hope.)

"It would be difficult to forget," says Meagher, now a household face and name through his recording breaking TV run - since 1988 - as Alf Stewart. "We opened the first play on Monday, the second on Tuesday, the third at ten-o'clock on Wednesday, the second at 2pm and the third right after that. Then we started all over again for the run of the season and then at the Seymour Centre."

Ray Meagher and Michael CatonHe twinkles at the memory. Ray Meagher does a lot of twinkling, which probably accounts for his amazing fan base: from 14-year-old girls to their grandmothers, plus the rest.

"They do come in young," says Meagher, grinning. "I suppose the ones who are the mothers now were the 14-year-olds back then and the mothers back then are the grandmothers now and so on."

Perhaps Alf Stewart represents a solid continuing male presence - the dad or uncle who might be a bit scary but is always there and always comes good in the end?

"The character does go off from time to time," says Meagher. "He goes off at people and doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good rant. And what you have to remember is that although the rant and abuse might go on for weeks, when he eventually says sorry, it's over in one scene. But he's a decent bloke underneath and it's always for the good of the victim!"

Playing Bob the Mechanic, the avuncular outback toughie-with-a-heart-of-gold who falls for glamorous trany Bernadette, isn't something Meagher ever thought he'd do.

"At first I said no," says Meagher, "Because the Home and Away schedule is pretty full on. I was very flattered to be asked, but I didn't see how I could do it. Then they said - but have you seen the show? And I hadn't, so I went along and that was it. I knew I couldn't pass it up. And the Home and Away producers were very helpful and enthusiastic."

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