Calum Henderson pays tribute to the most beautiful romance storyline of Shortland Street’s first 25 years.
Two weeks after their daughter’s civil union, Yvonne Jeffries’ husband fell down a cliff and died. She must have thought that was it, she would never love again, there would never be another man like Ian, not at her age. Little did she know that her greatest love was still to come.
When we remember the great romances from Shortland Street’s first 25 years we usually remember Kirsty and Lionel, Donna and Rangi, Jay and Maia. Barb and Sticky? No. We have forgotten the greatest Shortland Street love story of all.
It is a story of forbidden love, of guilt and passion. The love between a proud matriarch-slash-receptionist and an ambulance driver 30 years her junior. Yvonne Jeffries and Ben Goodall, a love so pure the Shortland Street writers couldn’t let it live.
Their paths first crossed in July 2009, when they were hostages in a bank robbery. Ben tried to intervene and got smacked in the head with a crowbar. Suffering a minor head injury, he was admitted to Shortland Street Hospital, where he recognised Yvonne, the receptionist. The pair quickly bonded over their shared traumatic experience.
Yvonne took an immediate shine to Ben – a country boy at heart, honest and hardworking, just like her husband Ian. An ambulance driver by trade, Ben was seconded to Shortland Street to replace ‘Grunter’, a popular ambo who was fired for letting drug-addicted trainee paramedic Hunter McKay drive (and subsequently crash) his ambulance.
Grunter’s loss turned out to be Yvonne’s gain. Selflessly, she set Ben up with her eldest daughter Tania. ‘Tarns’, a nurse, had recently ended a relationship with Kingi, a high-ranking member of the violent White Tails gang. Ben seemed the perfect antidote, but while he clearly found Tarns attractive, and tried hard to make it work (gifting her a Woolshed Sessions CD), romance never blossomed.
Ben eventually broke things off with her at the IV Bar. Deep in his heart he must have known all along it was Yvonne he had feelings for. But Yvonne was closed to the possibility of love – especially with her daughter’s ex. She couldn’t, could she? Tarns would never forgive her, and plus, she was too busy being a grandma to Maia’s little boy Jay Jay.
For what seemed like years, but was in fact only a couple of months, Ben and Yvonne kept their passion buried. Every time Ben pushed the issue Yvonne would pull away, ashamed of what she was feeling. She started seeing an older gentleman called Howard, the grandfather of one of the hospital’s patients. She made plans to take a week’s annual leave and visit him in Mount Maunganui. Then Ben suffered another head injury.
This time he was attacked while out on a job. It was only a minor scrape, but when Yvonne heard an ambulance driver had been injured in the line of duty she went as white as a sheet and rushed to the hospital. TK Samuels could tell something was up. He sensed it. Yvonne couldn’t keep hiding her feelings like this. Finally, she admitted it to TK, and to herself: “I love him,” she blurted.
Although their true feelings were out in the open, Ben and Yvonne continued to see each other under a heavy veil of secrecy, terrified of what would happen when Tarns found out. They planned a trip to Adelaide that Christmas to get some space and figure out what to do about their forbidden love. Yvonne told her family she was going with an old flame, ‘Sammy Diamond’, but when Gerald Tippett saw her kissing Ben in the ambulance bay on CCTV, she knew she had to come clean once and for all.
“That’s the sickest thing I’ve ever heard!” Tarns spat when Yvonne told her what was going on. When she saw Ben and her mum holding hands at the IV later that night she hit the roof. It was the start of a long campaign of hate against her mum and former boyfriend. At the Shortland Street Christmas party she hijacked the microphone and called Yvonne an “old tart”.
In spite of her daughter’s disapproval, Yvonne and Ben entered 2010 as an official couple. They were happy together – drinking cups of tea, reading books, attending car boot sales. Theirs was a pure love. There was no deception, no ulterior motives. Some cruelly speculated that Ben was a gold digger, but that said more about them than him. He and Yvonne were soulmates.
It was too good to last. In June 2010 Ben and Hunter popped out to the supermarket to get ice for a party. In the parking lot Hunter unwisely mouthed off to some thugs. They stuck him with a knife him and cracked Ben’s skull with a wrench. It was third head injury unlucky. This time he suffered a brain bleed and was admitted to Shortland Street in an induced coma. He would never wake up.
“Hello my beautiful man,” Yvonne whispered when she arrived at his bedside. Ben’s head was swaddled in bandages, his throat clogged with tubes. They should have been playing Scrabble and taking slow walks along Ferndale Creek, hand in hand, planning their future together. Instead Yvonne’s last weeks with Ben were spent in a hospital room, arguing with his sister over whether or not to pull the plug.
Ben Goodall died on the 8th of June 2010. Not long afterwards Yvonne Jeffries moved to Sydney with Maia and Jay Jay. For a short few months, they gave us the greatest love story in Shortland Street’s 25-year history.
In the days following Ben’s death, I wrote a poem imagining an alternative reality in which he woke up and everything was fine. Here it is published for the first time.
Ben opened his eyes.
“You’re alive!” cried Yvonne (his soulmate).
Ben smiled. A cheeky grin.
“Tarns thought you were a goner! Everyone did!”
Ben had been in a coma etc.
“I knew you’d pull through. I knew it in my heart. Oh Ben, I’ve missed you.”
“Yvonne you goose,” said Ben.
His first words in over three months.
“I only popped out to get ice.”
Chris Warner (Doctor / family friend) swept in holding a clipboard.
“I didn’t rate you a chance mate,” he said.
Yvonne glowered at him from behind some ACC forms.
“No hard feelings,” said Ben.
Warner did all the standard tests.
“You’ve made a full recovery. You’ll be back to work in no time.”
“I suppose I’ve used up all my sick leave,” Ben roared.
He had been an ambulance driver.
Before the brain bleed.
Hunter was there when it happened.
He held himself partially responsible for the incident.
It was him who had sworn at the thugs.
“Best sleep of my life,” said Ben.
“They stabbed me with a screwdriver,” said Hunter.
Hunter showed him the scar.
Just like the old times.
Yvonne slurped her special tea in the staff room.
T.K. (family friend / Doctor) breezed in and gave her a high five.
“You must be chuffed,” he said.
Yvonne necked the remainder of her drink.
“I’m pleased as punch.”
She went to rinse her cup.
But T.K. intercepted and gave her a big hug.
“I prayed for you, Yvonne.”
He whispered soulfully in her ear.
A nurse brought Ben an egg sandwich (his favourite)
And an electrolyte drink.
“Cheers for that,” said Ben.
Yvonne was telling him all the news from when he was under.
“Jay Jay has started kindy,” she said.
“And Maia and Nicole are in a committed lesbian relationship.”
Some bits of egg fell out of the sandwich onto Ben’s sheets.
Yvonne swept them into her hand.
And popped them in her mouth.