‘neighbour(s) from hell’: meaning and early occurrences

The words —— from hell are suffixed to nouns often referring to everyday life, such as holidays and neighbour(s) (U.S. English neighbor(s)), to make phrases denoting an exceptionally unpleasant or bad example or instance of ——.

 

IN BRITISH AND IRISH ENGLISH

 

The earliest recorded occurrence of the phrase neighbour(s) from hell is from the review, published in The Daily Telegraph (London, England), of Sylvania Waters 1, the first episode of which was broadcast in Britain on BBC 1 on Thursday 22nd April 1993.

1 Co-produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Sylvania Waters was an Australian reality-television series following the lives of Laurie and Noeline Donaher in the affluent Sydney suburb of Sylvania Waters.

Richard Glover quoted The Daily Telegraph in Britain meets the Neighbours from hell, published in The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales) of Friday 23rd April 1993:

Laurie and Noeline Donaher, said the review in London’s Daily Telegraph, are “the neighbours from hell”. They are “Alf Garnett 2 with money”. They are “Dame Edna Everage 3 without the wit”.
The show, said the paper, is “six hours of drinking, smoking, arguing and splashing around in swimming pools”.

2 Alf Garnett is a fictional character from the British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part (1965-1975); he was interpreted by the English actor Warren Mitchell (Warren Misell – 1926-2015).
3 Dame Edna Everage is a fictional character satirising the average Australian housewife, created and interpreted by the Australian comedian Barry Humphries (born 1934).

The phrase neighbour(s) from hell then occurs:

1-: In Are your nerves on edge?, by Katie Hannon, published in the Evening Herald (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Saturday 24th July 1993:

Is it not extraordinary that the neighbours factor is taken so lightly when moving? When you’ve painted the windows and sorted out the dry rot, the one thing you cannot fix is a neighbour from hell.

2-: In the Evening Chronicle (Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, England) of Tuesday 17th August 1993:

You may think you rule the roost, but be careful the. . .
Neighbourhood is watching!

Geordie 4 have-a-go-hero Ray Gilroy hit a skinhead burglar over the head with a hammer because “an Englishman’s home is his castle, and I was just defending mine”. But is it? A woman sunbather was taken to court by her crusty neighbour after he spotted her stripping off in her garden as he pruned his 35ft gum tree. Another couple went to jail after a gigantic 13-hour row. Is it a myth that an Englishman’s home is his castle? What can you do in your own back yard without getting arrested? Roger Tavener reports.
[…]
Lawyers suggest the best way to placate neighbours is to hold a swift house-warming party and get them absolutely blotto. Lay on the hospitality, give them a bottle to go home with, and be nice to their kids. Pat their dogs and suffer their cats.
All this because they could turn into the neighbours from Hell. And the lawyers are lining up to make a killing out of the local disputes which are making judges tear their wigged hair out.

4 The adjective Geordie means: from Tyne and Wear, in the north-east of England.

3-: In Meet the neighbours from hell, by Ita O’Kelly-Browne, published in the Irish Independent (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Thursday 16th September 1993:

Having ‘neighbours from hell’ can turn your home into a prison and a place out of which you only wish to escape.

4-: In People Briefs, published in the Evening Post (Reading, Berkshire, England) of Monday 4th October 1993:

Jeremy Beadle 5 is the most irritating character on TV, according to readers of What’s on TV magazine.
[…]
There were brick bats for Coronation Street 6 with Reg Holdsworth the person viewers least wanted to meet and Jack and Vera Duckworth elected the neighbours from hell.

5 Jeremy Beadle (1948-2008) was an English radio and television presenter, author and producer.
6 Coronation Street is a British television soap opera created in 1960, set in Weatherfield, a fictional town based on Salford, near Manchester.

 

IN U.S. ENGLISH

 

The earliest occurrence of the phrase neighbor(s) from hell that I have found is from For King of Loud, there’s no such thing as peace and quiet, by Betty Godfrey, published in the San Antonio Light (San Antonio, Texas) of Thursday 22nd October 1987:

Once in a while, until either one or the other of you moves, everybody has neighbors from hell. Sometimes you think you’re safe. But wherever you move, they follow you. You know when they turn on the stereo. Neighbors from hell have these mega-stereos they like to test several times a day, and they have dogs, dogs so big you need 16 shoe boxes with you if you walk across the grass. Neighbors from hell have children who carry knives and play jacks with bowling bats. Neighbors from hell never close a door if they can slam one, never speak if they can yell, especially early in the morning or late at night.

The phrase neighbor from hell then occurs in Moving (1988), a U.S. comedy film directed by Alan Metter, starring Arlo Pear as Richard Pryor. In the film, Randy Quaid plays both Frank Crawford (Richard Pryor’s next-door neighbour in New Jersey) and his twin brother Cornell Crawford (Richard Pryor’s next-door neighbour in Idaho), who each mows the grass with a monstrous contraption powered by a V8 engine.

For example, the following is from the review by Hal Lipper, published in the St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, Florida) of Friday 4th March 1988:

Moving—Mass-transit engineer Richard Pryor uproots his New Jersey family for the greener pastures of Idaho, where he hopes he’ll never again have to contend with his “Neighbor From Hell,” Randy Quaid, or an unsettled job market. Getting there, with pro-wrestler King Kong Bundy, proves only half the challenge. At theaters everywhere.

The phrase also occurs in the caption to the following photograph, illustrating the review by Terry Lawson, published in the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) of Saturday 5th March 1988:

'neighbor from hell' - Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) - 5 March 1988

Randy Quaid (left) plays Richard Pryor’s ‘Neighbor From Hell’ in ‘Moving’

The following is from Cherokee Street: The Natives Are Restless, by John Dorschner, published in The Miami Herald (Miami, Florida) of Sunday 14th August 1988:

We thought the story would end the fight.
When we wrote last summer about the Mitchells and the Kellys of Miami Springs, the next-door-neighbors from hell, the modern day Hatfields and McCoys 7 who carried a neighborhood dispute to surreal proportions, we thought these well-educated, seemingly responsible adults (three of the four are teachers) would call a truce. We thought that when they saw their pettiness exposed—the hurled dog feces, the felled carambola tree, the poisoned hibiscus, the rat traps on the lawn—they would end their feud, out of mutual embarrassment.

7 The Hatfields and McCoys were two Appalachian mountaineer families who, with their kinfolk and neighbours, engaged in a legendary feud that attracted nationwide attention in the 1880s and ’90s, and prompted judicial and police actions.