One of the most intriguing open issues in galaxy evolution is the structure and evolution of active galactic nuclei (AGN) that emit intense light believed to come from an accretion disk near a super massive black hole. To understand the zoo of different AGN classes, it has been suggested that all AGN are the same type of object viewed from different angles. This model--called AGN unification--has been successful in predicting, for example, the existence of hidden broad optical lines in the spectrum of many narrow-line AGN. But this model is not unchallenged and it is debatable whether more than viewing angle separates the so-called Type-1 and Type-2 AGN. Here we report the first large-scale study that finds strong differences in the galaxy neighbours to Type-1 and Type-2 AGN with data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS; ref. ) Data Release 7 (DR7; ref. ) and Galaxy Zoo. We find strong differences in the colour and AGN activity of the neighbours to Type-1 and Type-2 AGN and in how the fraction of AGN residing in spiral hosts changes depending on the presence or not of a neighbour. These findings suggest that an evolutionary link between the two major AGN types might exist.