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Interviews > Gary Files

Following the sudden departure of Max Ramsay in 1986, his brother Tom arrived to take over his role in the Ramsay household. Tom was every bit as brash as his brother and he found himself arguing with many a neighbour during his six months as a regular. Here, Gary Files, the actor behind Tom, shares some of his memories from that time...

Can you tell us about your career prior to your role in Neighbours?
Well, it was quite extensive and covered three countries. I trained in Canada of all places. I had done some early Oz TV and a bit of theatre and was on my way to England via the 'other' route - through North America - which really meant working my way through Canada. At one point I was shown around the new National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal (a co-lingual school in French and English, being set up by the famous British/French director Michel St Denis) and decided it was a far more exciting a place to be - so I tried out for it. I got in, did all my training there (three years, the only Australian to have ever done so) and really started in the profession properly in Canada. I did about a year - which included winning a 'most promising' young stage actor award for doing the quirky musical Oh What A Lovely War in Toronto - and headed off to the U.K.

Once in London I was asked to join the touring company of Oh What A Lovely War which Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop London were sending to East Germany, West Germany and Belgium. I was very lucky as it had people like Gaye Browne, Johnny Lyon, Brian Murphy and Nigel Hawthorne in it. It was a wonderful start and an amazing experience. After that I became a member of the Bristol Old Vic Company for about a season and a half when it had people like Gawn Grainger, Jane Asher, Frank Middlemass, Janet Key. Jane Lapotaire, Richard Pasco, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Jeremy Child and many more in it. It was a terrific time for me. Aside from learning a lot as an actor, I got married to my first wife there - she was a Canadian and had been at the theatre school with me. The whole company turned up at the church to see us two 'colonials' get married and gave us a reception on stage at the Theatre Royal - after that night's show. Wow! Needless to say I have maintained the friendships that I formed there and try to see as many of them as possible whenever I go to England.

While in Bristol I sent a voice tape to Gerry Anderson using my Canadian accent - the one I had to use when working as an actor in Canada. He was intrigued that a Canadian could do such a good Australian accent and asked me to try out for a new movie he was doing called Thunderbird Six and the rest is history. So in between doing theatre, radio, television and film I worked as one of the team of 'voices' (which included people like Ed Bishop, Francis Matthews, my fellow Australian Bud Tingwell, Rupert Davies, Stanley Unwin and David Healey) doing Gerry's puppet series for TV like Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Joe 90 and The Secret Service as well as doing the first episode of U.F.O. as a 'live' actor. During my time working with BBC TV and Radio I got to work with and admire some very talented people - Gordon Jackson, Ronnie Barker, Stratford Johns, Anne Stallybrass, Michael Coles, Diane Fletcher and Barry Jackson to name a few. I guess two of many highlights in my first time working the U.K. were the one day I did on the movie The Dirty Dozen with Donald Southerland, John Cassavetes and Arthur Kennedy playing the tiny role of an ambulance driver - as well as being in a rock musical called Your Own Thing at the Comedy in the West End. Then I went back to Canada for another five an a half years.

Boy, I've been doing this stuff for at least forty years now and looking back at it is like opening a can of worms. - The detail is overwhelming - and probably boring. I've done everything/anything to keep my head above water in this business, including stunt fights, muppets, producing and running a theatre company, writing, directing, dubbing, as well as a television performance as a human banana chased by a man in a gorilla suit.

O.K. I'll try and tighten it up now. The next several years in Canada had me developing my craft at speed - as I now had a daughter to support. The highlights were doing the Hostage in "The Hostage" for the Stratford Festival Comapany, a season at the wonderful theatre in the round at Stratford, Ontario, and working in theatre companies right across Canada from Theatre New Brunswick on the East Coast to the Bastion Theatre on Vancouver Island on the West Coast. Along the way I managed to do a bit of television, the best of that being a series with Frankie Howerd for the CBC called. naturally enough, The Frankie Howerd Show. That gave me enough money, now that my wife and I had split, to go back home to Australia - a place which I've always loved. My poor daughter Gemma was now locked into going back and forth across the Pacific - as was I, to be with her.

In Australian theatre I started with a big success doing the lead - a disc jockey - in Stephen Poliakoff's City Sugar. Other memorable experiences early on were doing the leads in several plays with the South Australian Theatre Company when Judy Davis, Colin Friels and Mel Gibson were there. Doing The Lady From Maxime's and playing Harry Brock in Born Yesterday, as well as The Senator in Terry Johnson's Insignificance, at the famous Opera House complex in Sydney. Nothing like coming out of the theatre and looking across at that bridge on that harbour.

In television I worked steadily as an actor in some quirky and interesting series over the years before Neighbours. - Foremost of which was playing and manipulating the lead (a muppet) called Simon Smedley in two children's series for ABC TV - I even played and manipulated his dear old Aunt Matilda as well. My favourites after that would have to be Prisoner (as the weedy husband who was beaten up by the leading female 'heavy') Rusty Bugles, and The Great Bookie Robbery (playing a seedy used car salesman with a love of goldfish).

I was also lucky enough to work then with Bruce Beresford and Fred Schepisi - a couple of Australia's finest directors in film. The films concerned were The Money Movers, The Club and Evil Angels. As well I did two animated feature films voicing The Littlest Convict and Abra Cadabra.

How did the role of Tom Ramsay come about?
I was actually surprised when Jan Russ asked my agent if I would audition for Tom Ramsay. Being heavily involved for years with theatre I didn't know how she had come to hear of me. Also I was not that aware of Neighbours and had no idea of the plot line or the characters - or even how popular the show was. So when Jan and John Holmes asked me to play Tom for just a couple of weeks as Max's visiting brother down from Queensland I was chuffed but at the same time a bit appalled because I didn't really know the show. My partner and I frantically watched every episode for that week before I was due to start - even then I was not really au fait with what, or who, everyone was. Then when Francis dropped out in a rather dramatic fashion and suddenly I was taking his place with an open ended contract - starting immediately - I was running scared. Thank God the cast and crew helped me unstintingly through that first frantic week of O.B.'s. People would quickly tell me in rehearsals just before we rolled camera who it was that I was addressing so familiarly and the general attitude to the character concerned. I.e: this guy is a shit and we all hate him, because he did so and so, etc., etc. By the time we got to studio the week after I was well into the saddle and very happy to be doing the show and the character of Tom. Despite all my original early scripts being marked as Max instead of Tom, I still had hopes that the writers would be able to give me some sort of character breakdown for Tom. They said they'd be able to do that after they had watched me for several weeks. It quickly became apparent to me that I would have to establish just who he was and what he was like. And so I did.

Did you ever meet Francis Bell during the crossover period?
No, but I had worked together with Francis over quite a few years as a Voice Over talent on radio and TV commercials. I just knew him as this talented, but rather strange, garrulous person who would often arrive on his push-bike to a studio session. - Always in shorts if it was summer.

In the months leading up to his arrival, Tom was often mentioned, and painted as something of a bully. How would you describe the character?
I wish I had known that. As I said earlier I had no idea of the sort of person Tom was and certainly no one told me that he had been mentioned as a bully or anything else. Max's character was something of a bully too - being over six feet and a big bloke at that - he could get away with it. If you had him in your face it would be daunting to say the least. As I had essentially his words to say for those first few weeks, I came to the conclusion that looking the way I did (168cm high and rather weedy) I had better play for comedy when threatening people. So, from memory, that's what I tried to do from then on.

What were the reasons behind your departure from the show after only 6 months?
My contract was coming up to it's regular renewal point and I had been asked by the Melbourne Theatre Company to do one of the leads in a play called Hurly Burly. Grundy's - the production company behind Neighbours - had been asked by my agent to please let us know what they intended (as to whether Tom was going to go on or not) - before we made a decision. When we heard nothing, and with the theatre company having a deadline by which I had to make up my mind, I thought it would be more politic to accept the part. It was a good part for me in the end - a quirky, interesting American (so different from Tom) and the play had been a bit of a success for David Rabe on Broadway. Needless to say Grundy's were not happy I heard later, and Tom was out for sure.

Which cast members did you particularly enjoy working with?
All of them really. They were such a supportive and 'user friendly' bunch. We really looked after each other and the different people that we worked with over my time there. I think you could safely say that it was a happy, hard working set. I have a couple of people that I would regard as special 'old mates' from my days on Ramsay St. - principally dear Anne Haddy (sadly now dead) Annie Charleston and Peter O'Brien, to name a few. But the cast members I knew then always have a touch point with each other - whenever and wherever we meet around the world.

How did your return to the series in 1990 come about?
I think I was chatting with Jan Russ around about that time - we have stayed in touch from time to time. I had been saying that I was still interested in doing Tom again. She thought a short visit might be possible - I just didn't know how short it would be.

Were there any plans for a more permanent return for Tom, as his daughter Gemma became a full-time cast member?
Not that I know of.

Are you still in touch with any of your former cast-mates?
Probably about three or four on an irregular basis.

The funeral of Madge in 2001 was criticised for being extremely light on relatives for the deceased. Were you ever approached to return for these episodes? If not, what would have been your response?
Not approached at all. And I would have been proud to have been there. However, I suppose my not being considered makes sense when you look at the sheer number of writers and editors and executive producers that have passed through Neighbours over the years since I was in. I would say that, to my knowledge, Jan Russ would be the only person in management with total continuity on the sea of characters and their relatives that have been on the show over all those years. And though she does sterling service she could not be expected to keep tabs on us all, in order to organize such a thing.

Could you ever envisage a return to the series for Tom?
Yes, I would love to be back as Tom. I think, as with all characters in a soap, that it would not be too difficult to work up a storyline around Harold as my only 'on camera' relative for example. Tom would certainly 'stir the pot'. Though as you can see from the photo at the top of the page, I have changed a lot physically of late. I started losing weight (11kgs) before the musical last year (thank God) and had grown a beard for the show. Come to think of it, it might be rather intriguing to explain how all that happened to Tom.

What have you been involved in during the 14 years since we last saw Tom Ramsay on our screens?
In the years since I have done a lot more Australian theatre and television, a British series The Shadow of the Noose and a couple of more films as an actor. I also started working as a director in theatre. As well I really started to write seriously for the first time - winning an AWGIE award from the Australian Writers Guild for a four half hour radio comedy serial called Uncle Vinny's Wireless. I also formed a theatre company called Period Pieces which (using some of Australia's finest actors) did performed readings of the classics for three years to much acclaim. As an actor in theatre I had a ball doing Oscar Wilde in Oscar Wilde at the Cafe Royal at the Melbourne International Festival. And to name a few favourites more, the Rev. Gerald Gannet in Woman in Mind, Stalin in Master Class and Paddy Cassidy in A Hard God - as well as Mickey in Hurly Burly, of course.

In TV my favourites since Neighbours were The True Believers (a big series for the ABC - playing a beloved politician called Fred Daly) Rafferty's Rules (playing a transvestite in high heels at one point) The Flying Doctors, Skirts, Correlli (the series where Hugh Jackman was discovered), MDA (with Jason Donovan again) and Pig's Breakfast (a kind of Sci-Fi children's series in which I played a TV station manager - in charge at last!).

Animation work continues for me as an actor with TV series like Ocean Girl and Quads as the latest. And last year I returned to musical theatre playing Father Smythe, the catholic priest at the famous stockade in Eureka. With leads like Barry Crocker, Nancye Hayes, Ian Stenlake, Rachel Beck and two fabulous new talents everyone should look out for - Trisha Crowe and Simon Gleeson - Eureka was an exciting new musical and was directed by Gale Edwards the internationally acclaimed Australian director. It was a tremendous and very satisfying experience for me.

You were part of a TV Week photo shoot to commemorate the show’s 15th birthday. Can you tell us a little about that experience?
The contact came out of the blue. The good thing was seeing Annie Charleston there. It was a screamingly hot day and we shot in a warehouse type place - rushing through in groups.

As the show is now in its 20th Anniversary year, what do you believe lies behind its enduring success?
It's escapism at it's finest. Who wouldn't rather have been a Kylie or Jason or Guy or whoever, that slog it out daily in the humdrum real world?

Interview by Steve. Added on 9th April 2006