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Interviews > Christopher Milne

In 1985, Christopher Milne appeared in Neighbours in the guest role of bank manager Philip Martin, a character who would later return in 1992 as a regular - but played by Ian Rawlings. Christopher went on to write for the series, as well as appearing again in 1998 in another guest role. Now a successful author, Christopher shares his thoughts on his Neighbours experiences...

Where had your career taken you before your first Neighbours appearance in 1985? Did you enjoy playing Philip?
I originally gained a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil) from Monash University in Melbourne but just eighteen months of working as an engineer made me realise it wasn't what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life. Somehow, theatre, films and television sounded a lot more interesting and glamourous to me than designing road duplications, so I joined a theatre group and trained with a film and television school before auditioning for various television roles. I was able to survive as an actor, just, although I sometimes drove a taxi or picked potatoes to make ends meet. I was cast as Philip Martin in 1985 in the "original" Neighbours and I absolutely loved it.

Where did your career take you after playing Philip?
After playing Philip, my wife and I and our two beautiful sons shifted into a house that we built ourselves out of raw bluestone in an area named Neerim about two hours to the east of Melbourne. Coincidentally, I had started to write for television (including Neighbours and Prisoner Cell Block H) and I was fortunate because writing was something I could do from home rather than having to drive to Melbourne all the time.

Were you ever approached when the role of Philip was brought back to the show in 1992?
I was offered a chat to see if I was interested in playing Philip Martin again in 1992 but it would have meant shifting back to Melbourne, selling the house and taking the boys out of the local school where they were really happy so, with much regret, I declined.

You returned to Neighbours in 1998 as Declan Hewitt. What was that part like to play? How had the Neighbours set-up changed in the 13 years between playing Philip and Declan?
Out of the blue I was asked to come back into Neighbours in 1998 as a different character, Declan Hewitt. Declan was great fun to play because he was a real sleaze who first tried to chat up Susan and then, when he missed out, had a go at her daughter, Libby! It seemed to me that Neighbours hadn't changed at all over the years (which is a compliment) and some of the cast who remained such as Ian Smith (Harold) were extremely welcoming.

Which of your two Neighbours roles did you prefer? Were there any actors you particularly enjoyed working with?
Of the two roles I probably preferred the first as Phillip because it went for much longer and I felt more and more comfortable as each week passed. I must admit, however, that working with Susan, Karl and Libby was terrrific fun and I wish they would BRING BACK DECLAN!

You've also been involved in writing scripts for Neighbours, most recently in 2003. What was it like to write for a series that you’d also acted in? Would you ever consider a return to the series – either as an actor or writer - if the opportunity arose?
I wrote two scripts for Neighbours in 2003 (I had previously written several more many years earlier) and I really enjoyed it. I hope, one day, that the phone might ring again. My partner Carmel and I watch Neighbours every night - we always have - so writing again and having some small influence on what was shown on the screen was one of most enjoyable experiences I have had. I have a huge affection for Neighbours and I hope it goes for ever.

Having worked on other Australian dramas, such as Blue Heelers and Stingers, how does Neighbours compare?
I have worked on other Australian dramas such as Blue Heelers and Stingers and, although they were very good shows, my loyalty is still with Neighbours. Probably the most interesting role I have ever played was that of Ben Mazini in a TV mini-series named Water Under The Bridge based on the Australian book of the same name. My sister in that series was played by Judy Davis and I think it is one of the best things Australia has ever done. The book is certainly one of the best I have read and I would recommend it to everyone.

Do you ever find yourself running into familiar faces from your Neighbours days, either through work or socially?
I don't run into many of the Neighbours characters except, occasionally, "Max" [Stephen Lovatt] and "Susan" [Jackie Woodburne].

What have you been doing since your appearance as Declan?
These days I am really busy with a thirteen volume series of children's books I have written (based on my two sons) called Naughty Stories For Good Boys And Girls. The series won The Young Australians Best Book Award and I find myself speaking at schools most days of the week. I am also now travelling regularly to England to speak in schools around London, Surrey, Hampshire, Kent and Sussex and last year I was invited to record thirteen stories for the BBC in London. If anyone is interested in obtaining a book they are available through amazon.co.uk or Deep Books in East Dulwich in London (Ph: (0)2086 930234)

With Neighbours about to begin its 23rd season on Australian screens, what do you think is behind its huge success?
My view as to why Neighbours has lasted so long is that the people in the street actually know each other and, barring occasional ups and downs, really enjoy each other's company. Most of us in the real world hardly even know the person living next door to us and it is this "disconnectedness" that is driving western society crazy. Increasingly, we don't connect with other people through sport or hobbies or the pub or chats while shopping, and we crave those old social networks. We are lonely. Neighbours gives us a glimpse of what we are missing. In addition, we have the luxury of allowing oursleves to empathise with the emotions being displayed on the screen - to perhaps go to dark places we would never explore in real life - and yet be secure in the knowledge, deep down, that it is only a TV show.

Click here to visit Christopher's official website

Interview by Steve. Added on 13th January 2007