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Interviews > Tom Oliver

Born in Hampshire, England and having travelled the World before settling in Sydney, Tom Oliver has many a story to tell. Here, as Neighbours turns 24 and he celebrates 4000 episodes as a regular cast member for a role originally scheduled for just 6 episodes, the man behind Neighbours' longest-serving character, Lou Carpenter, talks about his career, his co-stars and reveals all about his axing and why he doesn't want to see Guy or Lauren return...

Firstly, can you tell us a little about your extensive career? How did you first get into acting?
I started in amateur theatricals back at school in England, but always dreamt of being a jockey. When that didnít work out I joined the Merchant Navy and moved from ship to ship until I ended up in Sydney. I then decided to hitch-hike back to England, but caught infective hepatitis. I then contacted Albert Finney who gave me a letter of introduction to International Casting Service in Sydney and migrated to Australia not long after. Two months later I was in New Guinea playing the lead in a television drama!

How did the role of Lou first come about?
On tour with the play How the Other Half Loves in Adelaide, my agent rang to ask if I was interested in playing Lou when the run of the play finished. "Ok", I said.

How would you describe the character of Lou Carpenter?
A mischievous rough diamond with a good heart.

Lou first appeared on Ramsay Street in 1988 appearing in just six episodes, how different - had things changed a lot by the time you returned in 1992?
On return in 1992 - only the faces had changed since 1988.

Can you tell us a little about how his return came about?
On tour with another stage play, Noises Off - once again in Adelaide - my agent rang to ask if I would return when that tour finished. "Ok", said I - again....

1996 saw the shock axing of Lou and yourself only for you to return after just 46 episodes away due to popular demand? How did you feel about your axing and reinstatement at the time?
I still had 6 scenes to record on the day they told me they were dropping Lou, so I was pretty teed off! I made a couple of phone calls overseas and when my contract expired I was asked to continue. I declined as I had a holiday booked but did return 10 weeks later on my terms.

2009 sees your 4000th episode as a regular cast member. Did you ever imagine staying so long? What do you think is the secret to Louís success?
When I heard I'd done 4000 episodes, I had to pinch myself and ask where the time has gone. I think Lou is a character who just keeps on keeping on...

You worked closely with Caroline Gilmer during her time on the show, and had an excellent on screen chemistry with her - did you enjoy working with her?
Working with Caroline was a joy - she is a wonderful actor.

Out of your many successful partnerships during your time on the show, Cheryl & Lou and the various Madge, Lou & Harold arrangements, who would you say has been your favourite to work with?
That would have to be Ian Smith's 'Harold'. Ian made Harold such a precise character, and so opposite to Lou. That is why we became a cross between The Odd Couple, Two Grumpy Old Men and as one reviewer wrote - the modern Laurel and Hardy!

How did you find working with Neighbours legend, Anne Haddy?
Haddy was a dear friend going back to 1963. We first worked togeter on Play School in 1966, followed over the years by different TV dramas and theatre productions.

How did you feel at the departures of your counterparts, Caroline Gilmer, Anne Charleston (twice) & Ian Smith?
How did I feel? - Hey guys, don't go!!

In 2001, a major storyline on Neighbours (to facilitate young Jiordan Anna Tolli's departure from the show) featured Lou discovering that Louise was not his daughter and was actually the product of a brief affair Cheryl had. What did you think of the storyline? Do you believe that Cheryl would have cheated on Lou?
In 1994, I wrote the original storyline of the dangers of a woman of Cheryl's age having a baby which the writer's ran with. The story of Louise ran for 7 years before Jiordan left to attend school fulltime. I think the writers did a great job in giving her such a dramatic ending. By the way - Jiordan is now a beautiful young lady who is taller than me!

Do you prefer to act out dramatic storylines such as the Lolly custody battle or the more comedic storylines such as the driveway dispute?
Dramatic or comedic - It depends how much of the other I have done on the trot.

Lou is perhaps best known for his laugh which has been described as both dirty and mischievous. How would you describe it and how did it come about?
I used that laugh on another series (No. 96) back in the early 70's - so I just warmed it up again and gave it to Lou!! I will confess to stealing it from that wonderful comic actor Syd James, from the Carry On movies.

Many fans have called for the return of Louís family in a bid to make Lou more prominent. Would you like to see either Guy or Lauren return along with their partners and children? Which one would you prefer?
Neither Guy nor Lauren - they would be scratching 50 with adult children now, but I think bringing Lou's Asian daughter Mai-Ling and her mother, would make for an interesting storyline, especially as China reclaimed Hong Kong in 1999.

Has Ian's retirement put thoughts of doing the same in your mind or can you reassure Neighbours viewers that you're not ready to follow in his footsteps any time soon?
No comment!

Ian's departure of course meant big changes for the show, especially for Lou, who moved in with the Parkers at Number 26. How have you found working with your new 'family'?
Working with Steve and Nikki is great, even though I am about level with Steve's navel when doing a scene with him...

2008 also saw Lou sell the General Store, do you miss the businessman side of the character, having previously owned Carpenter's Cars, Chez Chez/Lou's Place, Carpenter's Mechanics and Little Tommy Tucker's?
No - Lou's thoughts of big business are more nostalgic these days. He's mellowed a lot in his advancing years (he is 65 - I am 70) but I'm sure he has something up his sleeve to spring on people.

News recently broke of the decision of Eloise Mignon to leave, closely followed by Steve Bastoni and the news that Nikki Coghill would also be leaving. What do you think this will mean for Lou?
I will certainly miss all three - but Lou will get by - he always does...!

You are one of the few cast members who have appeared in Neighbours in the 80's, 90's and the 00's. Which would you say is/was your favourite era?
I think this is my favourite era - I am still alive and still working!!

How would you like to see Neighbours' 25th Anniversary commemorated?
Sorry - I'm not into show-biz commemorations or awards. There are far too many and they all turn into "red carpet" fashion shows and other bollocks with people telling each other how "wonderful you are, darling"...

What do you believe is the secret of Neighbours' enduring success?
I think it's because everybody likes to stick their noses in other people's business - and via television, you don't get caught doing it!

Finally, what can we expect from Lou for the rest of 2009?
I never ask about storylines more than 3 weeks ahead - so your guess is as good as mine... keep watching and have fun!

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Interview by Callum. Added on 21st March 2009