RACHEL LAMB finds out about Tom Oliver, aka Lou Carpenter, who left Hampshire for a life that led him down under to Ramsay Street.

Actor Tom Oliver is known to millions of viewers as wheeler-dealer Lou Carpenter in Aussie soap, Neighbours.

Although the 62-year-old actor has made his name in a show produced in the Antipodes, he was born in London and grew up in Fareham, Hampshire.

While he was involved in amateur dramatics in his youth, working in the Australian outback led to Oliver's recruitment as a stuntman and then his first acting role.

"Originally, I jumped ship from the Merchant Navy when I was 18-years-old," recalls Oliver "I spent three years up in Queensland working as a stockman.

"I've always loved horses and working on the big ranches was just like one big adventure for me.

In 1959, Oliver returned home and worked his way back to this country on a ship. But he was soon off on his travels again.

"I was home for about three months, then I joined the Navy and Army Airforce Institute and was posted out to Christmas Island - the Pacific nuclear testing base - for a year."

After again returning to England, Oliver emigrated on a permanent basis, arriving in Australia with just £40 to his name.

"I had a letter of introduction from film director, Karel Reisz," he explains. "He had been looking at locations in Australia for the film, Ned Kelly.

"I had written to him saying I was going back to Australia, that I had worked with horses all my life and been a stockman for three years.

"I thought I could be a riding double in the movie for Albert Finney who was supposed to play the lead role.

"When I got there, I went to see the casting director and she took me, not for the film, but at her agency," he says.

"Eventually I got paid to start galloping around on a horse in an Australian television series. By that time I was 40 and was playing a 64-year-old one-eyed bushman.

"So working in the outback really got me into the movies, first as a stuntman and then working as an actor."

But it is only in the last ten years that Oliver has become a familiar face to many English viewers, as one of the Ramsay Street regulars.

"People say I'm a lot like Lou, but it's the reverse really. I put a lot of myself into the character," he reveals. "When you play the same character for such a long time, you can't help but put some of yourself into it.

"People recognise me when I'm over here in the UK. They come up to me and say how are you doing, Lou?

"So I offer to sell them a car," he laughs in a way which uncannily echoes wrinkly comedian Sid James.

He explains: "The reason I laugh like that is because 25 years ago, I went into a television show with Sid,. I was playing a bit of a rough diamond bookie and at the time, I was very much a theatre man and couldn't believe the dialogue. I thought it was a load of codswallop. After every speech it said that my character should give a dirty laugh.

"So I thought who has a dirty laugh? Sid of course. It just seems to have stuck with me ever since. I get English backpackers who come up to me and do the laugh - which I guess is a compliment."

Surprisingly, it was only seven years ago that Oliver bought his first home. Until then he had rented different properties where he happened to be working.

These days home is a three-storey house in the hills east of Melbourne where he lives with his second wife, Jan.

"Living out of a suitcase is fun when you are younger, but I just like to think that now I'm reaping the rewards of working in the business for 40 years," he says.

"Until we saw this house, we never really wanted to put roots down just for the sake of saying we owned our own home. Our house looks like a bungalow, but because it is built on a hill there are two more levels at the back."

"It looks like it belongs in the Cotswolds and we fell in love with it.

"My wife and I are real home birds," he says. "We don't really like going to parties or clubs. We are both keen gardeners - it's my release and therapy."

"I'm not a city person. I think in the ten years I've been working in Melbourne, I've only gone into the city about 15 times, just to see a show or to the Australian television awards," he adds.

So does Oliver ever see the day when Lou Carpenter will bid farewell to Ramsay Street?

"When I stop having fun, I'll quit," he says adamantly. "At my age it is great just to have the regular work."