|Portrayed by||Brett Cousins|
|First appearance||9 April 1997|
|Last appearance||26 June 1998|
|Introduced by||Stanley Walsh|
|Occupation||Carpenter's Mechanics Employee and Owner (1997–99)
Racing Car Driver
Ben Atkins (né Christopher Wilkinson) is a fictional character from the Australian soap opera Neighbours, played by Brett Cousins. He made his first appearance on-screen on 9 April 1997 and departed on 22 May 1998. Ben made a two-episode guest return the following month.
Upon graduating from Deakin University with a BA degree in Drama, Cousins took on a 50-word guest role on Neighbours as an Attendant in a scene where established character Billy Kennedy went bungee jumping. When the producers rang Cousins several months later to offer him the more substantial role of Ben Atkins he accepted. Cousins, 21, at the time said in an interview with TV Week, “I could hardly believe it when they rang and said I had the part, “It’s a big jolt, I’ve been used to leading a student’s life until now. But I enjoy it so much. I can get up at 5 am with a smile on my face, and sail into work every morning.”
In a 1998 interview with 'The Weekly News, Cousins explained how winning the role of Ben left him feeling under constant pressure and that he found it difficult to cope with the fame and recognition. He said "I've met some wonderful people, I've even had members of the Canadian ice hockey team come up to say 'hello'. But there are also times when it becomes a real intrusion into your life. For instance, you've just worked 10 hours three days in a row, you're dead on your feet and just want to get home and chill out. The last thing you want to do is be all chatty with a group of lively Neighbours fans."
Cousins also talked about how his character's storyline, involving him finding his birth mother, inspired a young female fan to get in contact with her real mother after she watched the show. He said "It was very sobering to me to know that as an actor you can have that sort of impact on people's lives. I'm really moved by this girl's letters. They're a reminder to me that for every difficult thing that Neighbours brings you as a cast member, it brings 10 times more rewards."
Ben was born Christopher Wilkinson on 18 September 1975 in Malvern, Victoria to a fifteen-year-old Ruth Wilkinson (Ailsa Piper) and was put up for adoption, on the advice of her conservative parents who didn't want their daughter to have a child out of wedlock. Ben grew up in Adelaide with his adoptive parents, and his adoptive brother and sister, Nick ( (Jason Crewes) and Caitlin (Emily Milburn). From an early age, Ben had a strong interest in cars and so, on leaving high school, became an apprentice mechanic. But when Ben discovered he was adopted, he decided to try to find his mother. With his parents blessing, Ben left Adelaide for Erinsborough, where Ruth was now living.
Ben arrives in Ramsay Street after responding to an advertisement for the spare room at Number 30. He encounters Ruth, when she literally runs into him after practicing rollerblading. Ben soon discovers Ruth has two more children, his half-siblings Anne (Brooke Satchwell) and Lance (Andrew Bibby). After settling in, Ben makes several friends in the area.
When Anne develops a crush on Ben, it puts a strain on her relationship with Billy Kennedy (Jesse Spencer). Ben realizes he has to tell her the truth about being her half-brother even if it means hurting her. Anne refuses to believe it when Ben confesses. After Ben reveals the truth about his identity to Ruth, she explains that she was a teenager and she wanted to keep him but could not. Ben understands this and Ruth and Lance are generally accepting of him, Anne however is slower to come around to idea and is still hurt by Ruth keeping the secret. Anne later relents after plans to move in with her father Bill (Ian Stanley Pearce) and his girlfriend fall through.
Ben later takes a job working for Lou Carpenter (Tom Oliver) who bought an old bus to use as a mobile restaurant. This is short-lived as the bus is later burned out by Jamie-Lee Duggan (Josephine Clark) leaving Ben out of work. However, Lou buys a local garage and asks Ben if he wants a partnership in the business. Ben accepts but later has seconds thoughts when Lou begins treating him more like an employee than a partner. Lou's friend, Philip Martin (Ian Rawlings), who is dating Ruth, comes up with a solution that sees Lou and Ben have a 49% share apiece and he looks after the other 2%.
After Ben overhears a telephone conversation between housemate Lisa Elliot (Kate Straub) and her mother, he mistakenly believes she is in love with him and on the night of her leaving party, he kisses her, much to her surprise. Lisa, flattered, explains she was referring to his mechanical skills and tells him she would be interested in a relationship, if she was not about to leave. Ben then falls for Angela Quinton (Fiona McGregor), whom he met at a night club. Within days, he fixes Angela's car for free and offers her Lisa's old room. But just before she moves in, Ben's other housemate Sarah Beaumont (Nicola Charles) breaks the news to him that Angela had got back together with her ex-boyfriend.
Ben and Sarah continue searching for potential tenants but none are suitable until policeman Matt Compton (Jonathon Kovac) applies for the spare room. Ben is hesitant at first but Sarah manages to persuade him to let Matt move in. Within days of moving, things are strained between when the guys when Matt pulls Ben up for failure to renew his driving license on time. Things get even worse between the two when Matt suspects Ben of having dodgy cars in the garage, and begins dating Sarah, making Ben feel like a gooseberry in his own home. However, their mutual love of motor racing brings Ben and Matt together and they become friends just before Matt leaves for a new post in Port Campbell.
When Ben's adoptive parents move to the Middle East temporarily, he is left to care for his younger sister, Caitlin. Ben struggles to act in the role of guardian as Caitlin finds it difficult to settle in and is used to having things done for her, as opposed to living in a share house environment. Ben takes his interest in motor racing for the next level and begins spending more and more time at the race track. Lou offers his support but Ben finds it difficult to be competitive, even when goaded by rival racer Steve Van Eck (Daniel Tobias). After Barry Sheene has a few words of encouragement to Ben, he gets the motivation he needs.
The day of the big race arrives, and many of the Ramsay Street residents show up at Calder Park Raceway to support Ben. As the race begins, Ben begins doing well and manages to hold his place, but is preoccupied with spotting where Steve is in the line-up. Ben fails to notice a car pull out from the pits right in front of him and they collide. The car flips over and bursts into flames. Ben is cut free from the wreck and rushed to hospital. Ben's family await news all night. Ben's operation is a success but he remains comatose.
A mysterious stranger visits Ben, sitting by his bedside and talking to him. The stranger is Geoff Burke (Andrew McKaige), Ben's biological father who read about the incident in the newspaper. Geoff admits his identity to a comatose Ben. After waking up, Ben has no memory of this and Ruth wants it kept that way. Ben is irate when finds out that Geoff was in fact his father, and not a hospital worker as he had believed and he rejects him. However, he realises how lucky he is to be alive and have the chance to get to know both of his natural parents. When Ben is discharged from hospital, He agrees to stay with his family next door after he realizes he would be too much of a burden for his housemates. Geoff decides to stay on and help take care of his son, while getting to know him. Ben finds life challenging when he has to adjust to using a zimmer frame. One day, he falls when getting out of the bath and is forced to wait for Anne to come home to assist him. However, he manages to maintain a positive attitude. Ben's recovery takes a setback when Geoff shows him a video of the crash. When Ben begins to make progress, Geoff decides to return to his family in Sydney and tells Ben he is welcome there any time.
After Ben recovers, he returns to Number 30 which is overcrowded with his older brother, Nick (who came to help with Caitlin) and Toadfish Rebecchi (Ryan Moloney) having moved in during his absence. Ben tries to adjust to sharing a room with Nick, but is unable due to his brother's snoring. Geoff later offers Ben a job running his garage in Sydney and he takes him up on it. Ben is worried about leaving Ruth, but she assures him he needs to get to know Geoff. Ben leaves after a farewell Barbecue. The following month, Ben returns for Ruth's wedding to Philip. In early 1999, Ben later phones Anne and Lance to congratulate them on their exam results.
In 1997, the episode featuring Ben's confession about his identity won the Australian Film Institute Award for "Best Television Episode in a Serial Drama". The award was given to the director of the episode, Neighbours producer Peter Dodds.
- James, Caron (5 April 1997). "Lost Son Scenes Shock Ailsa". TV Week Magazine. Retrieved 20 February 2011.
- "Dream role almost became nightmare for Brett". The Weekly News. D. C. Thomson & Co. 14 February 1998.
- "Best Television episode in a Serial Drama". Australian Film Institute. Retrieved 1 February 2011.