The BIG Interview: Neighbours’ Ian Smith

Neighbours Ian Smith as Harold Bishop

by Tom Spilsbury |
Updated on

The soap legend tells us why Harold Bishop is returning to Erinsborough…

Neighbours: Karl, Harold and Susan
Neighbours: Karl, Harold and Susan

Good morning, Ian, how are you?

I’m well! Are you the same? It’s morning for you over there?

It is! First thing in the morning! But it must be late afternoon for you in Melbourne? Have you been filming today?

Ian: No, not today, no. But I was yesterday. My last block was yesterday.

Well, welcome back to Neighbours, first of all! Everyone is very excited to have Harold back in Erinsborough, and in the opening titles again! Presumably when you left the show in 2009, you couldn’t have imagined that you'd be returning once again, 15 years later?

Ian: No, it wasn't even a fantasy, I must be honest! But, like a lot of people, I didn't plan my retirement as I should have done, and I found myself with too much time on my hands. I was then asked to come back to the show, and I thought, ‘Gee, this is kudos’. I was rather happy, I really was! Because – do you know what? I’ve left the show a few times, and I’ve never said goodbye. I know that sounds mad! I've never said goodbye to Harold in a way that would keep me happy. I know what you’re thinking – why should I worry about somebody who doesn't exist? I know that! But you make the mistake of liking your character. It’s a stupid thing to do, but I did. And so, when I leave next time, I shall be very kind to him, and that will be that.

Well, we're very intrigued to see what the immediate future has in store for Harold. Why has he chosen to come back to Erinsborough at this particular time?

Ian: At one stage he says he can't get it out of his blood. His love is in Erinsborough. Yes, she's buried quite deep. But that was his love, and his memories of love are in Erinsborough, and that's where he must end his days.

We see that Harold will be moving into the new retirement complex, Eirini Rising, which is about to be opened by businesswoman Terese Willis (Rebekah Elmaloglou). And another of the new residents is another classic Neighbours character, Hilary Robinson, played by Anne Scott-Pendlebury. What was it like to be reunited with her? You must have first worked with her back in the 1980s!

Ian: Yes, I suppose! Back when television was sepia! But do you know what, she still had that same incredible sparkle, that made you pay attention. She does what a lot of actors don't do, and that is listen to the person they're playing off. You haven't got hope in the world of not listening to her! She demands it! There's a timbre in the voice that says ‘listen’. And you do! And gosh, your scene ends up better!

We're curious – there have been hints that we might see some more old faces popping up once again…

Ian: Yes! Yes, indeed! It’s just so much fun. And you’ve got to spend the first hour to try and stop giggling! The silly part about it… When the show came back, there were all these kids that used to be in the show – they were kids, they were brats – and there you are, standing in Ramsay Street, while these adults show you photos of their children. And their children are now the age that they were, when we considered them as brats in the Street. And of course, one of them is Guy Pearce [who has recently returned to his role of Mike Young]. We almost genuflected when he walked on the set! You know, I was one of those silly people who said, ‘Oh, yes, he's quite a competent young actor’. A competent young actor? Guy Pearce?! Get off the set! Dear Lord! Yes. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience.

Of course, one character we always associate you with is Harold’s beloved wife Madge, played by Anne Charleston…

Ian: Yes! Is she coming back? Is she coming back? Please tell me!

Well, we'd love her to come back. We did have her back briefly, of course, when she reappeared in 2015, as a figment of Harold’s imagination…

Ian: Ah, that’s right. Yes!

She was such an important part of Harold's life – how much is she always on his mind?

Ian: She was Harold’s life. And as I've already said, this is the reason he's come back from Queensland, because this is where Madge still is, as far as he's concerned. His loved memories, everything about Erinsborough is everything about Madge. And he can't help but come back. He’s a one-woman man.

Well, they are the ‘forever couple’ of Neighbours, aren't they? Even though it’s been so long since we watched that devastating storyline when Madge passed away, way back in 2001…

Ian: I was only speaking to her the other day. She didn't say anything about that!

No spoilers please, Ian! We’re well aware that you never know what might happen in Neighbours – that’s the lovely thing!

Ian: Oh yes!

Perhaps you can tell us a little bit about the current cast – who have you enjoyed working with?

Ian: Do you know what? The feeling, the culture, the vibe… is the same. The one thing that I loved about the show in the past was the youngsters. They just kept me young. There was no age difference. Of course, there was an age difference. There's a huge age difference! Now I'm 85, and I'm working with these children! Well, they're not children, they're quite attractive adults really, but they keep me young. There isn't a discussion that they're having that they don't include me in. And do you know what? When I was a youngster, I don't think I’d have done that. I don't think I'd have been as generous as that to an older person. Just the difference in ages, and difference in young people, in that time… Anyway, look, I haven’t answered that at all. I've turned it around to me!

Ah, we don’t mind. Of course, we know that Harold has already given his seal of approval to Haz (Shiv Palekar), who now runs Harold’s coffee shop…

Ian: We have some lovely scenes together! Yes! And once again, he's a youngster to me! But what a lovely young bloke. Yes, I hope he's here forever. [Laughs]

We're very much hoping Harold will be here forever too! But whatever the future has in store, we’re looking forward to having him back in Neighbours for a fair bit longer.

Ian: Do you know what? The one big hope of mine is… when I left London last time, I got quite teary. I thought that was going to be the last time. But I don't know… Wouldn’t it be good if I ended up over there again for a minute? Yes. Keep hoping for that, will you?

Yes, come and visit us! We'd love to see you!

Ian: Alright. You send the taxi to pick me up, and I’ll be there.

We’ll make sure it’s there for you.

Ian: Thank you so much!

Neighbours continues on Amazon Freevee with new episodes dropping on Mondays to Thursdays

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