Neighbours veteran Ian Smith returns to the Channel 5 soap to play Harold Bishop for six weeks from June 3. We caught up with him and aksed him why he returned…
How did your return to Neighbours happen?
“I got invited to the 25th anniversary party, which I thought was very nice. Then I got a phone-call from the CEO of Fremantle in Australia (the company which makes Neighbours) asking me when I’m coming back to the show. I said, ‘No, no, I’ve finished for good’. And he said, ‘No, you haven’t!’ And I said, ‘Yes, I have!’ So we just left it at that. But a couple of weeks later the CEO invited me out for lunch in Melbourne, and that was it. But I think deep down I must have had a little need to say hello to Harold again, because I do like the silly old fart!”
What brings Harold back to Ramsay Street?
“His old mate, Toadie, has phoned Harold, asking for his help with all the Sonya and Callum trouble. So I think it’s a nice storyline. They actually asked me if I had any ideas. And I said it would also be nice to see Harold married again.”
Tell us about Harold’s fiancee, Caroline?
“She’s a very feisty woman, very forthright. So it proves that Harold likes the same type of woman, as she’s very similar to Madge. There’s a great scene where Caroline is busy nagging Harold to do some things, and Susan says later, ‘I think we know what sort of woman Harold likes!’”
Has Harold finally laid the ghost of Madge to rest?
“Do you know, I felt a little bit strange about that at first. So I suggested a scene where Harold goes to the cemetery to visit Madge’s grave and have a chat with her. I thought we’d better do that, as it’s the sort of thing that the fans notice. I hope it works. I haven’t seen the episodes back yet. My wife is taping them for me.”
Do you still keep in touch with Anne Charleston, who played Madge?
“Yes, indeed. We’re super friends. My wife and my screen wife are two of my best friends.”
Will we see Toadie and Sonya together again?
“I’m not telling you! But Harold totally wants to see them together again. I loved working with Eve Morey who plays Sonya. She’s lovely. We were rehearsing our second scene together and I said to the director, ‘I don’t want to work with Eve any more, she’s too good!’ Eve, Ryan and Morgan all work very well together.”
Is there a wedding in store for Harold?
“There might be! Whether it happens up in Byron Bay or down in Ramsay Street, I couldn’t say!”
Did you watch the Royal Wedding?
“Wasn’t that magnificient? I swore that I wasn’t going to watch it, but I forgot about my wife! We’ve only got one telly at home, so I had to watch it. She wouldn’t even let me read my book in the other room! You poms do the best pomp and ceremony. It’s fantastic!”
Are you similar to Harold?
“I hope not! He’s a very religious man, while I’m an atheist. He’s a vegetarian, whereas I eat meat. He doesn’t drink booze, but I like my single malt scotch. But we do agree on certain things. Harold hates dishonesty and liars. He hates bad people. But if bad people can be helped, he agrees they should be helped. That’s where his Salvation Army side comes in.”
Why did you leave Neighbours in 2009?
“When you’re there, on a full-time contract, it’s very hard work and very long working days. They shoot six episodes a week now. At the time my mind was thinking, ‘This isn’t good’. So I thought I musn’t be good for the show. So I’ll leave. I was almost 70 when I left. I thought I’ve got to go sometime.”
Has Neighbours changed since it oved to the new channel 11 in Aussie?
“With the move to Channel 11, I think there’s a new vibe. I think it’s similar to when Neighbours moved from the BBC to Channel Five. I remember that we had a wonderful launch party in London a few years ago. We thanked the BBC for introducing Neighbours to the UK, but there was such an exciting vibe coming from Channel Five, which was just fantastic!”
What do you like to watch yourself?
“I don’t watch a lot of TV. But I like a lot of British series. I love New Tricks and think those actors are brilliant. I used to love The Bill. I don’t know why I watch Midsomer Murders. I think it’s for the scenery! I give the British products a go, and then I become hooked! I can’t watch any of those audition-type programmes like The X Factor. I get too nervous for the people taking part!”
What are your plans now you’ve finished filming?
“More travelling. My wife, Gail, and me have discovered cruise ships. At first I thought that I’m not going to like this. Ever since I was a kid, motion sickness has been my worst enemy. I couldn’t go on a swing or a see-saw or anything like that. But I knew Gail would love it, so we signed on for the maiden voyage of the Queen Elizabeth last year. I thought it would be full of silly old farts, shuffling around. So actually I fit in quite well!”