Back as Harold, Ian Smith talks about what keeps him young – and who else he’d like to see return to Neighbours

‘I love the old bugger.'
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At the age of 85, Ian Smith has been checking out retirement villages. “It’s sort of like moving into God’s waiting room, isn’t it?” he tells TV WEEK. “Your last move.”

As yet, he hasn’t found one that suits.

Ian returns as Harold in 2024.
(Image: Supplied)

“I searched around and they were all full of old people and I’m a young person!” he laughs.

Happily for Neighbours fans, Ian hasn’t retired from acting, and will return as Harold Bishop this week. Unlike Ian, Harold has found a retirement village he wants to move into: Eirini Rising. Run by Terese (Rebekah Elmaloglou), the home has close links with Erinsborough High.

“It’s rather pertinent to me,” Ian says. “It’s very much my interest at the moment.”

The veteran actor has been playing Harold on and off since 1987. He says he puts on the character “like an old cardigan”.

Harold & Madge were a fan-favourite.
(Image: Supplied)

“I love the old bugger! I do look forward to coming back into the show because the kids keep me young.”

But he admits that learning scripts is harder for him than it used to be.

“My memory is really suffering. I’ve never forgotten where I live, but I have been in my car and suddenly forgotten how to get to a place.”

Ian likes to keep himself busy by going fly fishing, taking walks in the bush with his metal detector and riding his e-bike on dirt roads. But he doesn’t tend to go by himself anymore. 

“I’m a little unsteady on my feet and I don’t feel safe going fly fishing on my own because if I stumble and fall, they might find my body half a kilometre downstream,” he explains. “I feel safer having somebody with me. But I don’t want to tell them that’s the reason I want them with me, I want them to think that I just love them to death. It’s a lie!”

With the news of Ian’s return, fans have been getting excited about the possibility of other former Erinsborough residents joining Harold in Eirini Rising. Ian loves the idea.

“But they mustn’t outnumber the youngsters,” he adds, “because this show, when it started off, was written for youngsters.

“Now those youngsters have become the oldies, haven’t they? Not that I was a youngster, but that beautiful Annie Jones… There wasn’t a man within a bull’s roar that wasn’t madly in love with Jane Harris, was there?”

Looking back over his decades on the soap, some of Ian’s fondest memories are storylines involving Harold and “dear Mrs Mangel”.

Harold has made and on-and-off return since 87′.
(Image: Supplied)

“When she had a crush on Harold, I think we did some of the best comedy the show has had. She was the most lovely lady, Vivean Gray.”

Ian also has fond memories of an unscripted moment between Harold and Lou (Tom Oliver) that made it to air. It was in a scene where Lou’s back went out. When Harold tried to help him, his back went out, too.

“Suddenly the two of them saw what a ridiculous sight they were and they started laughing,” Ian remembers. “It was one of those things, that infectious contagious laughing thing, and it turned out to be wonderful.”

But there’s one memory that makes him cringe: Bouncer the Labrador dreaming about getting married after watching Harold’s daughter Kerry’s (Linda Hartley-Clark) wedding video.

Bouncer the Labrador!
(Image: Supplied)

“Bouncer including me in his family and almost blaming me for having pups – I wasn’t fond of that at all.”

When asked which former resident he’d most like to see return to Neighbours, Ian doesn’t hesitate.

“It’s not possible, of course… I’d love to see Madge come back.”

Harold’s wife Madge, played by Anne Charleston, died on the show in 2001.

“We just bounced off each other so easily,” Ian says of Anne. “It really was a luxury turning up for a rehearsal. We didn’t need it. We knew what the other one was going to do.”  

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