No one does nostalgia quite like Neighbours. The 2022 'finale', when Channel 5’s withdrawal of funding ended the show – or so we thought – was a masterclass in eliciting misty-eyed memories among viewers of a certain age.


Among the icons who returned to celebrate the Aussie soap was Ian Smith as the beloved, bumbling Harold Bishop. When Amazon revived Neighbours a year later he popped back again to briefly update the Ramsay Street History Book for this new chapter, and this week he becomes a regular cast member for the first time in 15 years. After numerous mini-comebacks, what tempted Smith for a longer stay this time?

"I made the mistake of thinking I had retired," he grins, speaking exclusively to from the soap’s Melbourne studios. "I thought I had made enough provisions, but no. I had about four wonderful things to do, but you can’t do the same four things for the rest of your life. And so I was getting a bit bored and while I was out fishing one day, the phone rang – it was Neighbours asking me if I would come back.

"I took all of a tenth of a second then said 'yes please!' What actor at the age of 85 can experience that beautiful thing of doing something they love, being in a studio, standing in front of a camera and everyone telling them they’re wonderful? And I only film one day and week, so it’s lots of lovely bits and bobs."

Ian Smith as Harold Bishop with arms crossed in Neighbours
Ian Smith (Harold Bishop) in Neighbours.

Harold’s own retirement is about to get much more eventful as the character moves into Eirini Rising, Erinsborough’s swanky new retirement village, which is the brainchild of business ballbuster Terese Willis and sensible schoolteacher Jane Harris (aka 'Plain Jane Superbrain').

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The venture has been fraught with teething troubles, not least the clashes behind the scenes between bossy Terese and sensitive Jane. Susan Kennedy is also on board as operations manager, but is already finding her endless patience tested by Terese's demands. If Saintly Suze is struggling, things must be bad.

It remains to be seen if Harold gets dragged into the drama, but old Jelly Belly (the nickname bestowed upon him in childhood by old mate Lou Carpenter) has always been a reassuring presence the residents of Ramsay Street can turn to in times of crisis.

Harold was introduced in 1987, during the soap’s golden era when Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan shot to stardom as teenage sweethearts Charlene and Scott. At first stuffy, fussy and a little pompous, Smith peeled back the layers of his alter ego to create a genuine soap legend, but it didn’t happen overnight.

Alan Fletcher as Karl Kennedy, Annie Jones as Jane Harris and Ian Smith as Harold Bishop pose for a photo at a wedding in Neighbours.
Long-running Neighbours stars Alan Fletcher (Karl Kennedy), Annie Jones (Jane Harris), and Ian Smith (Harold Bishop). Prime Video/Fremantle

"I knew Reg Watson, the creator of Neighbours, and he asked me to go into Neighbours for five weeks as a potential love interest for Madge Ramsay," recalls the actor.

"At first I couldn’t 'find' who Harold was and had real trouble getting it. Then one day I tried a few things out in the performance and the camera crew laughed. Now, if there’s a hard crowd to make laugh, it’s a camera crew, so I asked them what I’d done that amused them – so I did it again! Not long after that I got my first 12-month contract, and Harold has been with me ever since.

"I actually build Harold on my knowledge of three real people from my own life, including my father. I see him as the kind of person whose advice might not always be correct, but is someone who is warm, fluffy and comfortable to have around. What I gleaned from those original three inspirations is still very much in Harold, in fact even more so now as he’s the age they were when I knew them!"

Playing comedic fusspot Harold thrust Smith into being front of house after many years behind the scenes as a script editor and writer for Australian television, primarily on cult women’s jail drama Prisoner. Another Reg Watson production, it was that connection that put the polymathic Smith on the path to Ramsay Street and high-profile recognition.

"I’d been a hand-to-mouth actor since the late 1960s, for which I got paid occasionally," smirks the avuncular star, who has a charming hint of mischief as he recounts his industry anecdotes. "Becoming a script editor and writer meant I had regular work and was still connected with TV drama. I enjoyed it, and would’ve done anything to stay in the business, whether it was behind the scenes or on stage. Neighbours came along once Prisoner ended, when I had a bit of actor panic about what was next!"

Shiv Palekar as Haz Devka and Ian Smith as Harold Bishop posing for Neighbours.
Shiv Palekar as Haz Devka and Ian Smith as Harold Bishop posing for Neighbours. Prime Video/Fremantle

Already a seasoned professional by the time he became an established part of the Neighbours cast, Smith fondly remembers the early days of buttoned-up Mr Bishop's careful courtship of mouthy Madge, and how the unlikely couple became telly mum and dad to a generation of fans.

All feels right with the world when Harold is in Neighbours, which does a grand job of preserving the pantheon of much-loved heritage characters that maintain links to the soap’s rich past of almost 40 years (it hits the milestone in March 2025). When asked which colleague he has particularly fond memories of working with, Smith doesn’t hesitate to answer.

"Vivean Gray, who played Mrs Mangel. How lovely it would be to have her back, but of course she passed away in 2016. She was incapable of delivering an 'ordinary' scene, if she complemented you on something it was the kind of praise that keeps you going.

"One of my favourite ever scenes was when Mrs Mangel unwittingly got her and Harold drunk! I was reminded that she caught the bouquet at Scott and Charlene’s wedding, and gave Harold a little wink! Maybe in her mind they could’ve got together, but not as far as Harold was concerned…"

So huge was Harold’s popularity, he achieved that ultimate soap accolade of being brought back from the dead because the fans missed him so much, five years after his initial exit in 1991.

Neighbours itself had become a global cultural phenomenon, and the news it was apparently ending after 37 years prompted a host of former alumni to pay their respects with cameo appearances. In 2022, Smith was reunited on screen with Kylie and Jason, along with current legacy cast members Stefan Dennis (Paul Robinson) and Annie Jones (Jane) to say their goodbyes.

Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan in Neighbours finale
Mike and Jane joined their friends to celebrate as Neighbours bowed out. Ch5/Fremantle Fremantle

"It was like a funeral for the show, I promise you," he says, candidly reflecting on the highly-anticipated scenes. "We stood in a group in dead silence, with someone occasionally saying something to break it or offering to give each other a hug for no reason. It was very emotional and we mourned the loss of the show for weeks.

"Then of course we got that wonderful, ridiculous news that we were back on! That certainly changed the energy that next time the cast gathered together."

Jackie Woodburne, aka Susan, Alan Fletcher, who plays Karl Kennedy, Ryan Moloney aka Toadie Rebecchi and Stefan Dennis are reverently referred to by producers as 'the core four', surely Smith should be added as a member of that esteemed group to make it the core five?

"I can’t tell you how nice it is to be back on the floor with the other 'oldies' and getting that feeling back again," he smiles. "From the newer cast, I think Shiv Palekar, who plays Haz Devkhar, the new owner of Harold’s coffee shop, is a wonderful young man. He has lovely charisma and a damn good talent, I look forward to scenes with him. It’s an equal love affair with all the cast, to be honest with you."

Ian Smith as Harold Bishop in Neighbours.
Ian Smith as Harold Bishop in Neighbours. Fremantle/Amazon Freevee

While Smith is clearly settled and satisfied to be back where he belongs, he confesses there’s still at least one itch to scratch in career terms – and suggests may be able to help…

"I would love to appear in one of the UK soaps! I don’t care which one, I just really want to work over there. Please make it happen! I came to Britain to present an award to the cast of Coronation Street some years back. Maybe that’s my inroad…"

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Neighbours continues on Amazon Freevee every Monday to Thursday from 7am.


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