Neighbours' Harold Bishop, 85, quits retirement to make shock return

Ian Smith rose to fame on Neighbours in 1987, and he loves his character, Harold Bishop, so much that he’s coming out of retirement to play him again. The actor has portrayed the bumbling, loveable, tuba-playing resident of Ramsay Street on and off for more than 30 years – in fact, he has made such a mark that the Erinsborough café still bears his name.

Ian’s last guest appearance was in the finale of Neighbours in 2022, but he has now decided to return, this time as a regular – and he’s back in the opening credits, too.

“I turned 85 last June and retired,” says Ian. “I thought I had prepared myself for it. Well, I hadn’t."

Harold was last in Erinsborough for the Neighbours finale in 2022
Ian Smith will return as Harold Bishop in Neighbours -Credit:Amazon Freevee

"I got a fly fishing rod," Ian explains, "A metal detector and an electric bike. But life needs more than those things and I was finding myself almost stranded – I even tried to cook! Then I got a phone call asking if I would come back to the show. I wanted to kiss them. I just said, ‘Yes!’

“I should have been stand-offish, and said, ‘Oh, I don’t know, how much are you going to pay?’ But no, I said, ‘Yes! Yes!’ I’m the most fortunate elderly actor; kept off the street, still using his brain and doing what he loves. It’s lovely.”

Harold was welcomed back by his old friends Karl and Susan Kennedy and Toadie Rebecchi. And while happy to see them, Ian says Harold has returned for another reason.

“He’s missing his one and only love, Madge. Erinsborough is where his love memories are and if that’s as close he’s going to get to his girl, that’s where he wants to be.”

Anne Charleston with Ian Smith stars in November 1989
Ian confesses Harold is back on Ramsay Street to feel closer to wife Madge -Credit:Russell Bass/Mirrorpix/Getty

Actress Anne Charleston played Madge Bishop until the character died of pancreatic cancer in 2001. Madge has been back twice since then, both times as a ghost.

So would Ian like Harold to have a romance storyline?

“No, I would want him to stick with Madge – but sadly, he can’t,” sighs Ian. “I’m rather attached to Harold having a beautiful memory of her. Is that a bit soppy? She was the love of his life, and there’s more value in that.

“And Harold can stand back from other romances and look at them. He’ll stick his nose in, he can’t help it! He’ll comment on other people’s relationships and I hope he does – but he will put his foot in it.”

Ian pictured with actors Anne Charleston, Craig Mclachlan and Kylie Minogue
Ian confessed he loved working with young stars Kylie and Guy -Credit:Fremantle Media/REX/Shutterstock

Lots of faces have come and gone since Ian joined Neighbours, some of whom went on to become huge stars, like Kylie Minogue, Guy Pearce and Margot Robbie. Ian is a “proud uncle” to those actors – and he wants one in particular to return.

“I’d want Guy to come back,” Ian admits. “He’s the most wonderful person.”

Since Neighbours was axed by Channel 5 in 2022 and returned last year with Amazon Freevee, there have been big changes. While Alan Fletcher (Karl), Jackie Woodburne (Susan), Stefan Dennis (Paul Robinson) and Ryan Maloney (Toadie) returned, others didn’t, resulting in new people joining.

Ian is back with the likes of Ryan Moloney
Harold is reunited with his Ramsay Street friends -Credit:Amazon Freevee

“The younger actors keep me young,” reveals Ian. “They don’t exclude me from their conversations and they ask my opinion, which doesn’t happen very often in this day and age. They’re magnificent and I couldn’t be happier working with them.”

Ian is so well-known for playing Harold, but he has worked on the stage since the late 1950s – and he even tried his hand at panto in the UK.

“The London Palladium is the holiest spot!” he says. As for stepping back on stage in the capital, that’s a no-brainer. “Would I? Yes indeed!”