Neighbours legend Ian Smith wants to return to West End stage aged 85

Harold Bishop actor Ian Smith has spoken about returning as a series regular on Neighbours (Amazon Freevee)
Harold Bishop actor Ian Smith has spoken about returning as a series regular on Neighbours (Amazon Freevee)

Neighbours legend Ian Smith has revealed returning to the stage in London’s West End is high up on his bucket list.

The actor, 85, is best-known for his portrayal of character Harold Bishop - a fuddy-duddy teetotal vegetarian who wore huge glasses and played the tuba on Australian soap Neighbours.

He first made his debut in 1987, but tragedy struck when his character was washed out to sea and presumed dead. Then, following a miraculous return in 1996 where it was revealed he had been living with amnesia, he remained on screen until 2009.

Since then, Harold has made several guest appearances including in Neighbours’ 2022 finale, before it was later saved from cancellation by streaming service Amazon Freevee.

During his tenure, Harold’s romance with one true love Madge (Anne Charleston) was a focus of numerous plots while his rivalry with frenemy Lou Carpenter (Tom Oliver) - who nicknamed him “Jelly Belly” - added comedy.

Despite officially retiring from acting, he is now heading back to Ramsay Street for more as a series regular from May 28.

In fact, such was the lure of his craft, he wouldn’t rule out treading the boards on these shores again either.

Speaking to the Standard, he explained: “I turned 85 in June and I have retired, I have retired and I thought I had prepared myself - this is an age old story that almost every third man who retires will tell. I thought I had prepared for it, well I hadn’t.

“I found that I got a big fly fishing rod, a metal detector, electric bike that I strap on the back of my car when I go out in the country... Things like that I would do and my garden and in Australia we have a thing called U3A - University of the Third Age [a volunteer organisation open to anyone over 50, whether still working or retired], I’m going to that.

“But life needs more than those things and I was finding myself almost stranded - I even tried to cook! God, I really couldn’t. So then I got this telephone call saying would you come back to the show and I almost kissed them over the phone, I really did. I just said ‘yes!’

Ian Smith and Anne Charleston as Harold and Madge Bishop (PA)
Ian Smith and Anne Charleston as Harold and Madge Bishop (PA)

“I should have been stand-offish shouldn’t I, ‘oh I don’t know, how much are you going to pay?’ But no, ‘Yes! Yes!’ I said I couldn’t do it full-time and come to think of it, I’m not even sure if they asked me to do it full-time. I said bits and bobs and they agreed with that.

“I’m the most fortunate elderly actors who is kept off the street and still using his brain and doing what he loves doing, it’s lovely,” he declared.

Neighbours has always held a special place in the hearts of the British public and enabled him to live out one of his dreams of performing on the stage here.

His past acting credits have included Merry Widow, Camelot, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, Antony and Cleopatra, and he even tried his hand at panto - oh, yes, he did!

“Going to the London Palladium which I had grown up as the holiest spot in the world, I was gone!” he recalled. “I’ve been back many times, but nothing beats that visit. That visit was just magical.

“I hope it happens again,” he continued. “I have said goodbye to London and I didn’t think I’d be back, but isn’t it funny the more that life goes on, the more I want to get back there.”

As for stepping back on stage in the capital, that’s a no-brainer for him.

“Oh, would I? Yes! Would I ever, yes indeed is the answer,” he replies with huge gusto.

“I promised myself... I went to see Wicked the other night and as I sat down I said to my friends ‘I want to do one more musical before I drop off the twig. And then I sat down and I watched Wicked and I said ‘Oh, I couldn’t have done that! Forget it! It’s difficult.

“I would love to do a straight show. So listen all you people out there with the money, if you want someone who’s a useless big blob on the stage? Ok! I can do it!”

New episodes of Neighbours air at 2pm on free streaming platform Amazon Freevee between Mondays and Thursdays.