Jump to content

Ian Smith prepares to let go of Neighbours' Harold

Guest Di

Recommended Posts

AFTER 20 years on Ramsay Street, Ian Smith was ready to let go of his Neighbours character Harold Bishop. But producers offered him a compromise.

Article here

He's been described as the heart and soul of Neighbours, so it's no surprise producers were in despair when Ian Smith calmly dropped his bombshell that he intended quitting the iconic Aussie soap.

Though an actor's impact on ratings can be difficult to quantify, there's no doubting Smith's popularity.

He's a household name in Australia and Europe for his portrayal of meddling Harold Bishop. He receives sacks of fan mail and is one of the first actors visiting international celebrities want to meet when they tour the show's Nunawading set.

When asked why the girls from visiting band Atomic Kitten were so desperate to meet him, an unpretentious Smith tried to dismiss his popularity with a wave of his hand.

"Maybe for the people who love the show, it's a bit like meeting Father Christmas,'' Bishop says of all the fuss.

Smith, who filmed his final scenes for 2007 in mid-November and has since been on a working holiday in the UK, says his desire to walk away from the show was prompted by age.

"I originally intended to leave for good, but they (producers) wouldn't hear of it, so I'll be back,'' he says.

"But I told them I'm 68 and I want to stop and smell the roses before I start pushing them up.

"I have tried to stay fit because I've had to. I come from a background of not a lot of money and if I'm earning a fair bit I know I have to try to keep myself healthy, though to look at the body now you wouldn't think so. I used to do up to 10km every morning, but it got harder and harder.

"When they (producers) originally said they wanted me to stay, I said, 'I just don't think it's going to happen'.

"I'm awfully glad they did (talk me into coming back). It would be very emotional if I was walking away for good. But I'll have four lovely months to myself, then come back for six weeks, then go away for another four months and it will go on and on like that.

"So I'm not retiring, but I am walking away from having to work 13-hour days, day after day. They (TV industry) try to keep actors poor so they can't just walk away.''

So what does he think of being referred to as the heart and soul of the soap?

"That certainly doesn't come from me,'' Smith says.

"I'm just an actor earning a living. I couldn't have done any of this without great people like Anne Charleston, Tom Oliver and Jackie Woodburne and all the others around me.

"Harold can't be the silly old fool he is unless he has people willing to stand in front of him and let him do it and feed him. These people are very unselfish and they do it very nicely, thank you.''

Smith, who will appear on Neighbours intermittently in 2008, has had a colourful history on the show.

Since arriving in Ramsay St in 1988, Harold hasn't always been, well, Harold.

He started out as a religious, well-respected teetotaller. Then he was washed out to sea, lost his memory and returned to Erinsborough almost five years later under the guise of a Salvation Army officer called Ted.

And let's not forget his questionably comedic alter ego, "Afro Harold'', and the time he was birdwatching and mistaken for a peeping Tom.

Later, he went on to have a stroke and personality change that saw him transformed into a beer-swilling, bottom-pinching bum.

It was a case of Bishop to porn and suddenly young people were stopping him to congratulate him on having "street cred''.

"They all wanted to shake the hand that pinched Izzy's (Natalie Bassingthwaighte) bum,'' Smith says.

Smith had been concerned Harold's wayward, potty-mouthed behaviour after the stroke would stretch the character's credibility past breaking point.

But Smith's research on strokes and how they affect the psyche eased his worries.

Smith went on to remind fans of his talent by bringing a sense of pathos to his portrayal of a man struggling to exorcise his psychological demons.

His occasional appearances on the show have forced writers to take Harold in a new direction. In episodes to air in March, he'll be seen leaving Ramsay St to tour Australia, returning to air in June.

Smith confesses the discipline required to do his job on Neighbours has helped him deal with traumas in his personal life.

When Connie Smith, the woman Ian had known as his mother, feared she would not make it through a 1994 hip-replacement operation, she revealed to Ian he was adopted.

Smith collapsed mentally, initially resisting the thought of finding the mother who had given him up for adoption.

Smith says he woke one morning determined to find her.

He was to discover his biological mother Peg Kline was assaulted and fell pregnant at 13 in 1938.

She was pressured to give Ian up the minute he was born.

Ian's biological father, 26, disappeared and died some years later.

Smith dismisses the notion he was courageous in tracking Peg down.

"It wasn't courage, it was the fact I was having a mental breakdown at the time,'' Smith says.

Smith, who has had battles with an anxiety disorder he refers to as "the black dog'', says he found it difficult to cope.

"The black dog had a litter!'' he says. "I really didn't know what I was doing. I was on auto (pilot). It was a robotic thing.

"You just don't expect to find things out at that age, do you? You think nothing new can happen to you.

"I went to Vanish (www.vanish .org.au) and was able to find out where she (Peg) lived . . . everything about her. I wrote her a letter, spoke to her on the phone. She'd had no idea who I was. She'd not watched Neighbours, but had seen me on stage.

"I had a breakdown, deep depression. I went to see her in Cheltenham. There was this person who looked like me, walking towards me. It was extraordinary. We hit it off straight away.''

After finally coming to terms with his past and developing a relationship with Peg, Smith was to learn she was terminally ill with cancer. She passed away in 2005. Given he did not set eyes on his biological mother until the age of 54, Smith is unsure of the legacy of discovering and forming a bond with her.

"To lose one parent (Connie Smith died from leukemia three years after telling Ian he was adopted) is bad enough; to lose two was downright awful,'' Smith says.

Asked what he was like to live with through such a rocky period in his life, Smith says, "My wife deserved a medal for putting up with me.''

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.