Happy returns for Neighbours

Vanessa Williams

Even though he hasn't been among the regular Neighbours cast for several years, its no surprise TV stalwart Ian Smith is still widely recognised as one of Ramsay Street's longest-serving residents, Harold Bishop.

But being known as the iconic character hasn't always been glamorous.

In 2008 the 76-year-old revealed he was frequently heckled by locals in his neighbourhood, which subsequently led to his departure from the popular Aussie soap.

And while he has since put the real-life drama behind him, Smith has noticed a renewed interest in the show following the announcement that several familiar faces will return to Ramsay Street to help celebrate Neighbours' 30th anniversary this year.

Those returning to the soap include Smith's Bishop, who will reappear in leafy Erinsborough next week.

"I think maybe because people have read a lot of things about me going back but all of a sudden there's this influx of people saying 'Oh hello, you used to be Harold'," Smith says. "And it's nice, I was never mad about being approached about the show, that's just a part of things, because you force your way into their living rooms so you've got to put up with that side of it. And if people are pleasant, it's very nice."

While there has been much fanfare surrounding just who will be dropping by Ramsay Street - Delta Goodrem's Nina Tucker and Melissa Bell's Lucy Robinson are also among the mix of returning cast - Smith had some doubts about returning to the show he had been in for 16 years.

"I'd never been totally satisfied with my ability as an actor," he says. "I thought to myself 'Oh God have I remembered what to do, can I take off like I used to?' And it's because of familiarity with the set, with the character and so on. But I worried about remembering the words for starters, and the first scene I remembered the words but I forgot to act.

"But it's like falling off the horse. The old horse remembered me and I remembered it and we were fine."

Storylines for the upcoming 30th anniversary episodes have been shrouded in secrecy, most of all the return of Bishop's late wife Madge (Anne Charleston), with many fans speculating how the couple's long-awaited TV reunion will unfold.

Not surprisingly, Smith is tight-lipped when quizzed about their on-screen reunion.

"If I tell you, I'd have to kill you," he laughs. "But I tell you what, when they first approached me with the storyline with Madge coming back, I was very dubious. I thought 'Oh God is this another one of those American arising from the dead', and that sort of thing. But when they told me, I applauded it. It was so cleverly handled and the idea was actually thought up by Jackie Woodburne (who plays Susan Kennedy)."

Smith says reteaming with Charleston was just like old times.

"It was just magic," he says. "We understood each other; we trusted each other, which is a huge bonus."