Every soap opera is constantly searching for new ways to keep audiences glued to their seats. There really are only so many different plot lines in a soap opera, and they are reused again and again—which is why you can pick up watching them after years and immediately feel at home. That’s why writers are always looking for that twist to the tale, that manages to surprise viewers who thought they knew what was coming—and now can’t wait to find out what happens next.
If you want to see an example of writers excelling themselves, look no further than the always compelling story of Neighbours character Harold Bishop, played by Ian Smith.
Harold’s first run on the show saw him become part of one of our favourite couples, seeing off rival Lou Carpenter and marrying Madge Ramsay—seemingly the sort of happy ending we all love. But, just when we thought they would be together forever, there was a shocking twist that saw Harold leave the show, leaving behind no more than a pair of glasses on a cliff edge.
But the writers were just getting started, and managed to top that. Five years after his disappearance Harold reappeared, but in true soapie style, with no memories of his former life. This Harold was a transformed man, and turned to God. This was so well done that it is no stretch at all to say that the most well-known Salvo in Australia wasn’t actually a Salvo at all, but Ian Smith in his role as Salvo member Harold.
But, life off screen for Smith has had its own share of drama, too. While the role of Harold gave him instant recognition, it could be a mixed blessing, as after 25 years in the same role it became hard to imagine him playing anyone else.
In an interview with News Corp, Smith explained the feeling of being typecast, saying how he once confided to fellow actor Guy Pearce, “What I’ve done for 25 years is a variation on one character—50 shades of Harold, that’s all.”
Despite that, Smith doesn’t have any regrets. Talking to English paper Express about yet another return to the show, he said, “I wasn’t missing acting and I was still seeing the cast members. I just missed Harold. I love him. I need help!”
Smith was so convincing in his role as cheerful and purpose-filled Harold that few fans would have ever thought Smith’s life has been far from easy, and that he has struggled with depression, which began when his dying mother told the actor he was adopted.
Interviewed by the Daily Mail, he talked about one of the best parts of playing the character.
“I’m a little proud of myself,” he explained. “He’s a silly old fool but there’s something in Harold that everyone likes.
“It’s like the young kids come up to me and say, ‘You’re like my granddad’ or ‘You’re just like my father’. I want to grab that and turn it into something where I can say, ‘Go and hug your father’, as unfortunately I never hugged my father.”
Continuing to volunteer for the Salvos, Smith hopes that something good can come out of his own struggles, and that his Salvo alter ego can be a positive influence.