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~ Lewis Collins ~

Lew sings 'When you come home again' and 'Take it out on time'

by Dave Matthews

Lewis Collins was born on 27th May 1946 in Birkenhead, England.
As a youngster he developed an interest in sports shooting and won several marksmanship tournaments, often competing against adults. His father Bill knew Paul McCartney's family and occasionally acted as road manager for The Beatles. Although adept on drums, Lewis turned down the chance to replace original drummer Pete Best in 1961, believing that there was more money to be made in hairdressing! Taking up an apprenticeship in Andre Bernard's Liverpool salon (alongside Mike McCartney), "Mr Lewis" - as the staff called him - appeared to enjoy the work but cast an envious eye towards the burgeoning success of The Fab Four and decided to take up the guitar. Quitting the salon after three years, Lewis enjoyed brief stints in a string of amateur Merseyside bands including jazz-rock group The Eyes, The Renegades, Kansas City Five and The Georgians.

In December 1964 Lewis joined The Mojos as bassist. Although personnel changed frequently within the group, this was to be one of its most stable periods. Previous incarnations had already released a number of singles, notably March 1964's 'Everything's Alright', which reached number nine in the charts.

Although the high-life beckoned (and Lewis recalls being chauffered around in a Rolls-Royce for a time!) the group was pretty much a spent force and Lewis left in late 1966 - the band folding for good the following year.

During his time Lewis passed his driving test and acquired an old van that had been used by the band. He nicknamed it 'Dumbo' because the sliding cab doors were only secured at the top and careering around at high speed corners would cause them swing out and up just like the Disney character's ears!

Despite falling into a few other bands after the decline of The Mojos, Lew was never again to find musical success. He took on along string of jobs (including a salesman of encyclopedias and of soft-drinks) but could not make a success of them...

"I went from band to band after The Mojos and I ended up on the cabaret circuit. When that came to a close I was doing odd jobs. Finally I was delivering crisps and lemonade in Warrington. It was snowing and I pulled into a lay-by. I thought, 'There's got to be something better than this. I know - I'll be an actor'."

By now it was 1968 and Lewis demonstrated enough ability to secure a place at LAMDA. He trained there for three years, at one point in a production of Romeo and Juliet: theatre owner John Plews recalled "Lewis Collins... played a remarkable, rough-and-ready Romeo, almost pre-empting his role in The Professionals" (thanks to Nickie Moran). Occasional reappearances followed which led to several small TV roles for Granada.
His first major exposure to television audiences came between 1975 and 1977 with Granada TV's sitcom The Cuckoo Waltz. Although the scripts were weak, it was surprisingly popular. Lewis played the well-off, flamboyant, skirt-chasing Gavin Rumsey supporting a couple of impecunious newly-weds with whom he lodged. Gavin was certainly the show's strongest character and it seemed Lewis was destined for sitcom stardom.
Yet major roles still eluded him and, ultimately, he rarely strayed into television comedy.

While his guest appearance alongside Martin Shaw in the 1977 New Avengers episode 'Obsession' was peripheral to the plot, this nevertheless led to his casting in The Professionals after Anthony Andrews was dropped from the show. Lewis and Martin had not got on very well during filming of the Avengers story, and, because the producers were looking for their lead characters to have a "sparky, abrasive" relationship, this is precisely why he was chosen to star with Shaw again! Here we came to view his unstuffy, unpretentious attributes as an actor shine through, though Lew would argue, probably rightly, that the show didn't always allow us to see his "finer points"! Martin on Lewis:
I said to Lew: "Look, you probably know, I didn't want you to do this. I was not in favour of it and I absolutely fought against it.... but I've changed my mind: I think you're really great in the part... and can we be friends?". I think he still thought I was an arsehole... for a while!

Lewis enrolled with the Territorial Army (a volunteer armed civilian force) and also tried out for Britain's armed elite, the Special Air Service. Despite passing all the trials he was turned down, apparently on the grounds of his high public profile, which was completely against the SAS' desire for anonymity. (Though in that case, one wonders why he was invited to train with them in the first place...?)

Having been fascinated by the idea of parachuting for many years, his first actual attempt in November 1978 resulted in a broken ankle and the suspension of filming on the second season of The Professionals.

Immediately after The Professionals Lewis was clearly regarded as leading man material, although most of his roles were not a million miles away from Bodie. Most memorable was the action movie Who Dares Wins (aka The Final Option), which was inspired by the Iranian Embassy siege in London during May 1980 and focussed on the dramatic rescue staged by the SAS. Although successful in Britain, the film wasn't as well-received in other countries.
(A sequel, set during the Falklands war, was planned but never got off the ground.)

A third bid for international stardom came in 1982 when auditions were being held to replace Roger Moore as James Bond (in the event, of course, Roger decided to stay in the role for another two movies). Undoubtedly Lewis would have made a fine 007 and the media not only agreed but were fully expecting him to take over the superspy mantle. But it was not to be - producer Cubby Broccoli turned Lewis down after an apparently "difficult" interview.
Shortly afterwards Lewis spoke to the press:

"It would be nice to get back to the original Bond, not the character created by Sean Connery - but the one from the books. He's not over-handsome, over-tall. He's about my age and has got my attitudes... I was in [Cubby Broccoli's] office for five minutes, but it was really over for me in seconds. I have heard since that he doesn't like me. That's unfair. He's expecting another Connery to walk through the door and there are few of them around. I think he's really shut the door on me. He found me too aggressive. I knew it all - that kind of attitude. Two or three years ago that would be the case, purely because I was nervous and defensive. I felt they were playing the producer bit with fat cigars. When someone walks into their office for the most popular film job in the world, a little actor is bound to put on a few airs. If Cubby couldn't see I was being self-protective I don`t have faith in his judgement. " (Daily Star, 26th August 1982 - thanks to "GC")

Lewis made a few TV appearances up to the end of the 1980's but has struggled much more since then. The problem appears to be one of typecasting. Many of his early post-Professionals roles were those of a similar character to Bodie, although he successfully broke away from this in 1988 with the Jack the Ripper mini-series where he played a Victorian police sergeant. A lucky break for Lewis - particularly as the part had originally gone to a different actor.

The late 1980's saw Lewis journey to Los Angeles and take low-key parts in a few American productions. He also studied film direction and passed the exams - though he has yet to put this talent to use, as far as I'm aware. Around 1995 he decided to move there permanently with his wife and sons.

In 1994 ex-Professionals director David Wickes approached London City financiers with an idea to produce a brand new series. A 1996 TV advert by car company Nissan UK parodied the old series and was so successful that this seemed to confirm the public's enduring love for the show. Original series producer Brian Clemens and Wickes asked Lewis to revive Bodie, this time as Head of the CI5 unit (essentially to replace the late Gordon Jackson). Sadly negotiations failed after five months and Lewis was dropped from the project - his replacement being eventually announced as Edward Woodward.

Yet that wasn't quite the end of Bodie. Lewis was delighted to lampoon both the role and himself in a comedy drama called The Grimleys in 1998, with his hard-as-nails mercenary commando character dismissing the SAS as "pansies" before taking off on a gun-running mission for Idi Amin!

His last TV appearance was as Dr. Peter Allen in 'The Bill' in 2002.

In 1992 Lewis married a young schoolteacher called Michelle Larret and the couple have three sons, Oliver, Elliot and Cameron. His hobbies include sports shooting (in which he has taken on and beaten some of the country's finest) and freefall parachuting. He also holds a Private Pilot's License.