Thursday, 28 November 2013

RIP Lewis Collins

I can't believe I'm typing this, but Lewis Collins - star of The Professionals, Who Dares Wins, a clutch of Macaroni Combat movies of the 80s and ostensibly the best James Bond we never had - has passed away aged just 67 following a five year battle with cancer.

Born in Bidston, near Birkenhead, the Wirral in 1946 (who can forget his line 'Liverpool for The Cup' when greeting a non English speaking Russian agent in The Professionals?!) Collins originally began life as a ladies hairdresser (no doubt to chat up the birds) and a drummer and bassist in several Liverpudlian Merseybeat outfits, including The Mojos -  Indeed he was at one stage a close friend and bandmate of Paul McCartney's brother Mike - before moving into acting, training at LAMDA and working in rep. Following appearances in episodes of Z Cars, Crown Court and Warship, he bagged himself a regular role as rugger bugger Gavin Rumsey in the sitcom The Cuckoo Waltz before a guest appearance in The New Avengers episode 'Obsession' saw him paired with Martin Shaw.  

Perhaps fatefully, Collins had this line to say to his co-star in the episode "Maybe we should work together again. We're a good team"

It became clear this was an electric partnership, despite no love lost between the actors in real life. Brian Clemens, looking to start another series in The New Avengers vein, had second thoughts about pairing future Danger UXB and Brideshead Revisited star Anthony Andrews alongside Shaw, and cast Collins instead as the laconic tough nut CI5 agent Bodie in The Professionals.

It was the role that made him, running from 1977 to 1981. He became the hero of young boys, the pin up of girls and the guy most blokes wanted to have a few pints with (and secretly wanted to be) His performance of Bodie not only subsequently shaped the remainder of his own career, its reverberations can be felt throughout TV to this day (Ross Kemp always singled him out as inspiration for many of his own hard case roles and John Simm admits his outfit for time travelling cop Sam Tyler in Life On Mars took its cue from Bodie's in The Professionals, to say nothing of The Comic Strip Presents spoofs featuring Keith Allen as Bonehead to Peter Richardson's Foyle) 

Upon leaving the role of Bodie, Collins auditioned for the part of James Bond in 1982 but was deemed 'too aggressive' by Cubby Broccoli for the role. Instead, he took the lead role in Euan The Wild Geese Lloyd's movie Who Dares Wins, based on the SAS resolution of the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege in London. Collins played covert SAS operative Captain Peter Skellen in an all star cast that included Edward Woodward, Richard Widmark, Judy Davis and Ingrid Pitt. Legend has it Collins required no training from the SAS, having passed the entrance tests for their territorial branch, where he was ultimately rejected because of his fame.

The remainder of the 1980s saw Collins star in similar fare for Italian director Antonio Margheriti (aka Anthony M Dawson) in films Codename: Wild Geese, Commando Leopard and The Commander alongside a rep company of acting legends Klaus Kinski, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef and Donald Pleasance (see this earlier post for a more in depth look at these films)

On the small screen, Collins received the accolade of being a 1982 subject for This Is Your Life and gave an hilariously camp and dangerous performance as Philip Mark, a replacement Sheriff of Nottingham, in a 1986 episode of Robin of Sherwood before starring alongside Michael Caine as one of the policemen hunting down Jack The Ripper in 1988.

Work began to become more and more scarce in the 1990s following Collins move to LA (and rumours he was 'difficult', shooting up his home with a shotgun didn't help such gossip!) he appeared in the adaptation of Barbara Cartland's A Ghost Of Monte Carlo in 1990 alongside Joanna Lumley (a reunion between the pair after The New Avengers episode) before playing Col Mustard in the live action version of the Cluedo board game in 1991-92. He would play the SAS soldier father of Brian Conley's sadistic PE teacher (himself based on Bodie's look) in the 1970s set sitcom The Grimleys for two episodes in 1999, before making a final UK TV appearance guesting in a 2002 episode of The Bill

I feel I've lost a part of my childhood today.


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