† Dec 17 1926 – Aug 12 2015
'What's this bus doing here? You're due at the cemetery gates in four minutes! Oh my good gawd! I hate you, Butler!' Etc, etc...
Another of the great cohort of working class acting talent brought to prominence by Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop in the late '50s. This hulking ex-merchant seaman proved to be a talented writer, creating the play, and later screenplay, for 'Sparrows Can't Sing' (1960), a unique slice of London kitchen sink comedy-drama with the young Barbara Windsor, Roy Kinnear, Brian Murphy, Murray Melvin and James Booth.
|An early role as a heavy in 'The Frightened City' (1961). At this point he was
using the stage name Stephen Cato, but soon after reverted to his own name
|A fleeting appearance as a scrap dealer in the gloomy and pretentious
'Negatives' (1969), which starred Glenda Jackson and Peter McEnery
His further acting and writing ambitions appear to have been effectively sidelined when his gawping characterisation of Blakey, the miserable bus company inspector in the grimly dim-witted sitcom 'On The Buses', proved so popular that the programme became a ratings-topping British institution. His performance as Blakey was in such demand that it led to not only a direct spin-off, 'Don't Drink the Water' with Pat Coombs, but a series of near-identical portrayals of sketch-show park keepers, station masters, and traffic wardens. There were also extended spells in the nostalgic Perry & Croft railway sitcom 'Oh Doctor Beeching!' and as 'Smiler' in the long-running 'Last of The Summer Wine', both of which saw him finessing his woebegone Blakey character.
|In a typical 'On The Buses' set up with cheeky middle-aged lothario/sex-pest
Stan Butler (Reg Varney, left) and one of the endless unlikely dolly-bird
conductresses or 'clippies' in thrall to his giggly Brylcremed charms
Something a bit different was a turn as a blonde gay pick-up for Rex Harrison in the excruciating Stanley Donen camp-fest 'Staircase' (1968) with Richard Burton, to complete a spectacular hat-trick of miscasting.
|'Staircase' (1968) A blonde and booted Lewis finds himself in the middle of
another ridiculous mincing tiff between Rex Harrison and Richard Burton
Update Aug 2015: So sad to hear that Stephen Lewis has passed on at the age of 88. He was one character actor that I had hopes of meeting one day. That won't now happen, but I thank him here for his quirky contributions to British cultural identity.