Stephen Lewis (actor)

Stephen Lewis
Born (1926-12-17)17 December 1926
Poplar, London, England
Died 12 August 2015(2015-08-12) (aged 88)
Wanstead, London, England
Occupation Actor
Years active c. 1958–2007

Stephen Lewis (17 December 1926 12 August 2015), credited early in his career as Stephen Cato, was an English actor, comedian, director, screenwriter, and playwright. He is best known for his television roles as Inspector Cyril "Blakey" Blake in the LWT sitcom On the Buses, Clem "Smiler" Hemmingway in Last of the Summer Wine, and Harry Lambert in BBC Television's Oh, Doctor Beeching!, although he also appeared in numerous stage and film roles.

Early life

Lewis was born at All Saints Maternity Hospital in Poplar, East London, England.[1] He worked as a bricklayer, electrician's mate and carpenter and also joined the Merchant Navy before turning to acting.[2] He was persuaded to go to a performance by the Theatre Workshop, under their director Joan Littlewood. It was common, after these performances, to invite members of the audience to meet the cast. He was invited to an audition, landed the part, and left the sea to become a member of the company.


Lewis made his West End theatre debut with the transfer of Brendan Behan's The Hostage in 1958.[3] In 1960 he wrote Sparrers Can't Sing with the Theatre Workshop, which was made into a the film Sparrows Can't Sing in 1963, starring Barbara Windsor, Roy Kinnear and Lewis himself, as well as his future On the Buses co-star Bob Grant. He used the name Cato in his early stage career, but after writing Sparrows Can't Sing he was urged by his agent to use his real name.


From 1969 Lewis starred in his best-remembered role as the gruff inspector Blakey in the British sitcom On the Buses, which ran for 74 episodes and spawned three films: On the Buses (1971), Mutiny on the Buses (1972), and Holiday on the Buses (1973). He co-wrote 12 episodes with fellow star Bob Grant. Lewis was made up to look much older than his actual age; he was only 42 when the programme began. A spin-off series, Don't Drink the Water (1974–1975), ran for two series. This featured Blakey retiring to Spain with his sister Dorothy (played By Pat Coombs). In the 1990s, Blakey (or a very similar-looking character) appeared regularly on Jim Davidson's version of The Generation Game on BBC One. He also appeared in Manhunt in a rare villainous role.


His film roles included A Prize of Arms (1962), Negatives (1968), Staircase (1969) with Richard Burton and Rex Harrison, Some Will, Some Won't (1969), The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971), The Last Remake of Beau Geste (1977), Personal Services (1987), Out of Order (1987), and The Krays (1990). He also appeared in two British sex comedies, Adventures of a Taxi Driver (1975) and Adventures of a Plumber's Mate (1978).[3]

Later television roles

In 1988, he took on one of his longest-running roles, playing the ironically-named "Smiler" Hemingway in the BBC sitcom Last of the Summer Wine. The character appeared in many episodes for 17 years, until ill health forced Lewis to leave the series in 2007. In 1995, Lewis played Harry Lambert, the signalman, in the BBC pilot of sitcom Oh, Doctor Beeching!, which ran to two further series. He appeared as a guest in sitcoms such as One Foot in the Grave, 2point4 Children and Father, Dear Father. He also played the character of Alf, a comedy writer, in the second series of The All New Alexei Sayle Show (1995).


Lewis died at the age of 88 on 12 August 2015, in a nursing home in Wanstead, London, where his sister Connie, aged 84 also resides.[4][5] His health had been gradually declining over the past few years.[6] According to the manager of the nursing home, during his final years he would still deliver his famous lines from On the Buses, like "I'll get you for this, Butler" and "Get these buses out, Butler". [7] His funeral was attended by Anna Karen, his co-star and only surviving member from On the Buses. At the funeral Karen described Lewis as "extremely talented and very funny man and wonderful to work with".[8]

Partial filmography

Year Title Role Notes
1961 The Frightened City Alf's First Thug
1962 A Prize of Arms Colonel Bates
1963 Sparrows Can't Sing Caretaker
1966 Kaleidoscope Truck Driver Uncredited
1968 Negatives The Dealer
1969–1973 On the Buses Cyril "Blakey" Blake
1969 Staircase Jack
1970 Some Will, Some Won't Police Constable Arthur
1971 On the Buses Cyril "Blakey" Blake
1971 The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins Jarvis (segment "Wrath")
1972 Mutiny on the Buses the Inspector
1973 Holiday on the Buses Cyril "Blakey" Blake
1974–1975 Don't Drink the Water Cyril "Blakey" Blake
1976 Adventures of a Taxi Driver Doorman
1977 The Fosters Mr Wilberforce
1977 The Last Remake of Beau Geste Henshaw
1978 Questo si che è amore Policeman
1978 Adventures of a Plumber's Mate Crapper
1982 Rep Royston Flagg
1987 Personal Services Mr. Dunkley
1987 Out of Order Bus Driver
1988–2007 Last of the Summer Wine Clem "Smiler" Hemmingway
1990 One Foot in the Grave Vince Bluett
1990 The Krays Policeman
1991 2point4 Children Driving Instructor
1995 The All New Alexei Sayle Show Alf
1995–1997 Oh, Doctor Beeching! Harry Lambert
2004 Revolver Various characters


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