Obituary: Lewis Collins, actor
Lewis Collins, the suave but decidedly sultry actor, rose to stardom when he co-starred with Martin Shaw and Gordon Jackson in the tough and fast-moving TV show, The Professionals. The series gained a huge audience, ran for six years and took on iconic status. As Bodie, the sombre and menacing cop, Collins got involved in punch-ups before he asked questions. That, coupled with his virtuoso driving of a silver Ford Capri, made Collins a hero to viewers. The rule book did not seem to worry Bodie and Collins revelled in the sense of adventure and the programme’s unremitting machismo. It was violent, brutal and edgy. The public loved it.
Collins auditioned for the role of James Bond but was turned down as he was considered “too aggressive”. Roger Moore was cast.
After attending Grange School in Birkenhead, Lewis Collins got various jobs and then studied drama at the London Academy of Music and Art in 1967. On graduating, he found work with many leading repertory companies, notably the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow.
He spent an important season in Glasgow and greatly benefited from the enlightened style of direction by the director Giles Havergal. He was in seven plays in 1972 at the Citz – memorably as the Provost in The Government Inspector. Collins described his time there with obvious pleasure: “It is the best theatre in Britain for young talent. Where else do you get to play Tamburlaine at 25?”
One of his most impressive performances was, indeed, in Marlowe’s Tamburlaine. Although he did play the title role in Glasgow, when the company made a prestigious visit to the Edinburgh Festival of 1972 Collins was cast as Cosroe. It was a monumental production with banners strewn outside the Assembly Hall and skeletons hanging around the hall. Blood was splattered around the stage.
While in Glasgow Collins was involved in community work and spent many afternoons teaching drama to deaf children. He modestly recalled some years later: “It was the most satisfying work I’ve done in my life.”
At the end of the season Havergal asked Collins to join him on a teaching project in Canada and America. He then appeared at London’s Royal Court Theatre in David Storey’s The Farm and made his first TV appearance in Z-Cars.
In 1975 Collins made a particularly strong impression in a Granada comedy called The Cuckoo Waltz.
Three years later Collins was offered a part in The New Avengers – one of the most hard-hitting police series of the era. The other guest star was Martin Shaw.
The two did not hit it off during filming but that helped when LWT needed two red-blooded males for The Professionals.
The producers were looking for a certain tension between the two undercover cops.
The rivalry was there from the start. Collins decided Bodie needed toughening up and went on an exacting physical regime under a former SAS sergeant.
It was an arduous filming process and the fights, stunts and frenetic car chases became a central part of the series. When it was aired in 1978 it was a smash hit from the first screening.
Shaw and Collins became firm fiends after the initial worries and often used to spend the evenings after filming playing their guitars together.
Filming the second series of The Professionals was halted when Collins broke an ankle after doing a parachute jump and in 1980 he broke his other ankle while he was under instruction for a pilot’s license.
He and Shaw did not renew their contracts for The Professionals in 1981 and bravely decided to seek other work. The show had lost none of its popularity and both men had become major stars as a result of it.
Collins landed a major Hollywood role in Who Dares Wins, which was loosely based on the Iranian embassy siege in London in 1980.
The film was only a mild success and while waiting for more movie offers Collins joined Elaine Page for a TV spectacular devoted to songs of the 1930s. Even though he was voted the Sexiest Man in Britain in 1983 work was not easy and Collins was happy to take on pantomimes – he was a gifted musician.
Major film offers dried up and his last film, in 1988, was a cameo role in Jack the Ripper with Michael Caine.
The public did see Collins as the swash-buckling, derring-do SAS hero. He once admitted: “I was an action man all my life: a champion rifle shot, a black belt at Ju-Jitsu, rode motorbikes, yet people say I am living out the part of Bodie.”
Collins, who died of cancer, moved to Los Angeles some years ago and set up an IT company. He married Michelle Larrett in 1992. She and their three sons survive him.