Obituary: Rodney Bewes, actor who will forever be a Likely Lad

Rodney Bewes at Edinburgh Assembly Rooms in  Three Men In A Boat in 1998 (Picture: Denis Straughan)
Rodney Bewes at Edinburgh Assembly Rooms in Three Men In A Boat in 1998 (Picture: Denis Straughan)
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Rodney Bewes, actor and writer. Born: 27 November 1938 in Bingley, Yorkshire. Died: 21 November 2017, aged 79.

Rodney Bewes was best known as one half of The Likely Lads, one of British televison’s classic sitcom pairings of the 1960s and 1970s

The actor starred as Bob Ferris in the show alongside James Bolam’s character, Terry Collier.

The pair were cast as childhood friends in the innovative programme – one of the first to be set in the north east of England – which at its peak was watched by 27 million people.

Bob was the sensible one, doing his best to get on with his job and better himself, while Terry was the irresponsible one, intent on living life to the full and forever getting “the lads” into trouble of one kind or another.

One episode in particular – No Hiding Place – has entered cultural folklore; Bob and Terry accept a bet that they can’t go all day without finding out the result of an England v Bulgaria football match before the highlights are shown on TV – which they achieved, after a number of narrow squeaks, only to find when they sit down to watch the highlights that the match had been called off because of a waterlogged pitch.

The pair seemed an ideal partnership on screen, but any notion that they were best pals off-screen was shattered by the claims of a spectacular fall-out in Bewes’s 2005 autobiography. The bust-up, decades earlier, marked the beginning of a decline in Bewes’ career, although he continued to act on stage and screen.

Born on 27 November 1938 in Bingley, Yorkshire, he was confined to the house by asthma until the age of 12.

But two years later he secured his first professional role and he eventually went to London to study drama at RADA.

Classic movies Heavens Above! and Billy Liar paved the way for his most famous role in The Likely Lads, written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. The show was a huge success and the pair went on to pen three series, with a total of 20 episodes broadcast between 1964 and 1966.

The BBC revived the hit comedy in 1973 with Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? and it was soon named the Best Situation Comedy Programme of the Year.

The continuation saw Terry return from a stint in the Army to try to find work in a North East that had changed dramatically, while Bob was busy trying to climb the social ladder into the world of the middle classes with snooty fiancee Thelma (Edinburgh native Brigit Forsyth).

In 1976, a spin-off film, The Likely Lads, was released, following the adventures of Bob, Terry and their girlfriends on a camping weekend.

It would be the last time Bewes and Bolam would work together, with further incarnations of the programme ruled out due to a falling out between the pair.

Bewes, in his autobiography, attributed the final breakdown in their relationship to a row over a newspaper article and the feud apparently continued for decades.

In 2010 Bewes complained that Bolam had refused to give his permission for The Likely Lads to be repeated on network television.

For his part, Bolam has denied that a feud existed. Responding to news of Bewes’ death, he said: “There was no fall-out at all, as far as I was concerned.

“We worked together very happily and very well, enjoyed each other’s company and when we finished, we finished.

“This is what happens in acting. You work with people, you get to know them, you like them, we have a great time and the job finishes and you go off and it all starts again with other people and you can’t keep contact with everybody that you know.

“I think that Rodney wanted to do some more Likely Lads and I never did, I felt that what we had done was to me so perfect and so right that to try and bring it back... After we finished it the writers went on to do Porridge and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and then they went off to America and the success of that series lay in the strength of those scripts.

“There was some suggestion that we had other writers come in and I just thought ‘well, I don’t think it will work’ and so I didn’t want to do it, I was busy doing other things.”

Bewes never regained the fame and success he enjoyed in the sitcom, but continued a successful career with later roles on stage, where he appeared in Three Men And A Boat, Funny Money and The Diary Of A Nobody. He was a regular performer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, most recently last year with his show Whatever Happened to the Likely Lad Part Two.

Henry Vaughan