Tea Time Tidbits
Last of the Summer Wine's Stephen Lewis: 1926-2015
Week of August 24, 2015
Stephen Lewis
Stephen Lewis as "Smiler" in Last of the Summer Wine.

This week sees the funeral of a well-loved Last of the Summer Wine cast member; Stephen Lewis, who played Clem "Smiler" Hemingway.

Lewis, who was 88, died peacefully August 12th at the East London nursing home he'd lived in, alongside his younger sister Connie, for the last three years. Although the actor's health had been in decline over the past few years and he suffered from arthritis and had had prostate cancer, according to his niece, Lewis was "in high spirits" until the end and was "always singing and joking".

Stephen Lewis

Before he took up acting, Lewis, who was born on December 17, 1926, had a variety of jobs; an electrician’s mate, a bricklayer, a carpenter and a joiner. Eventually he joined the Merchant Navy, where he stayed until he became a playwright/actor in the mid to late 1950s.

In 1960 Lewis wrote a song called "Sparrers Can't Sing", which was subsequently made into a film Sparrows Can't Sing, for which Lewis wrote the screenplay. He also starred in the film along with cockney comedians Barbara Windsor and Roy Kinnear. The story was a depiction of London's East Enders and according to the New York Times its "gabble of cockney" was "incomprehensible", which is probably why it was released in the US with subtitles!

Stephen Lewis
As "Blakey" (center) in On The Buses.

In 1969 Lewis was cast in the role for which he is probably best remembered: Inspector Blakey in the long-running sitcom On The Buses, which ran for 74 episodes, 12 of which Lewis co-wrote. Throughout the 1960s and '70s, Lewis also appeared in several films, one of which was called Staircase, with Rex Harrison and Richard Burton. Then in 1988 he joined the cast of Last of the Summer Wine and appeared in the series on and off for 17 years until ill health forced him to leave in 2007.

Lewis was a big supporter of Britain's Labour Party and on one occasion, in order to help out the Labour candidate for Cleveland and Yorkshire North, he donned his bus inspector's uniform, stood atop an open roofed double decker bus, and, in keeping with his Inspector Blakey character, harangued the passersby. According to the candidate he was supporting, "whenever he saw a dog, he shouted 'What do you think of life under the Tories? Ruff! Ruff!'"

It seems that Lewis's great sense of humor is for what his friends will remember him best. His funeral is scheduled to take place August 25th in Wanstead.

If you've got a favorite actor you'd like to know more about let me know, drop me a line.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

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