Stephen Lewis, On the Buses’ ‘Blakey’, 17 December 1926 – 12 August 2015 R.I.P

Stephen Lewis, On the Buses’ ‘Blakey’, dies aged 88

Stephen Lewis as

17 December 1926 – 12 August 2015

On the Buses – bye bye blakey.

Actor Stephen Lewis, best known for his role as officious inspector “Blakey” in the 1970s ITV sitcom On the Buses, has died aged 88, his family has announced.

Lewis also played “Smiler” in the BBC’s Last of the Summer Wine.

Born in east London in 1926, he got his start at the Theatre Royal Stratford East under Joan Littlewood.

According to his family, the actor died “quite peacefully” in a nursing home in Wanstead, east London, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Stephen Lewis with Reg Varney and Bob Grant in On the Buses
As “Blakey”, Lewis was forever clashing with Reg Varney’s wily Stan Butler (middle)

In his role as Inspector Cyril “Blakey” Blake, Lewis constantly clashed, and was usually outwitted by, Reg Varney’s wily bus driver Stan Butler.

One of his catchphrases was “I’ll get you for this, Butler” – one he was happy to repeat, according to the manager of the nursing home where he lived out his final years.

The popular sitcom ran from 1969 to 1973 and spawned three big-screen spin-offs: On the Buses, Mutiny on the Buses and Holiday on the Buses.

Lewis’s other sitcoms included Don’t Drink the Water, On the Buses’ short-lived, Spain-based sequel, and the BBC’s railway-themed Oh, Mr Beeching!

Stephen Lewis as
Lewis played “Smiler” in Last of the Summer Wine for almost 20 years

He also appeared as Clem “Smiler” Hemmingway in more than 130 episodes of Last of the Summer Wine, starting in 1988 and continuing until 2007.

Lewis wrote Sparrers (later Sparrows) Can’t Sing, a success for Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop that gave Barbara Windsor one of her most notable early roles.

Peter Lewis, the actor’s nephew, said his uncle’s health had gradually deteriorated in recent years but that he had kept his spirits up right until the end.

“He still had his sense of humour, very much so,” said Rashid Ebrahimkhan, manager of the Cambridge Nursing Home. “He was very resilient until the last.”

On the Buses – The “L” Bus

Stephen Lewis

Stephen Lewis (17 December 1926 – 12 August 2015)[3] was an English actor, comedian, director, screenwriter and playwright. In his early stage career he used the name Cato but after writing Sparrers Can’t Sing he was urged by his agent to use his real name.[4][non-primary source needed]

He is best known for his 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!.

Lewis was born at All Saints Maternity Hospital, in Poplar, London on 17 December 1926.and began his career as a merchant seaman, but 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 and landed the part; he left the sea, becoming a member of the company, and made his West End debut with the transfer of Brendan Behan‘s The Hostage in 1958.[5] In 1960 he wrote Sparrers Can’t Sing with the Theatre Workshop, which was made into the film Sparrows Can’t Sing (1963), starring Barbara Windsor, Roy Kinnear and Lewis himself.

From 1969 Lewis starred in his best remembered role as Blakey (catch phrase “I ‘ate you Butler”) in the British sitcom On the Buses, which ran for 74 half-hour 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 (conductor Jack Harper). While the lead character Reg Varney played a character intended to be significantly younger than himself, Lewis was made-up to look much older than his actual age, being only 42 when the programme began. A spin-off series, Don’t Drink the Water (1974–75), ran for two series. This featured Blakey retiring to Spain with his sister, Dorothy (Pat Coombs). In the 1990s Lewis’s character Blakey (or a very similar-looking character) appeared regularly on Jim Davidson’s version of The Generation Game on BBC1. He also appeared in Manhunt in a rare straight and villainous role, with Peter Barkworth and Alfred Lynch.

His other films include 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) 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), both directed by Stanley Long.

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 recurred in occasional episodes for 17 years before ill health forced Lewis to leave the series in 2007.[citation needed]

In 1995, Lewis played Harry Lambert, the signalman in the BBC pilot of sitcom Oh, Doctor Beeching!, which ran to two further series. Lewis also 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).

He died peacefully in his home at 1.50am on Wednesday 12 August 2015.

Television roles

Year Title Role
1969-1973
1974-1975
On the Buses
Don’t Drink the Water
Inspector Cyril “Blakey” Blake
1977 The Fosters Mr Wilberforce
1982 Rep Royston Flagg
1988, 1990,
1991-2007
Last of the Summer Wine Clem “Smiler” Hemmingway
1990 One Foot in the Grave Vince
1991 2point4 Children Driving Instructor
1995 The All New Alexei Sayle Show Alf
1995 to 1997 Oh, Doctor Beeching! Harry Lambert
2004 Revolver Various
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