Lewis Collins Obituary The Professionals Granite Jawed Macho Mercenary With A Twinkle In His Eye
He was the macho mercenary with a twinkle in his eye – the granite jawed, crop-headed half of the nation’s best-loved television action duo.
Actor Lewis Collins, who has died aged 67, won an army of fans as tough guy and ladies’ man William Bodie in iconic 1970s and 80s series The Professionals.
Bodie and crime-fighting partner Ray Doyle – played by Martin Shaw – became known as the UK’s Starsky and Hutch and pulled in audiences of more than 10 million during the show’s six-year run.
Today Shaw, 68, led tributes to the much loved actor who passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles after a five-year battle with cancer.
“I was very sad to hear Lewis has died. We spent a very tough four years together in making The Professionals, and shared in the production of what has become an icon of British television,” he said.
“He will be remembered as part of the childhood of so many people. I send my love and condolences to his family and the great many who will miss him.”
Collins, an expert in martial art ju-jitsu with a passion for guns since his youth, was propelled to stardom by his high-octane antics as Bodie.
But his dream role – playing James Bond – always eluded him. When he auditioned for 007 producers in 1982 he lost out for being “too aggressive”.
The Professionals theme tune and action-packed plots made it a huge hit on ITV between 1977 and 1983. CI5 boss George Cowley, played by Gordon Jackson, ordered his agents to “fight fire with fire” – leading to daring stunts by the pair and dramatic car chases in their Ford Capris.
The role of Bodie was originally meant for Brideshead Revisited star Anthony Andrews – but producers decided he and Shaw lacked on-screen chemistry.
But Collins was the perfect choice for the former para and SAS soldier and could have helped Shaw with a perm too – his first job was as a ladies’ hairdresser.
Born in Bidston, on the Wirral, Collins was a talented musician, playing drums and guitar in local pop groups before deciding to become an actor.
He trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, then went into repertory theatre, touring Britain and also the US and Canada.
His early television roles included parts in Z Cars, Crown Court, and The New Avengers, and he caught the eye of female fans in 1975 sitcom The Cuckoo Waltz with Diane Keen, playing handsome lodger Gavin.
Bodie’s washboard stomach and rippling biceps only helped his sex symbol image.
But male fans loved the witty, sporty, action man, too. Shaw and Collins learned stunt driving skills and performed car chases in The Professionals – although producers still insisted they be chauffeured to and from set.
After the Bond audition, Collins said: “I was in Albert R Broccoli’s office for five minutes, but it was really over for me in seconds. He’s expecting another Connery to walk through the door and there are few of them around.”
Collins never quite matched the acting success of his co-star Shaw, who went on to play Judge John Deed and Inspector George Gently.
His best-known role was that of SAS officer Captain Peter Skellen in the 1982 film Who Dares Wins. After making the movie Collins applied to join the Territorial SAS but despite passing the tests he was rejected because of his fame.
Collins continued working through the 1980s and 90s with parts in Robin of Sherwood, Jack the Ripper, Cluedo and The Grimleys. He was last seen on screen in 2002 in The Bill.
Collins married teacher Michelle Larrett in 1992 and they had three sons Oliver, Elliot and Cameron. They moved to the States and he later set up and ran a successful computer business.
Collins kept his cancer battle private but in 2011 he was photographed near his home in Los Angeles looking a shadow of his former self.
Last year he was cast as Earl Godwin in the historically-based film of 1066, but in June this year it was reported he had withdrawn from the production.
Fans had hoped he might appear in a cameo role in a new movie of The Professionals planned by creator Brian Clemens.
But today his agent announced he had died peacefully surrounded by his family.
Former Doctor Who star Colin Baker tweeted: “Sad to hear that Lewis Collins has died. He was the year below me at drama school. Had style!”
Brian Conley who co-starred with Collins in the 1999 TV series The Grimleys, also paid his respects: “God bless Lewis Collins, my dad in The Grimleys. A great actor and a lovely man.”
And actor Gary Kemp tweeted: “The man who should have been Bond. RIP Lewis Collins. You were supercool.”