Dedicated to Lewis Collins
Autumn 1972. Southend U.K.
I take a call from Badfinger’s manager Bill Collins, he’d heard that Legend had disbanded and did I need a gig? To this day it was the longest telephone conversation I’ve ever had (5 hours). By the time I got off the phone, I felt like I’d known him for years.
This incident sparked off a series of audition failures on my part which seriously undermined my self confidence.
Badfinger: Barney’s drumming is too “posh”.
Uriah Heep: Barney’s not ready for us yet.
Chris Spedding: Barney’s playing is too schooled, the Vibrators need a raw, hoodlum thumper.
However, this period of rejection ended later that year when I joined Warhorse, replacing Mac Poole on drums, the rest, you might know is history. Over the years Bill Collins would appear at gigs and offer his valued support. Fast forward to 1975, at Morgan studios London. I was playing for Rick Wakeman and we were putting the final touches to the “Arthur” album, when Bill turned up needing a favour. He was handling U.F.O. at the time and the drummer’s cymbals had gone missing, could I help? Later that day he sent a guy to pick up my cymbal case, and that was the first time I met Lewis Collins.
Fast forward again to 1979. Maggie Cartier, casting director for Euston Films who’d previously screen tested me for the ill-fated New Avengers series, ill-fated because it was “pulled” when it was still in post-production, had cast me in The Professionals. I played German terrorist Hans Russenhiem in the first series in an episode titled “Close quarters”. A kind of Bader-Mienhof group having executed a major British politician, make their way cross country to a private airfield, Bodie (Lew) intercepts them and after several car chases and shootouts all the terrorists are killed… Ta-da!!
Writer Brian Clemens who’d previously scripted and devised the highly successful original Avengers series, had cast Martin Shaw as Doyle and Anthony Andrews as Bodie, but a short time into the first episode he rejected Andrews as he didn’t like the chemistry between the two actors. He wanted a more feisty, abrasive pairing, and this decision along with the delays in shooting upset Martin, who despite the recasting of Lewis Collins as Bodie continued to object to this decision.
It transpired that Lew had overheard a telephone conversation between Martin and Andrews making it very clear that he (Martin) didn’t rate Lewis’s abilities, although I knew that Lew was pretty hard skinned, we all knew he was somewhat cut-up about the incident which began to fuel a kind of rivalry between the two leading men, a rivalry more played out by Martins rather lofty persona to Lew’s laid back, jovial nature.
Around that time Lew asked me to show him some martial arts moves to sharpen some of the fight scenes. He felt that Martin, who’d studied various forms for some time, had the edge on him. I pointed out to him that Martin, the lighter of the two, was more co-ordinated, with a physique more akin to Oriental combat than his. He was a bit miffed, but I suggested that he build up his body mass and adopt a more thuggish stance, which he did with great success, however, when I questioned him some time later about his weight gain, he fixed me with his cheeky scouser smile and opened his shirt to reveal two thick sweaters underneath. “Well” he said.”If you’ve got to throw some big bugger around, you’ve got to look like a big bugger yourself, right?”
Two weeks into the “Close quarters” shoot Lew rings me to say that he’s at Pinewood studios and would I like to try the “Pinewood walk of fame experience?”. Mystified, I pitch up at the studio bar to find Lew and actor Jon Finch in prankster mode, it transpired that the studio was running three major shoots, “Death on the Nile”, “Superman” and some action scenes being shot in the “James Bond Studio” and as a consequence Pinewood was waist deep in Hollywood celebs.
Jon explained that in order to capitalise on your appearance at the studio you should walk the full length of the dining room at lunch time. A short time later we re-locate to the rather grand entrance of the main building and make our way toward the dining hall doors, as Jon pulls the heavy doors open he said “Now, this redefines the term to see and be seen” as we step inside, the full impact of the scale of the hall hit home to me. It seemed to be the size of a football field; acres of panelled walls and magnificently detailed ceiling areas, running the full length of the hall were several lines of linen topped tables flanked by wooden benches. As we walk down the steps I couldn’t shake the feeling that it reminded me of lunch time at a battery hen farm. As we make our way up the aisle, I attempt to attain a remote, aloof expression, an impossible task given that a thousand eyes are drilling you as you saunter by. I see a rather disgruntled Marlon Brando, I instantly fall in love with Mia Farrow, I literally bump into Superman, the actor Christopher Reeve and we actually have a chat… unreal!! As we re-enter the bar, I realise what Lew had meant by the “Pinewood walk of fame”. Later, over drinks, Jon said that I should consider it to be my “My grand cat-walk entrance”. Lew added that it also could be my “Not so grand cat-flap exit!!”
Some months later and the pilot show of “The Professionals” opens to rave reviews. It’s being described as the U.K. Answer to “Starsky and Hutch” and Euston Films are back in business. It also transformed Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins into major stars almost overnight. As the show gained momentum, I noticed that my nights out with Lew looking for, in his words “deep and meaningless relationships” had dwindled. It was three years before I saw Lew again, although I’d kept contact with his father, who would keep me updated on his son’s ascendency into stardom. Lew had bought a small farmstead in Chalfont St. Peter in Buckinghamshire and moved his dad and his partner Marie in with him. Around that time I received an invitation to attend Lew’s birthday party at his new home. I was delighted to accept and duly turned up with my heavily pregnant wife Louise, to be greeted by Bill, who made a great fuss of Louise and her condition, stating that Lew and his partner were quite desperate to become parents. The party, a suitably star studded bash was well under way and Lew, never a big drinker, was quietly holding court, ever the genial host. Later he tells me he’s been screen tested for the new James Bond movie and with typical modesty, declared with a shrug, that he didn’t think he’d done well. When I ask after Martin who was absent, he does his mock-glazed eye number and changes the subject. We talk of new projects he’d initiated recently, setting up some free fall jumps involving celebrities and others (I knew that he was hanging with 23 SAS Territorial) to raise funding for a charity he’d set up, finishing a script and album we’d been working on, then he dropped the bombshell… he wanted to be the first man to exit a Jumbo jet in flight!!??… He was serious.
For many weeks after the party, I wondered about that plan. I knew I couldn’t get involved, I was a married man with a child now. However, a short time later he moved with his girlfriend to LA and we lost touch with each other. When I heard that Lew had died, I was shocked. He leaves a wife and three sons. So I thought I’d put down a few lines about him, memories of a character who became a friend in a business where friendships are rare, I think of our “Pinewood cat-walk of fame” and that cheeky scouser smile…