Likely Lad not slowing up

RICHARD BATSON He was the likeable Likely Lad, but as he heads to Sheringham and Harleston, Rodney Bewes is set to turn 70. Richard Batson spoke to him about his life, on stage and off.

RICHARD BATSON

Rodney Bewes made his name as part of a double act. Fame came as Bob Ferris, the sensible, aspirational, posher counterfoil to reactionary waster Terry Collier in The Likely Lads.

From the mid-1960s to the mid-70s the Tyneside sitcom was a television favourite, first in black and white, then blossoming into colour through its Whatever Happened To sequel.

Then he teamed up with a popular puppet - as the first ever presenter on the Basil Brush show.

During more than half a century in showbiz Rodney has trod on every rung of the ladder, from tiring, touring rep to rubbing shoulders with stars in films and on stage.

But is there any sign of him slowing up as he gets ready to chalk up his three score and 10 on November 27? Not likely.

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Rodney has downsized slightly from full casts and double acts, to carve out a niche as a popular one-man show performer.

His latest, On The Stage and Off, rekindles the life of one of his forebears, a jobbing Victorian actor with the stage name of Harold Crichton. His story, penned by Jerome K Jerome, recounts anecdotes of theatrical landladies, unsympathetic managers and second rate touring companies from 120 years ago.

Having previously done Jerome's better-known Three Men in a Boat, and the Victorian “blog” Diary of a Nobody, it is a role and period in which he revels.

“I must have been an actor in a previous life too,” chuckles Rodney, whose youthful mane of dark hair from the Likely years has given way to a thinning greyness, but whose boyish enthusiasm for the theatre, and a bit of laddish skulduggery, is undiluted.

“I keep a modern battery torch on the 1880s mantelpiece, and if anyone comes in late, I get up, show them to their seats and sell them a programme.

“And if a mobile phone goes off, I tell them to answer it, because it might be some work for me.”

Not that he needs it. Rodney's year-long On The Stage tour will see him visit 50 venues - with just him, the Ford Mondeo family car, a trailer of sets and wife Daphne in tow.

“I love it. There are no egos. Nobody saying 'darling you trod on my best line'. Just me.”

Chatting merrily from his home in Henley, despite doing a “day of admin which makes me grumpy” he chips in: “I was asked to do I'm a Celebrity, but could not because of the tour.”

But the cheeky chappy also confesses to sometimes twisting the facts.

It is well documented that his on-set friendship with Likely Lad co-star James Bolam froze into 30 years of silence when the series ended, and that Bewes did not initially admit it.

He now says it was down to a jokey remark in a newspaper interview about his wife having triplet babies while Bolam's was having just one, which James felt was an invasion of his privacy. Whatever the cause, it meant James refused to appear on Rodney's 1980 This is Your Life TV show.

Typically he tackles the issue with a smile, saying: “I have a dream that one day we will meet on a railway station, running slowly together to the sounds of Rachmaninov.”

The split was a sad end to a series which captivated the nation - including the classic episode where the duo spend all day dodging the result of a big football match.

Rodney's theatrical career may have been born in his bedroom as a poorly asthmatic child, who used to fashion miniature theatres from shoeboxes in his sickbed. After growing out of the condition he won a place at drama school, working in a top London hotel kitchen as a washer-up from 6pm to 6am to pay his keep.

Staff at the Grosvenor House Hotel made him a cake for his 16th birthday, which he ate at the top banqueting table after hours - a story he was to recount at a dinner years later when sitting in the same place next to the Duke of Edinburgh.

He cut his teeth as a child actor in TV drama, then continued his training through gruelling but enjoyable touring repertory theatre, doing two shows a night, after long days of learning lines and rehearsing the following week's new play.

Rodney was pleased to be picked for the Likely Lads because the “writing was so good”, something he still savours in his one-man shows.

Switching to being Basil's Mister Rodney was a chance to write himself, but when he left Basil to film Spring and Port Wine with star James Mason, he recalls his mother saying it was the wrong move because it would let down the children.

From Basil to the Bard, and his theatre work has included Shakespeare, including A Midsummer Night's

Dream.

“I love saying that I played Flute to Sir Ralph Richardson's Bottom - and that my Bottom opened the Theatre Royal in Plymouth,” he giggles like a schoolboy. Ever the lad.

His Sheringham show coincides with England's big football clash with Croatia. Asked if he would be seeking to avoid the score, he said: “I might just give it out at the end.”

t On The Stage and Off is at Sheringham Little Theatre on Wednesday, November 21 at 7.30pm (box office 01263 822347, www.sheringhamlittletheatre.com) and the New Cut Theatre, Halesworth on November 25 at 7.30pm (box office 0845 673 2123/ 01986 873285, www.netcut.org)

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