Stephen Lewis (17 December 1926 – 12 August 2015), credited early in his career as Stephen Cato, was an English actor, comedian, director, screenwriter, and playwright. He is best known for his roles as Inspector Cyril “Blakey” Blake in the LWT sitcom and film versions of On the Buses, appearing for the length of the series, (along with Bob Grant and Anna Karen), 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, England. He worked as a bricklayer, electrician’s mate and carpenter and also joined the Merchant Navy before turning to acting. He 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, landed the part, and left the sea to become a member of the company.
Lewis made his West End theatre debut with the transfer of Brendan Behan’s The Hostage in 1958. 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. He used the name Cato in his early stage career, but after writing Sparrers Can’t Sing he was urged by his agent to use his real name.
From 1969 Lewis starred in his best remembered role as Blakey in the British sitcom On the Buses, which ran for 74 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. 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 (1974–1975), ran for two series. This featured Blakey retiring to Spain with his sister, Dorothy (Played By Pat Coombs). In the 1990s, Blakey (or a very similar-looking character) appeared regularly on Jim Davidson’s version of The Generation Game on BBC One. He also appeared in Manhunt in a rare villainous role.
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), Out of Order (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). 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.
In 1995, Lewis played Harry Lambert, the signalman in the BBC pilot of sitcom Oh, Doctor Beeching!, which ran to two further series. He 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).
Lewis died at the age of 88 on the morning of 12 August 2015 at 1:50 am , in a nursing home in Wanstead, London, where his sister Connie, aged 84 also resides. His health had been gradually declining over the past few years. According to the manager of the nursing home, during his final years he would still deliver his famous lines from On the Buses, like “I’ll get you for this, Butler” and “Get these buses out, Butler”. His funeral was attended by Anna Karen, his co-star and only surviving member from On the Buses. At the funeral Karen described Lewis as “extremely talented and very funny man and wonderful to work with”.