Remembering Likely Lads Actor Rodney Bewes - 2013 Interview
I was sad to learn of the passing of actor, Rodney Bewes on November 21.
I had grown up loving the comedic adventures of The Likely Lads on television. Both Rodney and James Bolam brought Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais creations of Bob and Terry so vividly to life, while similarly reflected the changing times that people were experiencing in the North East of England in the 1970s.
As an entertainment writer for the South Wales Argus, I was particularly excited one day in 2013 when I found a post-it note stuck on my desk, saying “Rodney Bewes called you - could you call him back on this number?…”
I had to admit to feeling a little excited about this.
In recent years, Rodney had become a familiar face in theatres across Britain with his one-man shows Diary of a Nobody and Three Men in a Boat. He had recently started touring with A Boy Growing Up, which was due to play Newport’s Riverfront Theatre and saw him turning to Welsh poet Dylan Thomas for inspiration.
I promptly called back, and it was simply magical to hear those Yorkshire tones answer the phone. Rodney and I were chatting away within seconds and he asked me if I would be interested in conducting an interview with him to promote his forthcoming show. We arranged for a chat the following day and what follows are a few extracts from that interview in which we discussed A Boy Growing Up and of course, The Likely Lads.
Rodney Bewes’ love of acting began following a serious childhood illness. Responding to a letter in his father’s newspaper from a BBC producer for child actors to appear in Children’s Hour, Rodney was subsequently offered a role in a TV play. More work followed before he went to a drama school in Highgate at the age of 14.
“All the kids were posh,” Rodney remembered, “They were the children of actors in the West End of London and I’m just this boy from Bingley, near Bradford, and broad Yorkshire. I felt common, which is something I’m proud of now, but we’d go to see theatre plays.”
It was one such theatre play that brought Rodney into contact with the works of Dylan Thomas and interestingly the actor Emlyn Williams,
“One Thursday afternoon, I was walking down Shaftsbury Avenue and I saw Emlyn Williams in A Boy Growing Up, which was "‘An entertainment from nine stories of Dylan Thomas’. It’s been with me ever since I was 15.”
“I saw it six or seven times and got fascinated by Dylan Thomas poems. My copies of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog and his collected poems are falling to bits. They both should be in the British Museum.”
As a Yorkshireman bringing Welsh writings to a new audience, Rodney was keen to emphasise he wasn’t playing Dylan Thomas in the show.
“I tried to get Emlyn Williams original prompt script. I couldn’t get it. I was glad because this is my version, it has my charm.”
”I do it with a BBC big bronze microphone and a cue light which I work with my foot. So, if I get a line wrong or fluff it, I take the cue light off and put it on again. I want the audience to think ‘Oh, He got that wrong!’”
The interview naturally turned to Rodney’s best remembered TV role, that of Bob Ferris in Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais 1960s sit-com The Likely Lads and its successful 1970s sequel Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads.?
“It isn’t false humility, it was so well written,” recalled Rodney. “I wrote an autobiography about seven years ago and I had about 30 pages of scripts in it.”
“The editor was a bit worried about it, but I thought the public would love to read what Dick and Ian’s script looked like because it just came off the page at you.
“I used to tell such lies to journalists who would say. ‘I suppose you’ve added a lot to Bob from your own character?’ and I’d say, ‘Oh yes,’ but I didn’t add a comma or a full stop. I didn’t need to, because it was so well done.”
As Rodney toured the country in later years, he was still fondly remembered by fans and some of them even give him a chuckle:
“A woman said, ‘Oh, I remember you, doesn’t that date me?"
”I said, "Well if it dates you dear, what does it do to me?’”