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Obituary: Rodney Bewes

Rodney Bewes in Three Men in a Boat in 1993. Photo: Tristram Kenton Actor Rodney Bewes, 79

Rodney Bewes will be best remembered as the ever-amiable Bob to James Bolam’s always abrasive Terry in two television series that caught the mood of Britain in the early 1960s and mid-1970s and forged one of the small screen’s most memorable and enduring comedy partnerships.

He had already spent a decade in regional theatre (and had made his West End debut as Seeley in Harold Pinter’s A Night Out at the Comedy Theatre in 1961) by the time he was cast in The Likely Lads in 1964. Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ portrait of two young factory workers in Newcastle on the cusp of profound social change ran for three series and spawned the even more successful Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? in 1973-74 and a 1976 film.

Despite a popular appetite for more, the pair never worked together again, the result of a feud (denied by Bolam following Bewes’ death) over comments unwittingly made by Bewes in a newspaper interview. Bewes never again achieved such prominence on television, despite the minor success of Dear Mother… Love Albert (later retitled Albert!), which he co-wrote, co-produced and appeared in from 1969-72, and appearing in John Esmonde and Bob Larbey’s Just Liz (1980).

Born in Bingley, West Yorkshire, he made his acting debut on radio’s Children’s Hour aged 13. After being expelled from RADA – “Rodney’s talents lie in a direction other than acting”, explained the letter to his mother – he began a promising stage career soon to be interrupted by television.

In 1964, he was seen as Balthasar and Flute to Ralph Richardson’s Shylock (The Merchant of Venice) and Bottom (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) at the Theatre Royal, Brighton prior to a tour of Europe and Latin America with the Shakespeare Festival Company.

After playing Ingham alongside John Hurt’s Scrawdyke in David Halliwell’s Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs (Garrick Theatre, 1966), he returned to the West End the following year in Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer at the Playhouse Theatre. Later West End appearances included Roger Hall’s Middle Age Spread (Lyric Theatre, 1980), Bamber Gascoigne’s Big in Brazil (Old Vic Theatre, 1984) and Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple (Theatre Royal Haymarket, 1996). In 1992, he was seen as Uncle Vernon in Beryl Bainbridge’s An Awfully Big Adventure (Liverpool Playhouse) and as Feste in Twelfth Night (Thorndike Theatre, Leatherhead).

He appeared in two self-adapted one-man shows: Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (1995) – an “unqualified success” said The Stage – and George and Weedon Grossmith’s The Diary of a Nobody (2000), both of which he toured. More recently, he was admired in the 2013 revival of Peter Ustinov’s The Moment of Truth at Southwark Playhouse and presented An Audience with Rodney Bewes… Who? at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe.

His few film appearances included Billy Liar (1963), Jabberwocky (1977) and ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore (1980). On radio, he was heard alongside Michael Williams in Frank Dickens’ Bristow (1999-2000) and played God in Timandra Harkness and Linda Cotterill’s No Future in Eternity (2001). He published an autobiography, A Likely Story, in 2005.

Rodney Bewes was born on November 27, 1937 and died on November 21, aged 79. He is survived by four children.