Even ignoring “real life events”, it has been a terribly sad couple of weeks for prominent people who have recently passed away. Nelson Mandela. Paul Walker. And for me, the news is still sinking in about Lewis Collins who died after five year long struggle with cancer. Simply put – to me Lewis Collins was perhaps the greatest choice for Bond that was never to be.
It wasn’t always this way: I grew up with the Moore movies. Being a mere whippersnapper the only viable choice I knew back then was in the form of Ian Oglivy (who was playing The Saint/Simon Templar around that time – much like Roger Moore did before him). I remember the newspapers at the time touting him and some other chap who was named Lewis Collins. Lewis who? I had no idea so stuck with what I knew. I was at that unfortunate age where The Professionals was just that little bit too “grown-up” for me. Of course after a few years things changed.
I think I probably first came into contact with him via the TV Series Jack The Ripper (still a favourite of mine). I liked him, he had presence and seemed cool – even if his character wasn’t Bond. My interested was piqued enough to check him out again when some film called Who Dares Wins (known as The Final Solution in the US) was shown on TV. Now don’t get me wrong – I am really not a huge fan of the film or its dubious political bias. But I clearly remember thinking Lewis was excellent as the lead and it had an excellent score by Roy Budd (Get Carter). I can also remember it having a slow build up to the superbly crafted SAS raid which seemed over almost as soon as it began (no doubt – the point). It was thrilling and unlike many Hollywood films at that time seemed more real and authentic (as many SAS members – past or present – seem to confirm). Obviously it’s dated quite a lot – but even 30+ years later that run he does down the corridor in Pinewood with the SAS team behind him is still incredibly cool (and not even that bouffant hair-do he is sporting will convince me otherwise!). Even Stanley Kubrick was a fan of the film allegedly.
More recently I’ve been catching the re-runs of The Professionals on ITV4 and I have to say I’ve become a fan (not least because I like Brian Clemens’ work and love the title theme). The fact that Lewis (playing Bodie) is able to hold his own against Gordon Jackson and Martin Shaw (who were both significantly more established and esteemed actors at that point) speaks volumes. And then of course there was Bond itself!
Yes, it’s true – he was seriously considered and even met Cubby Broccoli. Sadly it didn’t work out as by his own admission “he was too aggressive” in the interview. Wow! But hang on – wasn’t this exactly like a young Sean Connery 20 years earlier? I think there is little doubt he would have brought along a real edge/sense of danger; the Daniel Craig of his time – if you like.
He was edgy, cool, good-looking, had that brooding confidence/arrogance thing coupled with a great sense of humour/charm (two qualities it could be argued were lacking from Moore’s actual successor – Timothy Dalton). He was also great at stunts/action and physically fit having completed SAS training only to be turned away for being too well-known after The Professionals. This probably explains why he looks so natural in Who Dare Wins/The Final Solution.
Interestingly I found a clip from the Professionals with him and a young Pierce Brosnan:
Originally considered as a potential successor to Roger Moore, I can’t help but lament that Mr Broccoli completely missed a trick here. Sure – he was perhaps still a little rough around the edges – lacking the suaveness of Roger Moore (but then so did Connery until director Terrence Young took him under his wing). One suspects that after George Lazenby debacle, the producer was going to play it more safe – I can’t help but wonder if daughter Barbara or step-son Michael might have taken that chance (being as they took the risk with Daniel Craig). Why his film career never really took off is still a bit of a mystery – but rumour has it he became disillusioned with the profession. Ah well – we can only imagine what might have been! RIP Mr Collins, my heart goes out to all of your family, friends and other fans.