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Return ticket for Inspector Blakey


One of Britains best-loved comedy stars has revealed the secret behind his most famous role a character more popular than James Bond.

Stephen Lewis immortalised the part of the petty-minded, foul-tempered bus inspector, Blakey, in the classic 1970s television sit-com series, On the Buses.

The plot usually revolved around Blakeys constant conflict with the jack-the-lad bus driver, Stan Butler (Reg Varney) and his equally cheeky conductor, Jack Harper (Bob Grant).

Mr Lewis said: I came from a method acting school and I decided that the guy had been a sergeant in the army and he was used to getting his own way, yelling and screaming as they do.

Of course, now in Civvy Street, he couldnt do that so he was always frustrated. He couldnt get his own way because these two blokes were skylarking about. It was an eternal battle between us.

The phenomenally popular series regularly attracted more than 8 million viewers and ran for 74 half-hour episodes, spawning three spin-off films.

The first of those films, also called On the Buses, was the top box office movie in Britain in 1971, out-performing James Bond in 007 Diamonds are Forever.

And the last of the series, Holiday on the Buses, was shot in the Pontins holiday camp, in Prestatyn, and at various locations in the area.

The film is now being honoured as part of the North Wales Film Trail which is being organised by the Wales Screen Commission.

More than 30 years on, Stephen Lewis will be unveiling a commemorative plaque at the Pontins camp, on Friday, October 22.

The prospect of returning to Prestatyn for the first time in three decades has already brought a host of happy memories flooding back for Mr Lewis.

He said: We had so many laughs behind the scenes; at times it was even funnier than the show itself.

We were happy campers at Pontins. You get to know people very well when you work with them for long period of time and on set it was very much like a family because you everybody so well.

One incident in particular sticks in the memory, when the production sparked a major maritime emergency.

It happened during the filming of a key scene when a mock-up of a double-decker bus was parked on the beach.

In the story, Stan Butler and Jack Harper are caught messing about with a couple of birds on the sand by their arch nemesis, Blakey.

Mr Lewis recalled: When they looked back they saw the tide had come in and that the bus was being swamped by the sea.

The director knew this was going to happen and didnt want the real bus to be destroyed so what they did was build a replica bus out of plywood.

They filmed the bus being driven onto the beach and then made the switch before carrying on.

Butler and Harper were larking about and I came along and caught them. As we were looking at it from a distance, the plywood bus started moving funnily, it toppled over on its side and floated away.

Theyd forgotten to put the weights in, so it floated out to sea and we had to call the coastguard because it was a hazard to shipping!

For the past 15 years, Mr Lewis has been starring in another British television institution, Last of the Summer Wine, where he plays the part of Smiler.

But thanks to the advent of satellite television, On the Buses is now enjoying a revival and is attracting new fans from around the world.

There is a very active fan club which sends out more than a thousand fanzines to the four corners of the earth every month.

He said: Its enjoying a new lease life and its popular in different parts of the world. If Im out walking in the West End people from all over the world come up to me to tell me how much they like the show.

They love the British humour, were a funny sort of people because we can take a joke against ourselves.

Its extraordinary that its still so popular today. But everyone knows about buses and if there are still buses around in a 100 years time, theyll still be watching On the Buses.

I think its marvellous that Holiday on the Buses is being commemorated by this plaque, its finally being recognised for being something more than a sit-com.

Richard Coombs, the Film Liaison Manager of the Wales Screen Commission, in North Wales, said: As a comedy actor Stephen Lewis is something of a national treasure and we are absolutely thrilled that he has agreed to unveil the Holiday on the Buses plaque. It promises to be a truly memorable occasion.

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