In the 70s and early 80s most little boys in the UK wanted to be wisecracking Bodie from The Professionals. Let’s remember our being in awe of Collins’ brooding action hero
I wanted to be Lewis Collins when I was a boy. I’d kick open the kitchen door with a water pistol in my hand, shouting at my mum to: “Get down on the ground, hands where I can see them!” This must have been quite annoying. She was probably wearing yellow Marigolds rubber gloves, for a start, which wasn’t very villainous.
Two decades later, I was still in awe. It was said that he was a bit moody and didn’t like talking about The Professionals any more, both of which proved untrue. He was charm personified, only too happy to reminisce. He had a mischievous sense of humour, a rumbling voice and a booming guffaw. We still found ourselves going all giggly and coquettish.
So it was with heavy heart that I heard this morning that Collins had lost his five-year struggle with cancer, aged 67. Reruns of The Professionals on ITV4 will now acquire an extra poignancy. I might go and watch one when I’ve finished writing this blog.
For any boy growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, crime drama The Professionals was about as thrilling as TV got. Most action shows back then, like Starsky & Hutch or The A-Team, were American imports. Home-grown equivalents were few and far between. Like The Sweeney before it, The Professionals felt special. It was British. It had Ford Capris and grotty pubs in it. It was ours.
When I was allowed to stay up late to watch it, the brassy, funky wacka-wacka theme tune sent a shudder of excitement down my spine. Then came the opening voiceover: “Anarchy, acts of terror, crimes against the public … To combat them, I’ve got special men. Experts from the army, the police, from every service. These are The Professionals.”
Collins played womanising, wisecracking bruiser William Bodie, an ex-paratrooper and mercenary. He was recruited to fictional elite unit CI5 by stern Scotsman George Cowley (Gordon Jackson) to form a crime-fighting duo with curly-haired copper Ray Doyle (Martin Shaw). Doyle had his fans – my mum among them – but Bodie was the one who most boys wanted to be and women wanted to be patted down by.
He was brooding and lippy, with style and real swagger. He had good hair, lovely sideburns and looked great in a poloneck, usually worn under a belted jacket or leather blouson. Collins tried out for the role of James Bond, before it went to Roger Moore, but his audition was deemed “too aggressive” – which is pretty cool in itself.
His other memorable role came in 1982, as the lead in SAS film Who Dares Wins. He starred as Captain Peter Skellen, who infiltrates a terrorist group and ends up in a siege with remarkable similarities to the real-life Iranian embassy stand-off two years earlier. Collins subsequently applied to join the Territorial SAS ,but was rejected because of his fame, despite passing all the entrance tests. He was a proto-Ross Kemp. A classy Danny Dyer. Jason Statham with hair and a splash of Old Spice.
I like to imagine he’s currently kicking open the pearly gates and telling God to hit the deck. If I was God, I’d do as I was told.
See video at:
Who Dares Wins (1982)
A compilation of Who Dares Wins staring Lewis Collins Judy Davis and Edward Woodward, with music by Roy Budd.