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Farewell, then, to Lewis Collins – the greatest advertising campaigner Brut never had.

It’s difficult to think of someone who so neatly epitomises that style of action hero only the British could turn out in the years between Roger Moore’s Bond and Hollywood’s steroidal grotesques of the 1980s.

It’s best summed up as “rugged naffness”.  

In The Professionals, Collins played William Bodie, a tough, yet suave ex-paratrooper, partnering Martin Shaw’s idealistic ex-copper Ray Doyle in an elite anti-terror unit, overseen by Gordon Jackson’s wonderrrful burrrr.

If Bodie were for real, then he’d be drenched in Hai Karate and Old Spice – but he probably wouldn’t shower every day. He might watch 1950s muscle man films without the merest speck of irony or self-awareness, perhaps flexing his own biceps for comparison. And yes, his Ford Capri would be his pride and joy, its white paintjob buffed clean every second Sunday.

Alan Partridge almost certainly has a signed photo of Lewis Collins somewhere in his house.

I’m sorry if I sound facetious. Collins’ death made me sad in a way that Paul Walker’s tragic passing couldn’t; it was a generational marker for someone my age. The Professionals was one of the last times Britain would produce this kind of flashy Lew Grade-esque syndicated action show (maybe Dempsey and Makepeace was the last throw of the dice). These serials would have you believe that British security officers roared around the country in sports cars, stopped off for pints, pulled barmaids and then pulled pistols to do battle with baddies.

The Professionals’ shabby glamour is a time-locked masterpiece in its own right, even down to the two principals’ haircuts. I must confess that Doyle was my favourite Professional – perhaps because his incredible 70s bubble perm, seen in silhouetted profile in the title card, reminded me a bit of Bungle from Rainbow. I’m not sure.

Bodie, however, was my older brother’s favourite. Re-watching the shows on ITV4 gives me a clue as to why this was. In the title sequence – which features the greatest TV theme tune of all time – Bodie schleps down the street wearing the sort of suit last seen on Stop Making Sense, with an open collar almost reaching his elbows. He pouts all the way through this strut, gurning fit to compete with any Bond.

I could see why my style-conscious teenage brother would have idolised Bodie. You could tell this man fancied himself to the very tip of his tail.

Collins’ quotes from the era are terrific. I was intrigued to find that he tried out for Bond, but it seemed Cubby Broccoli found him “too aggressive”. “They wanted another Sean Connery,” Collins asserted, neatly insinuating that he could have had Sean Connery for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then there was his claim that he passed selection for the SAS, only to be told he was “too famous” to serve in the elite unit. This coincided with his only major feature film role, as an SAS commando in Who Dares Wins.

Even if both these claims are true, they are reminiscent of the Viz’s Aldridge Prior. It’s the sort of story you might get from a delusional blowhard in the pub. “Yeah, I could have been in the SAS, me. Double black belt. Can’t fight anyone, though, ‘cos my hands are deadly weapons. You see that Arnold Schwarzenegger? I was his weightlifting coach.”

In mitigation, Collins must have been hard to fend off the amount of hassle he undoubtedly got in the pub. Fame was arguably even more concentrated back then, when you only had three TV channels. I bet he had to look lively.

Viz magazine was a signpost that Collins had an enduring fame long after The Professionals was cancelled – among women who grew up lusting after him. After Viz printed a less than complimentary letter about the actor from a reader, the Lewis Collins Fan Club were galvanised into action, replying in no uncertain terms.

There’s been a strange outpouring of grief over Collins on the internet and in offices around the country. As an actor his CV is not overloaded, but he enjoys a very rich cultural cache. This is something I’m fascinated by. In his own way, Collins was one of the most famous people in the UK, based on a TV show which ran for four years and ended in 1982. Even now, most people over a certain age knew exactly who he was, and even if they’d never watched a single episode they would be familiar with that awesome theme, and the names Bodie and Doyle. How many other people can say that about their work?

And you know what? I’ve watched a few re-runs of The Professionals on ITV4, and it holds up well today.

Collins’ death makes me sad. The feelings of the public are perhaps best summed up by his co-star Martin Shaw. He said that Lewis Collins was “part of everyone’s childhood”, and perhaps there is the heart of the matter.


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