Still going strong at
"over 70", if Stephen is a rich man, he hides
it well. He turns up to our meeting in a raincoat (it's
been sunny all day - old man trait No1: always wear too
many clothes) with a carrier bag. Although the bag is
from Dixons, I somehow doubt he has a SCART lead for his
NICAM video in there, but I'm too chicken to ask. It
probably contains a thermos flask of oxtail soup and a
spare cloth cap. And a pipe and war medals. But he's as
sharp as ever, and when he makes that Blakey noise we
can't help but laugh out loud. Probably too out-loudly.
It's hard to write down - it's kind of a
"huh-huh-huh" but with your mouth pulled
taught back as far as you can pull it. He does it
"On The Buses was
a great show," he says. "We had such a laugh
doing it, and it was a real family atmosphere on
set." The show, which ran from 1970-5 also spawned
three films - the first one, On The Buses, was the
biggest grossing British film of 1971. A prestigious
blue plaque has been placed at Elstree Studios,
Herfordshire, to commemorate the movies made there. The
1970s were a time of classic sitcom - the way they
should be. And that isn't the voice of a drunken
How many modern day
writers could take a situation so few are familiar to,
like working as a bus driver or being in prison
(Porridge) and still make a wholly believable,
successful, accessible show? Nowadays it's all
"I don't think
modern comedy is up to much," agrees Lewis.
"I'm not going to name names, but some of them go
too far. We didn't need to spell out the rude jokes to
make them funny. It was a family show. Some programmes
now are on too late, and I would feel uncomfortable
watching them with children around." Men Behaving
Badly springs to mind. "Like I said, I'm not naming
names, but I don't have much time for that.
"We were smutty,
for sure but if ever Butler was getting too saucy I'd
come along and say 'huh-huh-huh' and stop it before it
went too far." And even shows like One Foot In The
Grave, which was well written, were on too late at
night. Prime sitcom slots should be 7.30pm - and what do
you have at the moment? Docusoaps and factual shows.
It's very sad," says Lewis. Stan Butler (Reg
Varney) and his best pal Jack (Bon Grant) would
regularly be smutting up the "new clippy
bird", but failing more often than scoring.
"See?" says Lewis.
"They weren't sex
maniacs. They aspired to be, but Stan still lived with
his mother. That was the joke."
Stephen has recently
taken up in Last Of The Summer Wine, playing Smiler -
essentially an Inspector Blakey without his bus. "I
love it," he says. "I feel at home."
Buses co-star Anna Karen, who played Olive, recently
turned up in EastEnders as Peggy Mitchell's sister. Like
Anna, Stephen is keen to prove there's more life in the
old dog yet. "I know I'm going to be limited in the
roles I get now, but I don't plan to stop acting
yet," he says.
"I love it too
much. I love the sense of belonging to a family, which
is all On The Buses was. It wasn't work. It was too much
fun to be work."