Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Aileen Lewis: Credit where Credit's due


You may very well not have heard of Aileen Lewis but there is no doubt you'll have seen her in one of your favourite classic British films or television series. Check her out on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) and you will find she has nearly 140 screen credits dating from the late 1940s until the mid-1980s. So why is she not well known?

Well, look a little closer and you'll see that all but one of her massive list of credits are in fact uncredited appearances. Aileen Lewis was a background artist or extra. She was forever in crowd scenes or in the back of shot at parties yet very rarely if at all spoke any lines. No shame at all in this and work as an extra obviously suited her as she made it her day job for her entire working life. Nicknamed "The Duchess" for her rather aristocratic appearance, Aileen Lewis was born in County Westmeath, Ireland in April 1914. Aileen married Herbert Lewis in 1936 and the pair remained happily married until Herbert's death aged 100 in 2010. 


Aileen's career is a check list of all that was good, great, popular and everything else in modern British culture from the post war era onwards. She appeared fleetingly in some of my own personal favourite films. She was a lady in the nightclub in the classic comedy Genevieve in 1953; a newspaper reporter in 1959's I'm All Right Jack; a neighbour in Roman Polanski's 1965 film Repulsion; a casino patron in the Morecambe and Wise big screen adventure That Riviera Touch and the lady with the Rolls Royce in Digby, The Biggest Dog in the World! Aileen also appeared in three James Bond films - From Russia with Love (1963), Live and Let Die (1973) and finally Octopussy in 1983. 

On the small screen, yet again Aileen Lewis appeared in practically every modern day classic. Some of her most high profile credits were eight different episodes of The Saint between 1962 and 1969; two episodes of Main in a Suitcase, The Baron, The Avengers, The Professionals, The Sweeney (and the first Sweeney film), The Persuaders, Jason King, Special Branch and Doctor Who! Quite a CV!

Of course, no blog on this site can conclude without mention of the glorious Carry On films. Given the era in which Aileen worked, it would be extremely surprising if she had not worked on a Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas production at Pinewood Studios. You will be relieved to hear she worked for the famous duo on many occasions. Aileen's first appearance in a Carry On came in 1962 when she set sail on the Happy Wanderer as passenger Mrs Lewis (I see what they've done there) in Carry On Cruising. The following year Lewis was back at Pinewood to play an Onlooker in Carry On Jack. In 1966 she played a Citizen in Don't Lose Your Head and two years later she appeared at the polo match in Carry On Up The Khyber. Aileen was seen dancing at the hospital party in Carry On Again Doctor in 1969 and played a Courtier in Carry On Henry the following autumn. In 1973 Aileen was one of the town councillors seen alongside Kenneth Connor and June Whitfield in Carry On Girls while her final appearance in the films came with the last original film in the run, as a dinner guest in 1978's Carry On Emmannuelle. 

Aileen also appeared in a couple of other of Peter and Gerald's comedy films. Her very first work for them was in Please Turn Over, the Ted Ray comedy in 1959. She was a lady in the pub in the Juliet Mills and Esma Cannon district nurse comedy Nurse On Wheels. Moving over to work for Peter's wife Betty Box, Aileen cropped up in three of the Doctor comedies - At Sea in 1955, In Distress in 1963 and finally Doctor in Clover in 1966.

Aileen retired from the profession in 1984 at the age of 70 following her 137th credit in the film Top Secret. However she went on to enjoy a long retirement. Aileen passed away at the age of 99 in February 2014, just two months shy of her 100th birthday. She may never have been a leading lady, but we thank AIleen for her many years of service to the very best of British film and television. Long may we continue to spot her on our screens.

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