Friday, 11 January 2019

Remembering Ronald Lewis

I was watching the rather suspenseful Hammer Horror film Taste of Fear the other night on Talking Picture TV (if you haven't seen this little gem I'd recommend it) when I struck once again by the performance of the actor Ronald Lewis. Ronald played, on the face of it, a rather chivalrous chauffeur and he most definitely demonstrated his capabilities as a leading man. He even managed to carry off a rather interesting pair of swimming shorts…

Anyway, I digress. I first became aware of Ronald thanks to his appearances in two films produced by Peter Rogers and directed by Gerald Thomas. In 1962 he co-starred as Bob White, a patient at a TB sanatorium in the bittersweet comedy film Twice Round The Daffodils. In a cast which featured the likes of Donald Sinden, Kenneth Williams, Sheila Hancock, Joan Sims and Donald Houston, Lewis holds his own and provides strong romantic interest alongside leading lady Juliet Mills. Peter and Gerald obviously thought so too as they cast the pair in the leads of their 1963 district nurse comedy, Nurse On Wheels. Once again Juliet and Ronald are a delightful double act. I've written before about how I think Ronald Lewis should have been cast in a proper Carry On - I could see him starring in the likes of Jack, Cleo or Spying not to mention the handsome lead in Carry On Cowboy or Don't Lose Your Head (no offence to Jim Dale who is absolutely terrific).

As I delved into the life and career of Ronald Lewis, unfortunately a rather sad tale emerged. I remember reading in Kenneth Williams' diary how sad Kenneth was to learn of Ronald's death, recalling what a nice man he was when they worked together and how sad it was that his life had not worked out as planned. Ronald died, aged just 53, on 11 January 1982- that's 37 years ago this very day. Following a run of bad luck and an acting career which lapsed into the doldrums by the late 1970s, Ronald was declared bankrupt by the turn of the decade. He took his own life, taking an overdose on that fateful day. A sobering story on a man who once showed such great promise.

Ronald Lewis was born in Port Talbot, Wales on 11 December 1928. While attending school in Bridgend he got his first taste of acting when he appeared in a production of The Merchant of Venice. After school he went off to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London. Once he graduated, Ronald went on to learn his trade in repertory theatre, as many great actors did at that time. Plays he appeared in around the country included An Ideal Husband and The Square Ring. The latter also proved to be one of Ronald's earliest big screen appearances in 1953. 

Breaking into film in the early 1950s, Ronald made early appearances in The Beachcomber in 1954, Helen of Troy in 1955 and opposite Alec Guinness in The Prisoner, also that year. Lewis was signed to a contract in films by the legendary Alexander Korda after Ronald's success in a stage production of Mourning Becomes Electra, directed by Peter Hall. This led to the most profitable period in Ronald's career. Leading roles in hit films followed, such as the Peggy Mount comedy Sailor Beware in 1956 and A Hill in Korea the same year. He starred opposite Belinda Lee in the thriller The Secret Place in 1957 and played villains in Robbery Under Arms and The Wind Cannot Read. 

Two of Ronald's later big hits on the cinema screen were the aforementioned Taste of Fear alongside Susan Strasberg, Ann Todd and Christopher Lee. The Seth Holt directed film was very successful, with Lee even proclaiming it was possibly the best film he ever made for Hammer. Ronald also went on to appear in Mr Sardonicus for William Castle the same year. Sadly though, this run of good fortune was not to last. In the mid 1960s, scandal touched Ronald's private life and his marriage collapsed. With his film career all but over, Lewis spent the remainder of his career on the stage and on the growing market of television.

One of his last major roles was indeed on the small screen, in the series His and Hers which aired between 1970 and 1972. He also appeared in episodes of Z Cars, Crown Court, Tales of Unease and Public Eye, although none of these roles gave him the same stardom of his earlier career. Ronald's last screen credit came in 1979 and two years later came that terrible bankruptcy. Ronald was found dead on 11 January 1982, in Pimlico. 

Without dwelling on whatever apparently went on in his private life, there is no doubting Ronald's skill as an actor, particularly on the big screen. A handsome, arresting presence, he could quite easily have gone on to even greater things. Sadly though, it was not to be.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram


  1. Thank you very much for your words about my favourite actor Ronald Lewis

  2. Thank you Joan. A very good price on Ronald.
    I knew Kennth had mentioned Ronalds death in his diaries, so I searched for it and found your piece.
    I will follow you on Twitter now.

  3. He allegedly had a violent streak going back into the mid-1950s,having injured a woman (causing a broken back?) and this couldn't have helped his career much. It's surprising that Kenneth Williams got on with him (or at least thought well of him) since Lewis hated homosexuals.

    1. Where did you read about his violence, and so bad as to break a womans back? Also who said he hated homosexuals?

  4. We were both Patients at Bangor C & A Hospital back in 1977, not 79 as previously written, we both were being treated for suspected Heart Problems
    We sat and had a chat every evening, I was only 19

    He was a friendly , nige guy.

    1. So happy to hear this Carl, I hope you are well