Then & now Lewis Collins

HE WAS THE hardest cop on TV, thrilling viewers with his tough-as-nails attitude, and making all the other TV cops of the time…


HE WAS THE hardest cop on TV, thrilling viewers with his tough-as-nails attitude, and making all the other TV cops of the time look like big girls' blouses. Between 1977 and 1983, Bodie was the byword for brute force law enforcement, as he ruthlessly pursued the bad guys in the name of entertainment. US TV had Kojakand Starsky & Hutch, but British TV had The Professionals, a series about a crack team of crime-fighters, and the series's gritty, urban UK settings and in-your-face action was perfect for audiences looking for some visceral realism in their cop shows.

Bodie was played with grim-faced menace by Birkenhead-born Lewis Collins, who had previously appeared in episodes of Z-Carsand The New Avengers, and also starred in a sitcom, The Cuckoo Waltz. The Professionalswas created as a response to the hugely successful series The Sweeney, and starred Gordon Jackson as Cowley, the head of the fictional CI5 unit, whose top operatives are Bodie (Collins) and Doyle (Martin Shaw). Soon, schoolboys in playgrounds across the UK and Ireland were acting out their own Bodie and Doyle adventures, while the show's trademark Ford Capris took on a new level of cool among young car-buyers.

Bodie was the hardest nut in the CI5 team, taking on the villains at their own game and ignoring the rules and regulations in pursuit of justice. Collins played the tough guy a bit too well – when he put himself forward in 1982 to replace Roger Moore as James Bond, the producers found him "too aggressive" to play nice, gentlemanly 007. He did, however, star in the 1982 action/adventure movie Who Dares Wins, playing an SAS officer kicking terrorist butt.

Although the critics didn’t much like the movie, Collins clearly enjoyed the experience, because shortly after the film’s release he applied to join the territorial SAS. Although he passed the tests with flying colours, his fame went against him: he was turned down because he was just too well-known.

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He may have made his name as a TV hard-man, but Collins first sought fame as a teenage drummer with local band The Renegades, often sharing a bill in Liverpool's Cavern Club with another up-and-coming local band, The Beatles. He counted Paul McCartney's brother Mike as a pal – they worked in the same hairdressing salon.

He soon came out from behind the kit to play bass in a band called The Mojos, but it was acting that brought him to centre stage. Roles in repertory productions of Shakespeare and Chekhov, and bit-parts in various TV dramas, all helped to prepare Collins for the role of his lifetime: badass Bodie.

Collins was never able to parlay his Professionalsexperience into a lasting acting career. He moved to LA in the hope of kickstarting a Hollywood career, but switched to running a computer business and married a schoolteacher, Michelle Larrett. The couple had three kids, Oliver, Everett and Cameron. Apart from a cameo role in The Billin 2002, Collins fell off the radar. At 65, he's lost much of his roguish good looks, but he hasn't gone soft. He holds a pilot's licence, has a black belt in jiu-jitsu and likes to go parachuting and shooting.

This year, Studio Lionsgate is to start shooting a remake of The Professionals, and the big question is, who is hard enough to take on the role that Collins made his own? Meanwhile, Collins is set to make a comeback in a new movie, 1066,due out next year. He's down for the role of earl Godwin, the father of King Harold II.