Rodney Bewes

Rodney Bewes

THERE are two things about Rodney Bewes that tend to shock his long-standing fans.

The first and most alarming is that he is 70 years old.

This seems a complete impossibility to anyone who remembers him as the thirty-something Bob Ferris in The Likely Lads.

That is until he points out that, despite endless repeats on cable TV, the BBC sitcom was actually made 30-odd years ago.

The other is that the man who played lovable, docile Bob is actually a hard-working actor prone to the stresses and strains of the real world.

Which is why, when I caught up with Bewes during a brief break from his latest touring one-man show, he was lamenting the fact that he'd lost his temper while booking into one of an endless string of hotels.

Tired and in need of a restorative afternoon catnap, Bewes had blown a fuse after discovering that his room was not ready.

Contrite, he had gone out the next morning, bought flowers and apologised personally to the member of reception staff.

"I was ashamed of myself. I mean, I don't go around shouting at people. I'm Rodney Bewes. I'm practically a Unesco Heritage site."

On this occasion, however, life on the road proved just a little too nerve-fraying for Bewes, who not only acts in but produces, directs and designs his shows.

He is also effectively his own tour manager, driving around the country with scenery and props in a trailer hooked to the back of his Ford Mondeo.

The upside is that he is in total artistic control of productions, which have included award-winning and highly acclaimed one-man performances of comic classics like Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat and George and Wheedon Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody.

The downside is that there is no one to share the stress with when things go wrong.

Ironically, Bewes' current adaptation is another Jerome K Jerome work - On the Stage and Off - a little-known book recalling the author's brief career as a would-be actor in the 1880s.

The play, which is at the Tivoli theatre, Wimborne, on October 12, is about a world that, though it existed 120 years ago, is all too familiar to Bewes.

"Jerome was working in weekly rep' in the late Victorian era but in many ways the life of a travelling actor really hasn't changed very much at all."

The play finds Jerome fighting his way around the touring circuit, battling with forbidding landladies and unsympathetic managers, touring with second- and third-rate companies and endeavouring to make himself a "star".

There are wry observations about life in the theatre and the mysterious world that exists "behind the scenes". And it ends with him resolving never to darken a stage door again.

Bewes says choosing On Stage and Off was a difficult decision as it was largely unknown.

He needn't have worried. It premiered at this year's Edinburgh Fringe to glowing reviews and has since been packing small theatres the length and breadth of the UK.

Getting people through the door is helped by the fact that, as Bewes has already observed, The Likely Lads made him something of an institution.

He is proud of the sitcom and admits to being at something of a loss to understand why fellow Likely Lad, his old chum James Bolam, steadfastly refuses to talk publicly about the programme which helped establish both their careers.

"Personally, I think that having been involved in a hugely successful, long-running show that still stands the test of time is something to be proud of, but Jimmy Bolam just hates talking about it."

Bewes says that because of The Likely Lads everyone recognises his voice.

"I was in this taxi not long ago and the driver said: You know what? You sound just like that Rodney Bewes'.

"He nattered away for a while and concluded with I wish I had his money.' "When we stopped, the fare came to £5 but I gave him £10 and said: You can keep the change because I have got his money'."

Rodney Bewes' one-man production of Jerome K Jerome's On the Stage and Off plays the Tivoli Theatre, Wimborne on Friday, October 1

© Jeremy Miles 2017