Who was Ronald Lewis?

Ronald_LewisWatching old movies, it’s like looking through the lens of a time machine, and can become a rather sobering experience at times. I’ve written about this before- watching an old film, being curious about an actor that I’ve just seen, looking them up on the internet, suddenly reading of an entire life and career summed up in a paragraph. How can an entire life be summed up within a few lines? Of course it can’t, it just leaves us with a tantalizing glimpse, and its human nature to just try fill in those gaps, haunted by those images from films, of lives frozen at that moment, actors/actresses unaware of the futures ahead of them that we can read now, looking back. In some ways it offers a horrifying perspective. Not every story ends well.

Last night I watched The Full Treatment (review coming later), another Hammer film from the recent Indicator Hammer boxset, and I was fascinated, somehow, by the performance of Ronald Lewis in the lead role. To a degree it was one of those have I/where have I seen him before? moments, but I must say I was very impressed by him in The Full Treatment, hamstrung slightly by an awkward script, and thought he looked a good leading man for the time. In looks he reminded me a little of the great Jack Lemmon. I suppose I was just curious why I hadn’t seen him in any other Hammer films, as Hammer seemed to have a group of actors that it used in so many films (Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing perhaps the most famous, but many other actors continually resurfaced in minor roles), and it seemed odd that Lewis didn’t  get used by them in other films (as it turned out, I learned that he turned up in another two Hammer films, The Taste of Fear, which I haven’t seen and is apparently superior to The Full Treatment and was much more successful. So Hammer did use him again, Lewis later appearing in 1965’s The Brigand of Kandahar, another Hammer I have not seen).

There was something, though, seeing The Full Treatment, and Ronald Lewis in his presumed prime, frozen in time over fifty years ago. So here again, obituaries offer glimpses of entire lives: Ronald Lewis, born 11 December 1928 in Port Talbot, Glamorgan (which would make him about 31 when he was filming The Full Treatment) died 11th January 1982, aged just 53, having committed suicide-  a drugs overdose, likely connected to having been declared bankrupt the year before. His life summed up as being a Welsh actor most famous for his work in the 1950s and 1960s, his films and television appearances listed. Its inferred he suffered from a drinking problem, with bad press from having allegedly assaulted his wife in 1965, and his career suffered a decline arising either from his bad image or his drinking affecting his work. IMDb alleges that  ‘he was known as an aggressive and perhaps unstable man, with a history of violence towards others, including women’. Two marriages, one child.

So who was Ronald Lewis? Of course, I have no real idea, and after so many years most of those who knew him are likely gone, too. Just the clues left, his life beyond those images from The Full Treatment summed up by a few scant lines. With The Full Treatment his career was still on the rise, a leading man in British film, a career soon to take a bad turn into slow decline, bankruptcy and suicide. But somehow he lives forever in film, frozen in time- in The Full Treatment, it will always be 1960.

In 1962, Lewis appeared in Twice Around the Daffodils, with Kenneth Williams, who in his diary dated 12th January 1982 reflected on the news of Lewis’ passing: “The paper says Ronald Lewis has taken an overdose! He was declared bankrupt last year! Obviously nobody offered him work & he was driven to despair. I remember Ronnie… and that drinking session at the White Horse all those years ago… he was a kind boy & people used him. He was 53.”

Watching old movies, it’s like looking through the lens of a time machine, and yes, it can be a sobering experience, measuring those years, catching glimpses of the lives on that screen.

13 thoughts on “Who was Ronald Lewis?

  1. It’s a strange thing, thinking about what a person’s life is reduced to; how one act or trait can be seen to define an entire person, even though there’s much more to any individual than that, of course. People have been struggling with exactly this a lot recently: “how can I like this person’s work when they’ve been accused of this crime?!” People seem to find it hard to reconcile such things, which I guess is where the reductive life summaries come from.

  2. david

    Never came to court over assaulting his wife. Many actors drink alcohol and get pd like a lot of us. Life took a downward spiral with no work coming in and depression.Also bankrupt. Just could not cope any more. Kenneth Williams supposedly committed suicide. The mind can be turmoil on times. Ronald Lewis was a very good actor.

    1. mel

      He just had a drink drive conviction, I have the newspaper article, no evidence he was violent, in fact most describe him as gentle, serious about his work, stunt men got on very well with him, recently Juliet Mills said she has been thinking a lot about him, and he was a lovely man.

  3. Pingback: Taste of Fear – the ghost of 82

  4. Rebecca Ryan

    i know exactly what you mean but as soon as I hear abusive to women and i do.do my research as far as it will let me go,,,,, I don’t want to know any more nor will i watch any more of that actors films

    1. Its a tricky one really, especially after so many years- how do we seperate the art from the private life, or should we? Its a debate raging especially now, and not very far removed from so many statues being brought down. My concern is that we should be wary of judging historic figures by today’s terms, and not considering the original times and society which produced those figures and actions. Not that excuses Ronald Lewis, of course, but we are all only human, and complex individuals, and he isn’t around to defend himself.

      1. Rebecca Ryan

        sadly they are just not believable anymore,,, yes but Matthew M is when i heard Actor Matthew McConaughey co-owns a cattle ranch in Texas that offers canned deer hunts that was it for me

  5. dgm

    I watched Lewis in one of the last episodes of ‘Z Cars’ last night, ‘Deserter’, one of his last acting appearances at age 50. I was surprised to see him as I don’t associate him with tv. He looks & sounds the worse for wear & gives a performance that struck me as ‘drunken’.

    1. I agree, I think everything I’ve seen him in, he’s pretty great. He was a very good actor and could/should have been a bigger star. I think many British actors of the time suffered because of the declining state of the British film industry back then (on its knees in the 1970s, as I recall). Talent like Ronald Lewis would have thrived today, I’m certain, particularly with streaming services so desperate for new content. Average actors have never had it so good as they do today, and the great ones.. well I suspect someone like Lewis would be just massive now with the opportunities he would have (whether his personal character could have coped with that is another thing, as he seems to have had self-destructive qualities, but he’s not alone in that).

      1. James

        I had actually seen him in many films like “Helen of Troy” and “The Prisoner” before I knew who he was. If he had been a bigger name his career would probably have survived the controversy. It was like the car crash that damaged Leif Garrett’s music career.

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