Lewis Collins was born on 27th May, 1946 in the bedroom of his parents’ home at 6 Gautby Road in Bidston, a district of Birkenhead in Merseyside. He was the third child of the family: his mother was Jane, née Davies; his father was William Daniel Collins. He arrived on his sister Valerie’s fifth birthday, and just a fortnight after his brother Gerald’s tenth. Bill, who was a shipwright, pianist and local dance-band leader, named his son Lewis, after a jazz musician. At just one hour old, Bill took him to the piano and helped him play his first note.
At two years old, Lewis was entered in a beautiful baby contest which he won, and the winning photo was displayed in a shop window near Liverpool Central Station for two and a half years. Young Lewis liked being on display, and from an early age showed a disposition to entertain rather than be entertained. He gave his first public performance at the age of seven in a local children’s show in his dad’s garage, singing Silent Night.0
He attended Bidston Primary school, but didn’t enjoy learning. His future would evolve from the skills he developed out of school. Lewis played in the streets and learned to be a tough and streetwise kid, but never felt as though he fitted in with that kind of life. "I have had my share of beatings. But I can remember one incident when I was walking along the street and a housebrick hit me and put me on my back. I was frightened, sure, when a gang of youths proceeded to beat me to a pulp. But I was numb, I didn’t feel anything at the time."2 He developed an interest in martial arts, studying karate then judo, in which he achieved brown belt standard.3
The Collins family enjoyed the outdoor life - "my father was a big boy scout!"18 - spending their holidays hill-walking, camping and visiting 'Aunty' Doris on her farm in Shropshire. It was here that Lewis first learned how to shoot. Bill’s many interests were a big influence on his son. He learned to play the piano, but never took it as seriously4 as Bill would have liked - "My dad wanted me to be a concert pianist."0 Bill was a keen motorcyclist and let Lewis ride pillion with him when he was 'just a nipper' and regularly took him to the Isle of Man TT Races from the age of eight.5
When he was eleven, his parents split up. His mother left with Valerie and Lewis remained at Gautby Road with Bill. The break-up was to have a profound effect on Lewis who later said that he’d missed his mother terribly. "I know how divorce can destroy people, and scar children for life. It did a lot of damage to me as a kid, and it did a lot of harm to them as people."23
After primary school, Lewis moved on to Grange Secondary Modern, formerly called Tollemache Road School and still known locally as 'The Tolly'. "I had a very sort of poor education, secondary modern in Bidston. A very rough neck of the woods, one step from Borstal. I mean it! It really was rough. Like The Gorbals. You went there if you were a really bad boy. All the drop-outs from the grammar schools used to get imprisoned there."1 He didn’t enjoy school, saying he felt like "a doe in amongst a pack of lions.2 I hated learning because the atmosphere was so wrong. The teachers were extra-strict and tough because to a large extent they were dealing with villains’ babies.2 I never showed any academic interest in school. In sports, yes, and the arts. These things came easily."1
Again, Lewis got a more beneficial education outside the school gates. At the age of twelve, Bill helped him buy a second-hand drum kit for £25 and he began learning to play. And like most boys, he was interested in guns. "The lads I went around with all had air-rifles and I didn’t want to be left out. So I begged my father to buy me one. He refused at first because he figured I would haunt the bombsites, popping bulbs out of the street lights. And he was right, too. When he did relent he found me aiming at them a couple of times and insisted that I join a proper gun club."42 So he joined the Liverpool Central Rifle Club, which had its own clubhouse at the Army’s Altcar Rifle Ranges. Lewis went there every weekend to do .303 Service-rifle shooting,4 and although still a youngster, was part of the club team which regularly beat the Liverpool Police.6 He also often joined in the Army’s own competitions and at the age of fourteen won the Reddy cup for shooting. "The ranges were fun." he recalled. "As it was an army range we didn't just shoot with rifles. My mates and I got a go at everything, machine-guns, mortar bombs, once I even fired a rocket launcher at a target. The problem with being kids was we didn't always take things too seriously, and when paratroopers were dropping on top of us and black-faced commandos were running around us we'd join in, thinking we knew every inch of the training ground. We'd crawl along tunnels emerging to find ourselves under live fire from the ranges!"19 It was here, too, on the private roads at Altcar, that Lewis learned how to drive and to ride a motorbike.4
At thirteen he was so accomplished on the drums that he joined his father’s band, the Savoy Swingers, and played regularly with him at various local pubs and clubs, most notably the L.B.L. 'Lobol' Club at Port Sunlight, where they supported all types of variety act. But by the late Fifties Liverpool was beginning to establish a unique and prolific music scene and thirteen-year-old Lewis auditioned for a local group called The Renegades. Group member Neville Moore remembered, "We got the surprise of our lives when this thirteen-year-old kid turned up on my doorstep. He played this tune we gave him like a dream, and we stood there sort of open-mouthed with amazement and the result of that audition was that he joined us as the fifth group member"7. The Renegades became something of an attraction, having such a young lad as their drummer.
Lewis left school at fifteen. "Who needs school when there’s music?"20 he thought, but he was still too young to become a professional musician. He did need a job though, and one day while walking along the street he saw a sign advertising a hairdressing demonstration. Being curious - "I was always hair-conscious, for that’s all you see of a diminutive drummer!"20 - he went along. "I just liked the glamour of it, I suppose,"10 he was to say later. "The alien sophistication of it all intrigued me."20
Very shortly afterwards he was apprenticed at André Bernard’s salon in Ranelagh Street in Liverpool, "a very flash place in those days."10 This was one of the largest and most prestigious salons in the north of England, with a commissionaire on the door who parked the clients' cars. 'Mr. Lewis' very quickly made friends with another apprentice, 'Mr. Peter'. Peter Michael McCartney and Lewis used to spend evenings in Mike's house practising hairdressing on their female friends, often using Mike's brother's bedroom when he was away touring with his band. Elma Graham, one of the stylists who trained Lewis, recalled "Lewis and Mike were very good pupils but they were terrible leg-pullers as well, and when I look back I remember them as fun days. We had lots of laughs in those days, they played tricks on the stylists and the stylists played tricks back. They were all at it but Lewis and Mike were about the worst!"9
"It was very much an élite clientele then,"9 said Elma, and Lewis was even called to the theatre once to do the hair of singer Helen Shapiro. "The older ladies loved Lewis," said Elma. "He was quite an attraction among the young girl apprentices at the time too, but he didn't really seem to be too girl-conscious then. He was more interested in his shooting and his music."9 "I was a very shy boy, and very nervous about going out with girls," Lewis later claimed. "I certainly wasn't the local heart throb."17
As one of The Renegades, Lewis was by this time playing regularly at Liverpool's famous Cavern Club, sometimes on the same bill as The Beatles. "My favourite memory of The Cavern is of steam coming off the ceiling and watching the original Beatles. The sound used to vibrate off the walls…"8
In August 1962, Pete Best, the Beatles' drummer, was dismissed from the group and Mike suggested to Lewis that he audition for the vacancy, thinking he would have a good chance of success. But Lewis had ambitions in hairdressing, even at one point envisaging owning his own chain of salons,2 and turned down the opportunity - after all, he was earning a steady wage which would increase when he finished his apprenticeship. Compared with the uncertainties of the pop world, it seemed like the right decision.