Meanwhile back at 7 Park Avenue, Bill had become involved with a young Welsh group called The Iveys. He was so convinced of their talent that he persuaded them all to leave Swansea and come to London, to live in the house at Golders Green. It was quite a squeeze – the Mojos members had a bedroom each; Bill had his own room which doubled as his office; another room was used as a mini recording studio, and The Kinks' road manager, Dave Duffield, lived there too. So The Iveys set up camp in the living room and from here they began their fateful foray into the music business as Badfinger. Following this experience, both The Mojos and, posthumously, Pete Ham of Badfinger, would later release recordings entitled 7 Park Avenue.
After leaving The Mojos, Lewis joined the Robb Storme Group, a Luton group previously known as Robb Storme and The Whispers. They were a five-part harmony band with a similar style to The Beach Boys, and in late August that year they released a single, Here Today, a Beach Boys cover which made the lower reaches of the Top 30 in some of the regional charts. They also did a few performances for BBC radio sessions but after eight months, Lewis left. He was still in touch with The Mojos as they were still living at 7 Park Avenue, and they reformed for a few months, briefly calling this new incarnation Skool, but they had definitely had their day. Then, not long after his 21st birthday, Lewis’s mother died. "We got together again just before she died. She was a great lady, and I miss her."23 As well as this, Lewis found himself on the cabaret circuit in a Grumbleweeds-type act. This was not the way he’d wanted his career to go. In the summer of 1967 Lewis quit the pop business for good. "It was a stormy year for me - I didn’t know where I was going or what I wanted to do."13
Over the next year he tried his hand at various jobs: roadieing for other bands15; washing dishes46; delivering towels23; chauffeur23; encyclopaedia salesman14; window cleaner0; waiter14; Savile Row tailor’s assistant, measuring up for suits23; and a lorry driver for the Co-op, delivering crisps and lemonade.23 "I began to wonder what the Hell was going to happen to me.20 I was a has-been at 22! But for a while I was like Cinderella – with the posh flat, the Rolls Royce and the model girlfriend.”22
It was during this last lorry-driving job that Lewis had his epiphany. While on a delivery run in Surrey, he pulled over into a lay-by to try to get the heating working. Then fiddling around on the radio looking for some decent music, he came across a play. After listening for a while he thought "I could do that" and decided that he wanted to be an actor. It was, at that time, an unlikely transition from pop star to actor and his early dramatic ambitions caused some mirth among his musical friends. "It was like saying you wanted to be an astronaut," he recalled. "Everyone laughed in the pop business but I really felt I could do it. It was an intuitive thing - I had no background in the theatre."21
There was just one drawback - Lewis had never read a play in his life, not even at school. "We didn't have a stage group. We never read plays because we'd only throw the books back at them.11 I'd never been to a theatre, not even to a musical. I was that ignorant."2 So he went to a drama tutor, Barbara Francis, to study pieces from his first ever play, and auditioned at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA) and at the Central School of Speech and Drama. Both auditions were successful, and he was offered a place by both schools, but he opted for the former, and in September 1968 Lewis began life as a drama student, embarking on LAMDA's Three Year Acting Course.
His contemporaries included several other future stalwarts of British stage and screen, including Cheryl Campbell, David Suchet and Patricia Hodge. "I really didn't know what on Earth was going on as I was in with a crowd of folk who'd just left Cambridge." he said. "I had to re-educate myself completely. I used to go back to my grotty little room and literally break down because I couldn't make head nor tail of Shakespeare or anything like that."35 But Lewis persevered, and during his time there he played many leading rôles from the classics. One day the pupils were asked to perform a Shakespearean speech of their own choice. When it was Lewis's turn, Patricia Hodge recalled, "We couldn't believe it when he bolted from his seat and out of the building. Somebody reported seeing him belt off towards the direction of the Earls Court Road. But actually he turned on his heel and ran back into the theatre and straight onto the stage and we all sat there riveted, thinking "What's he going to do?" And he went straight into this Romeo speech where Romeo is running for his life and it was wonderful, he'd set this whole thing up, giving it a bit of impact which none of the rest of us would have done and it was electrifying."16 Lewis's individuality as an actor was also commented on in theatrical reviews, and at the end of the Course in 1971 he graduated with a LAMDA Diploma in Dramatic Art.
Lewis had spent his student holidays hitching around the Mediterranean, but on graduating he visited New York, where he made many theatrical contacts. "I refused an 'easy' back door into Broadway." he later said. "I knew I was nowhere near ready for it, and commonsense told me that a solid grounding in British theatre would give me greater distance. Better to build on a good foundation."20 So Lewis returned to Britain and joined Chesterfield Rep., learning the ropes as actor/assistant stage manager. "I swept the stage for my Equity Card.21 It was hard work but was worth it."20 On 27th August 1971 he made his début as a professional actor playing a sentry in Strindberg's Dance of Death followed by three further appearances in productions by the Company during that season.
In 1972, after another trip to America, Lewis joined Glasgow Citizens' Theatre, which he later described as "the best theatre in Britain for young talent. Where else do you get to play Tamburlaine at twenty-five?"20 He appeared in seven plays during his year there, including an appearance with the Company at the 1972 Edinburgh International Festival. After one performance at Citizens', a group of deaf children came backstage to meet the actors. Lewis was touched by their interest and began spending his days off teaching them drama. "A friend of mine in New York was deaf and I knew some sign language, but my task was really to get the children to speak without using their hands at all. I had trained at drama school in how to express yourself using your body, and I had been involved in theatre workshops, so this was all helpful.25 It was the most satisfying work I've done in my life."29 At the end of the season the Citizens' Theatre director, Giles Havergal, was asked to go to a Canadian school to teach drama, and he invited Lewis to join him. Lewis agreed, and they both went off to an Indian Reservation in British Columbia. Apart from their flights and living costs, the project was entirely voluntary.
"I taught in a school in Kamloops. It was very basic theatre work, teaching the children to express themselves and to act out plays. I found an Indian play called 'Rita Joe'. It was a traditional Indian work and I thought it would be a good one to start with because the children would be able to relate to it. I got them to act out the parts as well as teaching them to express themselves through mime and movement classes. After we finished there we were invited to Vancouver University to do a workshop with adults. We did so well that we were invited to Seattle and then to the Berkeley University in San Francisco."25
On returning to Britain, Lewis joined The Royal Court Theatre and in September 1973 made his West End début in David Storey's The Farm, which would run until November. He also made a few private film appearances, performing in productions by students of the London Film School. Then, on 25th February, 1974, Lewis appeared in his first T.V. acting rôle, in the long-running police series Z-Cars. This was just the start, and he went on to make five more T.V. appearances that year, the most significant of which was They Disappear When You Lie Down, a T.V. play about a table-tennis team. Not only was this part responsible for helping Lewis get a starring rôle the following year, it also prompted his first fan letter. The busy T.V. schedule meant Lewis had time for only two theatrical Rôles that year, one of which was with Birmingham Repertory Company in their production of Blues Whites and Reds.