Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Ted Lewis & Get Carter

                                                                                 Lewis on the set of Get Carter in 1970

'GET CARTER' is 40.

Ted Lewis didn’t live long enough to witness his enduring influence as a writer of what can loosely be termed Brit-noir. His legacy for the most part is as the author of the novel Jack’s Return Home, the book that became Get Carter. The1971 screen version of Lewis’s novel, starring Michael Caine, rightly has its place in the British film canon, but the elements that make it work are all evident in Lewis’s book.

There were many sides to Ted Lewis. A gifted illustrator who won prizes at Barton Grammar School where he was tutored in English by poet, novelist, and critic, Henry Treece - an influential associate of Dylan Thomas. Lewis was also a jazz musician who played piano throughout his life, plying his trade in the smoky clubs of Kingston-upon-Hull and Leeds whilst a student at Hull College of Art. An obsessive film buff, Lewis would dearly loved to have been a director himself.

Departing for London in the early 1960s, Lewis had a series of jobs, finally working as animation clean-up supervisor, recreating film cells for the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine movie. Lewis married in 1966 and was living in rural Essex with his wife and young daughters when, in 1971, the world he had created – based in and around his adolescent haunts of Scunthorpe became celluloid gold in the Mike Hodges’ directed film Get Carter.

Get Carter was striking. Unafraid, tough and unflinching, it ushered in a new kind of truth about the Britain of the early 70s. Carter's world is the bleak north east in the hands of developers and dodgy councillors. Lewis could never have imagined that his book, its story fermented during shifts as an animator on Yellow Submarine and in the pubs of Soho would carry such cultural significance 40 years later.

Tragically, Lewis died in 1982 at the age of 42, a victim of the conflicted world he created, precariously and tragically balanced between the quiet family life he sought and the brutal anti-heroes he depicted so convincingly in a series of dark crime novels.

There was, and is, a great deal more to Ted Lewis than Jack Carter.