Ed Lewis Remembered (1947-2003)

By Caroline Allan

ed-lewis.jpgEd Lewis

In January the world of cinema lost a shining light with the sudden death of Ed Lewis, cinema programmer for London’s Riverside Studios and Bristol’s Arnolfini. Born in Bournemouth in 1947, Ed married Marion in 1964 and they had their only child, John, in 1965. Around the same time he became enraptured with the power and romance of the cinema, which would become the source of his inspiration and his lifelong career.

Ed worked as a film projectionist in Bournemouth for many years before studying film at Sheffield Polytechnic in 1976. After graduating he became the projectionist at the Coronet & Electric Cinemas until 1981, when he was appointed film officer at Portsmouth College of Art & Design, opening the Rendezvous Cinema. In 1986 he worked at Dovecote Arts Centre, Stockton-on-Tees as film officer/programmer. I met Ed in 1987 when he opened the then new cinema at Riverside in Hammersmith (he also programmed later for the Arnolfini), where, rightfully acclaimed as the best repertory programmer in the UK, he constantly offered intelligent, witty and inspired double bills (and always at an affordable price). Ed sought out the best archive and contemporary features from across the world, collaborating with numerous national cultural organisations in the UK (Poland, Greece, the Czech Republic and Ireland, to name only a few) to create specialist programmes and festivals. He also celebrated the lives in cinema of people he respected, from the silent movie genius of Laurel and Hardy to great thinkers/writers like James Baldwin.

A self-confessed Italiaphile, Ed celebrated Italian film through the creation of the annual Italian Film Festival in 1995 and for over a decade, he was the renowned director of the Montone Umbria Film Festival.

A modestly intellectual man, Ed was an active socialist, a freethinker and perhaps a little anarchistic. Deeply proud of his working class roots, he reviled social injustice and passionately supported the welfare state, NHS, public services and the trade union movement. In time he had joined the Co-op Society, was a board member for the Notting Hill Housing Trust and had been a branch representative for BECTU. He vehemently rejected dogma and proved that business could be conducted on a refreshingly personal level.

There was a magical innocence about the way Ed perceived the world. He often compared his life and the events unfolding around him to scenes in yet unmade movies by Woody Allen or Fellini. An irreverent wit, he nevertheless certainly enjoyed the finer things in life – but he was equally at home drinking a cup of Tetley’s in Adam’s Cafe, his west London local.

Perhaps above all, it is Ed’s relationships with the many people he knew that is so remarkable. He had time to listen to everyone. Here was a man of great wisdom, who managed to retain sensitivity and modesty in equal measures. Many people counted Ed as a buddy, a confidant, an endless source of advice and inspiration, and a close and loyal friend. He was one of life’s givers, unselfishly supporting the visions of others, taking a back seat to allow others to shine. Now his own light has gone out.

Ed, you were loved by so many and you will be missed by us all.

Thanks to R Scanlon, I.L. Tranchell. A longer version was first published in the March edition of the BECTU Newsletter Stage, Screen and Radio.