August 20, 2001 12:00 PM

Much like the proper yet put-upon butler he played on ABC’s Mr. Belvedere from 1985 to 1990, British actor Christopher Hewett minded his manners—and everyone else’s—impeccably. On the set “he couldn’t stand to hear people smacking gum,” says Brice Beckham, now 25, who played Wesley, the youngest child in the unruly Pittsburgh family tended by Lynn Belvedere. The never married Hewett, an imposing 6’3″ and 250-plus lbs., would stop the offender with a glare or—a truly drastic measure—by miming a cow chewing its cud.

When death came last week for the 79-year-old actor, debilitated by painful complications from diabetes, he lay quietly receptive in his small Hollywood apartment, surrounded by reminders of his cherished homeland: a portrait of Prince Charles, a Wind in the Willows china set. “He couldn’t speak, but his eyes were so eloquent,” says his great-nephew Paul Strode, a holistic therapist who came from London to nurse him. “I showed him get-well cards, pictures of Cornwall and England. You could see him thinking he was there.”

But it had been in the United States that Hewett, the youngest of seven siblings, saw his career take wing—on Broadway with My Fair Lady in 1956 and in films like Mel Brooks’s notorious 1968 comedy The Producers (as outré director Roger De Bris). When Hewett, who was classically trained in acting, replaced Herve Villechaize as Ricardo Montalban’s assistant on Fantasy Island in 1983, “he didn’t come on like a big shot,” says Montalban, 80. “He never thought TV was beneath him.”

Except once on Mr. Belvedere, when Hewett refused to tell a joke mocking Princess Margaret. “It wasn’t a beastly line, but I just didn’t want to say it,” he said last year. “Otherwise, I was the consummate professional.”

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