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He was born in Manchester, an only child. After World War II the family moved to Barton-upon-Humber in 1947. He had a strict upbringing and his parents did not want their son to go to art school, but Ted's English teacher Henry Treece, recognising his creative talents in writing and art, persuaded them not to stand in his way.
Lewis attended Hull Art School for four years. His first work was in London, in advertising, and then as an animation specialist in television and films. His first novel, All the Way Home and All the Night Through was published in 1965, followed by Jack's Return Home, subsequently retitled Get Carter after the success of the film of the same name starring Michael Caine, which created the noir school of British crime writing and pushed Lewis into the best-seller list. After the collapse of his marriage Lewis returned to his home town in the 1970s.
Ted Lewis died in 1982 having published seven more novels and written several episodes for the television series Z-Cars. Doctor Who Producer Graham Williams who had worked with Lewis on Z-Cars commissioned a script entitled The Doppelgangers in 1978 from Lewis.