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Les Misérables' copywriter Herbert Kretzmer dies at the age of 95


The well-known copywriter and journalist Herbert Kretzmer, who was best known for his English-language adaptation of the musical Les Misérables, died at the age of 95.

Kretzmer was born in South Africa in 1925. In 1954 he moved to London with £ 150 in his pocket and began a career as a songwriter and journalist.

While serving as a television critic for the Daily Mail from 1979 to 1987, he won two national press awards and wrote weekly songs for the BBC's groundbreaking satire show, That Was The Week That Was.

He later won the prestigious Ivor Novello Award for the comedy song Goodness Gracious Me, performed in 1989 by Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren.

But he was perhaps best known for writing the score for the stage version of Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, including the legendary ballad "I Had a Dream".

His work on Les Mis – now the longest-running West End musical of all time – earned him worldwide praise and Tony and Grammy awards.

He graced the stage at the Golden Globes in 2013 when he stood arm in arm with actress Anne Hathaway at the age of 87, as the cast received a number of awards.

Sir Tim Rice was one of those who today praised Kretzmer from the bottom of their hearts and called him "a giant in his field".

Sir Tim tweeted: “The great lyricist and man of the theater and folk song, Herbert Kretzmer, has died. From Les Mis to She, TW3, Goodness Gracious Me and much more, he was a giant in his field. RIP Herbie. & # 39;

Copywriter and journalist Herbert Kretzmer, pictured here on the opening night of Cameron Mackintosh's production of & # 39; Les Miserables & # 39; on Broadway at the Imperial Theater in 2014

Herbert Kretzmer and Anne Hathaway at the world premiere of Les Miserables at the Odeon Leicester Square on December 5, 2012 in London

Herbert Kretzmer and Anne Hathaway at the world premiere of Les Miserables at the Odeon Leicester Square on December 5, 2012 in London

Herbert Kretzmer, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Claude-Michelle Schönberg, Alain Boublil and John Caird at the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Les Miserables show on October 8, 2005 at the Queens Theater, London

Herbert Kretzmer, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Claude-Michelle Schönberg, Alain Boublil and John Caird at the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Les Miserables show on October 8, 2005 at the Queens Theater, London

Herbert Kretzmer: I wrote the lyrics for Les Miserables when I was working as a television critic for Mail – and that changed my life

Herbert Kretzmer wrote this article for the Daily Mail in January 2013

When we didn't win the Best Song Award, I thought my chance to enjoy a moment of personal Golden Globe fame was probably gone.

In fact, from the minute we got to the Beverly Hills Hilton last Sunday, I'd suspected just that, and realized that our table, despite having a clear view of the stage, had come an awfully long way.

I sat down, slightly relieved that I didn't have to make a speech to enjoy the extraordinary – and very long – spectacle that is a Hollywood awards night.

And then Les Miserables won the Golden Globe for the best musical or best comedy I had hoped for, and to my delight and surprise, I realized that I was with director Tom Hooper, the various producers and stars of the film, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, both of whom had won individual Golden Globes, would work together on the now worryingly distant stage.

I'm in pretty good shape for 87 but based on my calculations it would take me about half an hour to get there. But adrenaline and applause are powerful drugs, and together with Claude-Michel Schonberg, the French composer who wrote the score, and Alain Boublil, who first came up with the idea for a musical version of Victor Hugo's novel and wrote the original French texts, I am positively galloping on stage to join the rest of the team.

There, in the midst of the dazzling TV lights and the cheering and oops of the audience, something very special happened.

As I stood there trying to catch my breath and enjoy what I knew was a very special moment – a moment of almost infectious joy, if you will – I felt someone gently slide their arm through mine.

I didn't look around at first to see who made this simple, small, but much appreciated gesture of support and comfort.

But when I finally did, I discovered that it was beautiful, talented, and just terribly kind Anne Hathaway. Almost 30 years ago I wrote a text – I had a dream – Ms. Hathaway sings so beautifully in the film that he can break even the stony of hearts.

But when I sat in my Knightsbridge apartment all those years ago and worried about whether or not the line "But the tigers come at night" would work, I never dreamed of what Les Miserables would be. Like Hugo's novel, it's part of the chase story, part of moral fable, and part of love story, but when you put those elements together the result has been proven irresistible.

The musical has been running in London's West End for 27 years and has been seen by more than 60 million people in 42 countries. And that's just the stage production: now Tom Hooper's hugely successful film version, which is number 1 at the UK box office, is bringing a new audience to the show.

But stage or film, there is no doubt that Les Miserables has completely changed my life.
It all started in January 1985 when I picked up the phone to hear five life changing words: "Hi Herbert, it's Cameron Mackintosh."

At the time, I was a television critic for the Daily Mail and Cameron (now Sir Cameron) was the rising star of musical theater production who still basks in the afterglow of Cats' phenomenal success.

In other words, you'd think we had little in common and certainly nothing worth calling in person, but Cameron knew I had a different string for my professional bow.

Since settling in London from South Africa in 1954, my career had followed two parallel paths. My day job was as a journalist working for people like Daily Sketch, Sunday Dispatch, Daily Express and now the Daily Mail.

But my passion, born from childhood trips to the cinema in my hometown Kroonstad in the Free State, was writing songs – and especially writing lyrics.

This was the golden age of American musicals and my heroes were George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter. I remember vividly watching movies like Gold Diggers Of 1935 and thinking, "I can do that."

So i did. I wrote some songs in school and for a few revue-style shows in South Africa. But when I got to London and found that the streets were full of composers who were far more talented than me, I decided to focus on writing lyrics.

By day, as a journalist, I've interviewed some of the world's most famous writers, fighters, and movie stars – John Steinbeck, Truman Capote, Groucho Marx, Sugar Ray Robinson, Cary Grant, and Marlene Dietrich, to name a few – but at night I wrote songs for everyone who would buy my goods.

I wrote the comedy hit Goodness Gracious Me for Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren, Kinky Boots for Honor Blackman and Patrick Macnee, and all sorts of songs for the late-night satirical television revue That Was The Week That Was and its star Millicent Martin.

In 1964, Millicent starred with Kenneth More in a musical I wrote, Our Man Crichton, based on J.M. Barrie's play The Admirable Crichton, which ran for eight and a half months, not entirely. Twenty years later, it was my hope of reviving this musical that first brought me to Cameron Mackintosh's door.

Was he interested in helping such a revival? He sat on one of his many sofas (Cameron was well known at the time not believing in desks), thought about it and appropriately said: "No."

Six months later, I was surprised to find him on the end of the phone and apparently interested in meeting me. He suddenly remembered that I had also written some songs for the great French singer Charles Aznavour.

I had written the lyrics for Yesterday, When I Was Young for him and in 1974, at the behest of London Weekend Television, which was looking for a theme song for a drama series called Seven Faces of Women, She, a Song, which later became a top ten It became a hit and virtually introduced Aznavour to the English-speaking world.

This could be called my French connection.

When Cameron called me he had a problem. He was committed to directing an English-language version of a previously modestly successful French musical called Les Miserables. He already had a theater, the Barbican, two directors of the Royal Shakespeare Company (Trevor Nunn and John Caird), and Boublil and Schönberg's invigorating score.

But with the opening night in just under seven months, he had no English libretto.

The respected poet James Fenton had worked on it for a year and a half without showing any evidence that he had actually completed a usable script. The call to me was Cameron, who hit the panic button. Apparently he woke up that morning, sat bolt upright in bed, and immediately thought of me.

Another meeting in his office without a desk was quickly followed by lunch in the fashionable Ivy restaurant and in due course I went to my editorial office at Mail to request a five-month break.

"Why?" Barked my old and much lamented friend David English. "Write a musical."

He looked unhappy. "I can't lose my television critic for five months."

Fortunately, he gave in, and when our paths crossed in New York a few years later I asked him why he had given in.

"I could see in your eyes that whatever I said you'd do." And he was right.

On March 1, 1985, the most extraordinary time of my life began. My apartment (once owned by John Cleese) became the place I worked, occasionally slept, and lived in the land of my imagination.

We all knew our English version of Les Miserables would be a third longer than the French original – British audiences weren't familiar enough with Hugo's story for the shortened two-hour Parisian version to make sense – which meant I would do a new prologue wrote half a dozen new songs and "reconstructed" those that have remained from the original.

I don't think a song can be translated: it is what it means and what it means in the language in which it was written. But you can reconstruct it for a new culture, and that's what I did with Les Miserables.

I hardly speak French so I was provided with a literal translation of the French songs, but much more important to me was Hugo's original novel and listening to Claude-Michel Schönberg's score.

What did history have to say at that particular point in time? How did music invite me to say it? Sometimes I kept a word or two from the original. For example, a rebel anthem called "According to the Will of the People" was properly read as "Do you hear the people sing?" I am a copywriter, not a translator.

As rehearsals approached, I often worked all night in a crazy place. Bring Him Home, which had bothered me more than any other song, finally came to me in a three-hour creative burst that started at two in the morning.

Trevor Nunn and John Caird had been in my apartment to discuss the problems I was having with that one particular song, the stately melody of which seemed completely at odds with the excited emotions the song was trying to convey. When John Caird left well after midnight, he turned to me and said almost aside, "Sounds like a prayer to me."

I realized he was right. As a prayer everything suddenly fell together. "God. . . on . . . up, listen. . . my. . . Prayer,. . . in the . . . my. . . need, you've always been there "

I took Bring Him Home to rehearsals the next morning and heard Colm Wilkinson, our original Jean Valjean, sing for the first time. I knew we had discovered something special and exciting.
It's a popular myth that all critics waved Les Miserables, but that's not entirely true.

There were certainly bad reviews, including unfortunately one from my friend and colleague Jack Tinker, with whom I shared a nest of desks in the mail. Our friendship survived – after all – but only just now.

He referred to the show as The Glums, apparently unaware that our cast had already given the show the same nickname.

I comforted myself with knowing that Hugo's novel was similarly mistreated by critics when it was published in 1862. But for every bad news we got, there was good.

While Michael Radcliffe frowned at the Observer as if he had just smelled a bad fish, John Peter described our show as "blazingly theatrical" in the Sunday Times.

American newspapers drowned us out with praise and eight Tony Awards. Time Magazine and Newsweek raved about it. So did the all-important New York Times.

In the 19 years the show ran at the Palace Theater before moving down the street to its current home, The Queen & # 39; s, I've only seen it two or three times.

But I flew to distant places for the first few nights – Tokyo, Cape Town, Budapest. . . Seeing the movie version of Tom Hooper a month ago brought all the excitement back. I liked his bold innovation of having the actors sing live in every setting.

Hugh Jackman later told me it was like being "released" to find an "elevated reality."

And most of all, from a poet's point of view, at least, you can hear and understand every word, including those on Suddenly, the one new song we wrote for the film that now has an Oscar nomination for a gold one Globe.

And yes, that means we'll be returning to Los Angeles in about a month for the Oscars, a prospect that, in my current jet-lagged state, fills me with anticipation and fear.

Whatever the result, I am happy to learn that people all over the world are coming out of cinemas, drying their tears and singing our songs.

The film has only been out in this country a week and I've already met someone who has seen it six times. Mind you, you have to do something to defeat the apple-cheeked Canadian chaplain I met in New York who saw the Broadway stage show 87 times.

Les Miserables changed a lot of things for me, even though I returned to my job at the Mail for a year before realizing that the show was clearly supposed to be on and on and that at the age of 61 I could really think about the Give up your day job.

As a man who came to this country with only 150 pounds in his pocket (which, by the way, I immediately loaned someone out and never saw again), I am amazed at the change in my fortune.

But I haven't stopped writing songs. Since Les Miserables, I've worked with Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson from Abba on a musical called Kristina, and teamed up again with Boublil and Schönberg to create a show called Marguerite, this time with the music of Michel Legrand.

And next year I finally hope to revive the musical that first brought me in touch with Sir Cameron Mackintosh. Yes, 50 years after its first run, I hope we can get Our Man Crichton back on the London stage, this time with a tougher satirical edge.

“Do you hear people singing?” Asks the Les Miserables choir. As long as the answer is "yes", I'll keep writing the songs.

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