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'Lady at the Wheel' - a runaway success!


Co-opted into the Footlights revue
Frederic Raphael Writer
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During the... at the end of my second year, I should have said all this before, at the end of my second year Beetle and I went again, first of all to Florence and then to Menton, and I started another novel, which I didn't finish, and then... then we came back... back to England.

And I was conscious that I didn't want to do Classics Part Two. By that time I had taken the second of the prelims and had got another 2.1 which wasn't good enough and wasn't interesting and I was tired of Latin and Greek. So I decided to switch to Philosophy which had been advocated by one of my supervisors at St John's, a man called Renford Bambrough who was a Classicist who'd become a Moral Scientist as we then called them. And in order to become a Moral Scientist he said, it's no use doing it for one year. And I thought my third year was not enough time to take a Moral Sciences course in full, I could do prelims in one year and I would have to take tripos in the second. So I would have to stay for a fourth year. And I asked my father, with some trepidation, whether he would allow me to stay for a fourth year, and to Cedric's great credit, while he shaved in shorts and suspendered socks and all the rest of it, he didn't even think about it, he said, yes of course that's... that's okay. Which was very nice. I think he'd been four years at Oxford, because I think that was the course in those days when you did Greats, so he wasn't terribly surprised. Perhaps he thought it was going to be four anyway.

Anyway, I had another year. So I was able to sort of think I could retrieve my Cambridge career, such as it was, in the second two years instead of just one. Anyway, so that's that. I agreed to do the book on the Lady at the Wheel, I can't remember when I wrote it. But also Leslie said to me, 'Do you want to be in the Footlights?' So I said, 'Well, don't you have to do an audition and sing?' 'No', he said, 'I'm the secretary, if you want to be in the Footlights, you're in the Footlights'.

So from being sort of... a very St John's outsider I became something quite different in my second, in my third and fourth years. I wrote things for the... for the Footlights and, of course, it wasn't as difficult as I imagined to get laughs. Eventually I was in the cast for the May week revue of that year, got my laughs there. Something... and I was going to do the book of the Lady at the Wheel, which I'd done quite a lot of before the end of the year. I was going to perfect it in the vacation again, the long vacation – I was going abroad with Beetle again. And Leslie said, 'Well, you should be on the committee next year'. So I said, 'Well, I don't care about being on the committee'. 'No', he said, 'no, no. You should be on the committee, it will be good. You can do the press because you're good at the press, you know people in the press. It'll be good. I'll fix it'.

So after the end of the revue, they had the meeting of the present committee to nominate the committee for the following year and there were various people on it all of whom were very friendly to me and to Beetle who'd been in Cambridge quite a lot during the course of the revue. Nobody had ever said a word, an unkind word or an unpleasant word to me that I could recall. Leslie came out of the meeting to say that... well, something rather unexpected had happened. Three people on the committee, out of however many there were, didn't think that a Jew should be on the committee of the Footlights. If I say I couldn't believe my ears, it's not true because, of course, whenever I hear anything like that I believe my ears, and believe me, I've heard quite a bit of it. But Leslie was a strange man because he was not aggressive to anybody, in fact he was extremely courteous and hospitable and generous. But he was quite annoyed, and he said, 'I will get those people off the committee next year and I will get you on. But don't do anything now. Don't get upset, don't say anything, it will all be all right'. Well, it wasn't a very big deal anyway, so I went away with Beetle to Luca in Tuscany, on the advice of a man called Nicolai Rubinstein, who was a great Tuscan historian who had taught Beetle at Westfield. And I wrote, not another novel, not a play, I wrote the book for this musical and lot of numbers for the Footlights. And it was the low road, but I was not entirely averse to taking it – it sloped towards quite interesting destinations.

Born in America in 1931, Frederic Raphael is a writer who moved to England as a boy. He was educated at Charterhouse School and was a Major Scholar in Classics at St John's College, Cambridge. His articles and book reviews appear in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times and The Sunday Times. He has published more than twenty novels, the best-known being the semi-autobiographical The Glittering Prizes (1976). In 1965 Raphael won an Oscar for the screenplay for the movie Darling, and two years later received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Two for the Road. In 1999, he published Eyes Wide Open, a memoir of his collaboration with the director Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's final movie. Raphael lives in France and England and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1964.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Lady at the Wheel, Cambridge Footlights, Renford Bambrough, Leslie Bricusse

Duration: 4 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 13 August 2014