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My gift is that I 'read' people


Taking Footlights to London
Frederic Raphael Writer
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Leslie Bricusse was professional in a way that nobody at Cambridge was professional in those days. Peter Hall was not bad at it, but he was kind of in the theatrical tradition. Leslie wanted to be successful in the world. One of his early possessions was an address book which I noticed had Paris-London-New York. And I said to him, 'Do you know a lot of people in Paris, then?' And he said, 'No, but I will'. And he had a very clear idea of what he wanted to be which was just successful. He'd been in Canada during the war and he had not had a war. There had been no tragic European events which impinged on him. He'd been in the army in his National Service, he was a perfectly decent chap, but he was somehow immaculate.

Anyway, once we were confirmed as having a transfer to London, Leslie said to me – because we had now become chums – it's a bit difficult because I don't think that we should take some people who are in the present cast with us to London because it would be to cumbrous, and I'd like to change some of the material. So do you think that Tony Beecher would mind very much if he wasn't in the cast? So I said, well I don't... I don't... I can't speak for him. He said, will you ask him?

Anyway, Tony... if he was hurt he didn't show it, which doesn't mean he wasn't hurt. But he did say that it would enable him to go on working harder for his tripos and it was okay and not to worry. And after we had opened in Cambridge with the material which we had accumulated during the year, and that had all gone very well, towards the end of the last week of the two-week run, I think, in Cambridge, Leslie said, I want to use some of the material from previous Footlights shows, which was very good, to replace some of the poorer numbers that haven't worked that well in the present show. So I said, well, you know, how can you do that? You should ask the author. And he said, no, no, the Footlights material belongs to the club. I don't know where he got that idea from, but I think that David Frost pulled the same trick out of his... wherever he pulled it out from. I didn't really question that, there were two really good numbers. One was called, There is not a Man on my Ottoman, and it figured a sort of odalisque... all of these things were drag acts, of course – there were no women in the Footlights in those days. Dermot Hall, the man who didn't think there should be Jews in the Footlights, took the part of this Turkish harem girl who sang a song which began, 'There is not a man on my ottoman, and there hasn't been one for weeks'.

And it contained another rhyme, which is unforgettable, which was, 'They came across the Bosphorus and didn't even toss for us'. Good stuff. I don't know who wrote that, I think it may have been Julian Slade, it might have been Simon Phipps. There was another number which they'd done the year before I joined the Footlights which was called Joe and the Boys. And this was a take-off of a sort of vulgar band show, the kind run by Joe Loss in those days. Joe Loss and his band, with the hair all brilliantined back and the grin and all of that. And Leslie said – because they were cutting a couple of things that I had done with Tony Beecher – Leslie said, well you could always audition for Joe and the Boys. But I was pretty sure that a man called Brian Marlborough, who was very droll, but also a Johnian, actually would get the part, and Leslie was just covering the fact that he was going to cut one of the numbers I had written. But I sort of never questioned this. So he said, well come to the Arts Theatre on Wednesday morning, whatever it is, and you know, you and Brian, and we'll see who does what. And I went along and I had no idea what to do. I couldn't sing, I knew Brian could, and I thought really this is all a wind-up. I didn't use the word wind-up because we didn't do wind-ups in 1954. But, nevertheless, I thought it was not... a send-up I think would be closer.

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: Cambridge Footlights, Joe and the Boys, There is not a Man on my Ottoman, Leslie Bricusse, Tony Beecher, Brian Marker, Peter Hall

Duration: 4 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 13 August 2014