Sunday, 31 August 2014
Thursday, 28 August 2014
[He] went to Elstree Preparatory School, a Spartan institution from which he nevertheless won a scholarship to Harrow. “You’ll see some fellows doing things which will shock and disgust you,” warned his prep school headmaster. “They will ask you to join in, too, and this you will on no account do.” History does not relate whether young Sandy needed or heeded this advice.We bid a sad farewell today to Sandy Wilson, composer, playwright and author, and one of the last "greats" of British theatre.
Although his output was wide-ranging (including revues for the likes of Peter Cook and Hermione Gingold, and tributes to both Dorothy Parker - on stage - and Ivor Novello - in print), and various productions of his such as Valmouth do get an occasional airing (to largely critical, rather than popular, acclaim), it is inevitably for one worldwide "hit" that Mr Wilson will be remembered the most. From his obituary in The Telegraph:
In 1952 the Players Theatre commissioned Wilson, for a £50 fee, to write a “divertissement”. The result was The Boy Friend. After some lengthening of the original two-act show, and various efforts to get it to the West End, it opened to general acclaim at Wyndham’s Theatre in January 1954.
Though it remained a perennial favourite and earned Wilson so much money that he was advised he need never work again, his own relationship with the play was a difficult one. He hated the Broadway production and was banned from rehearsals. He hated Ken Russell’s film version, complaining that his offers of help had been rejected. In 1984 he fell out with Cameron Mackintosh over a West End revival which also, he felt, veered too far from the original.
The Boy Friend is a camp, cult classic, not merely because of the Art Deco extravaganza that was the movie version (we saw an excellent production at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in 2006). Despite Mr Wilson's reservations, it is not a bad legacy at all, methinks...
Facts about Sandy Wilson:
- Apparently the character of "Sandy" in the Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick camp comedy routine Julian and Sandy was based on Wilson (and Julian on Julian Slade).
- The Boy Friend ran for more than five years at Wyndham's theatre in London, spent more than a year on Broadway, and made an international star of the young Julie Andrews.
- He applied his artistic talents to home-made Christmas cards, usually featuring flappers, pierrots or harlequins in a mimimal setting of crescent moons and floating balloons.
- He lived for many years with his partner Chak Yui, not "in a little flat in Bloomsbury" but in Kensington, and eventually retired to Wiltshire.
- His autobiography I Could be Happy was published in 1975.
Wednesday, 27 August 2014
Sunday, 24 August 2014
"Somebody who I think was having a go at me said that the problem with Attenborough is that substance matters much more to him than style. It was the most charming compliment that I could ever have been given. I do care about style. I do care, but I only care about style that serves the subject."
"I do not have a brain that I long for in dealing with matters of which I am ignorant, that don't come within my ken and a rationale, a reason, and argument and so on, and I can't do that and I'm not in that bracket at all."
"I just love biography, and I'm fascinated by people who have shifted our destinies or our points of view. I prefer fact to fiction."
"At my age the only problem is with remembering names. When I call everyone 'darling', it has damn all to do with passionately adoring them, but I know I'm safe calling them that."
Whether as an actor - in such classics as In Which We Serve, Brighton Rock, The Great Escape, 10 Rillington Place or even Jurassic Park - or producer - Gandhi, Oh! What a Lovely War, Cry Freedom and Shadowlands among many others - Richard Attenborough's career was indeed remarkable. Along with his brother (that "national treasure" David), he was more of an "institution" than merely a showbiz legend. He out-classed them all, and we will miss him.
Richard Samuel Attenborough, Baron Attenborough, CBE (29th August 1923 – 24th August 2014)
Saturday, 23 August 2014
Thursday, 21 August 2014
"Only God makes a diva. No, just call me a plain singer with lots of expression."
Living as she did to 105, she had seen all the "divas" come and go - Callas, Tebaldi, Flagstad, de los Ángeles, Schwarzkopf, Sutherland - and still retained the elegance and poise of a true opera star.
Licia Albanese was an artist dedicated to her craft. From her début at the Met in New York in the 1940s, to her "retirement" in the 70s, she performed 427 performances of numerous roles in 16 operas. Regarded as one of the greatest singers of Verdi and Puccini in the operatic world in her day, seventy-two of these performances were as "Cio-Cio San" in Madama Butterfly. She sang with Toscanini, a great admirer of hers; she founded the the “Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation” dedicated to an operatic education for young people; and received the Medal of Honor for the Arts from President Clinton.
In her obituary today in The Telegraph:
Her voice was not large, or unusually beautiful, and she did not command the ethereal pianissimos of Renata Tebaldi, but Licia Albanese brought emotional warmth and exemplary diction to her roles - and an ability to identify completely with her characters.Here she is in triumphal form in 1953 as Cio-Cio, with a sublime version of Un bel di vedremo:
According to her entry in the International Dictionary of Opera: "Nowhere was [her] mastery of her art more palpable than during the moments that required her to 'expire’ onstage, something she invariably accomplished with the most exquisite expressivity, whether called upon to demonstrate a gradual, quiet fading away (Mimi, La Bohème); a final feverish outburst (Violetta, La Traviata); an intense losing battle to cheat death (Manon Lescaut); or an act of unbearable poignancy such as the suicide of Butterfly.” She studied books about Japan for her characterisation of the tragic heroine and, when preparing for the “consumptive” roles of Mimi and Violetta, even visited a tuberculosis ward.
And here (proving once again that all roads lead to Stritchy) she is as the older "Heidi Schiller" in the 1985 concert production of Sondheim's Follies (at the 4:59 mark)...
RIP Licia Albanese (22nd July 1909 – 15th August 2014)
Wednesday, 20 August 2014
"A well-knotted cravat is the first serious step in a man’s life."
"A modern man has only one accessory to mark his presence - a cravat."
"A cravat, a pipe and a robe define a man’s elegance."
"If Freud had watched his patients’ cravats, he would not have had the need to listen to their dreams."
"A true gent will always wear his cravat well."
"Tell a man you like his cravat and you will see his personality open like a flower."
Countess Mara, American tie designer of the 1940s
"If a person steps on your cravat, you are to blame because you were kneeling."
The broadcasting legend Nicholas Parsons has started a one-man crusade to bring back the cravat as an essential part of modern menswear.
We wholeheartedly support the campaign!
Wednesday, 13 August 2014
“You don’t always win your battles, but it’s good to know you fought”
RIP Lauren Bacall, one of the last of the great icons of Hollywood.
I am very sad.
Lauren Bacall (born Betty Joan Perske, 16th September 1924 – 12th August 2014)
Tuesday, 12 August 2014
"Comedy is acting out optimism."
"God gave you a penis and a brain, and only enough blood to run one at a time."
"When in doubt, go for the dick joke."
“Reality - what a concept!”
"You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it."
RIP Robin Williams (21st July 1951 – 11th August 2014)
Sunday, 10 August 2014
Friday, 8 August 2014
Tuesday, 5 August 2014
From the BBC:
A row has broken out in Italy after a photographer dressed up a famous 2,500-year-old statue in a leopard-skin thong and pink feather boa.It's all been done before, of course.
The Riace Bronzes, of Greek warriors, are two of the nation's greatest archaeological treasures.
Photographer Gerald Bruneau was given permission to shoot the warriors at their museum in Reggio Calabria.
However, work was halted when he was discovered dressing the statues. The museum called the images "terrible".
A local politician has now demanded a judicial inquiry.
In the early 20th century, fabled Italian aristocrat and eccentric Gabriele D’Annunzio had in his boudour a large plaster cast of Michelangelo’s Dying Prisoner which he dressed up with bracelets and swathes of silver fabric.
And then, there's this...
Monday, 4 August 2014
Esteemed author Philip Hoare, writing in today's Guardian, has uncovered some of the sleaze of Soho during the First World War, a time when decadence still prevailed despite the horrors of the slaughter:
...At the most infamous club, the Cave of the Golden Calf in Heddon Street (a back street that would later feature on David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust cover), futurist poets in goatee beards recited avant garde verse, and guests were greeted by a phallic sculpture designed by Eric Gill, to which they bowed in mock idolatry. When Wilfred Owen was on leave in London, he noted that the upper floor of the Piccadilly café in which he sipped tea contained an opium den.How camp!
Nearby, in Half Moon Street, Robbie Ross, Oscar Wilde’s first lover and his literary executor, painted his rooms gold in protest at the war. In the wake of Wilde’s conviction for gross indecency, the war itself presented a new challenge for gay men; Ronald Firbank called it “that awful persecution”. But as the first modern, industrial conflict overturned class and gender barriers, it also opened up the possibility for new sexual identities – even in the mud and mire of the western front.
By advertising in the international press after the war, asking people to send him accounts of their sexual experiences during the conflict, renowned German sexologist, Magnus Hirschfeld (who features in Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin writing) discovered there were transvestites in the trenches with ball gowns in their backpacks. In the archives of the Imperial War Museum, I discovered other personal diaries that detailed same sex behaviour between serving soldiers. Hirschfeld also found accounts of drug clubs, and nudist clubs in London, Paris and Berlin. Even in suburban Clapham, a teenage Noel Coward and Esmee Wynne, his companion/muse, wore “futurist pyjamas”, and swapped clothes to run riot, in drag, in the West End.
A whole new perspective on what is nostalgically perceived as a grim, stolidly patriotic and puritanical era, methinks.
Sunday, 3 August 2014
Excerpt from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries, edited by Rictor Norton:
Henry James met Rupert Brooke (1887–1915) in Cambridge in 1909, when Brooke acknowledged "I pulled my fresh, boyish stunt" and bewitched the novelist. James's last published writing, in response to Brooke's death in the Great War, and shortly before his own, celebrated Brooke's "wondrous, heroic legend."Coincidentally (ironically) on this date, 27 years before the outbreak of World War One - his poems about which remain so lauded - the man described by the Irish poet W. B. Yeats as "the handsomest young man in England" Rupert Brooke was born. Brooke has become a bit of an enigmatic icon of WW1, particularly during these centenary celebrations, dying young as he did on his way to the front at Gallipoli and having written the classic patriotic stanza:
Brooke's war poems were already famous even before he died at Skyros in April 1915, of an infection rather than in battle. Winston Churchill consolidated the icon: "Joyous, fearless, deeply instructed, with classic symmetry of mind and body, he was all that one would wish England's noblest sons to be in days when no sacrifice but the most precious is acceptable, and the most precious is that which is most freely proffered."
His war poetry was popularized precisely because its rosy images denied the realities of war, and ironically drew many young men to join up and go to their own deaths. He was widely celebrated as a golden-haired Apollo - his photograph at age twenty-five is the first modern icon of beauty - and was desired by everyone, male and female, who came within the Bloomsbury magic circle.
If I should die, think only this of me;
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.?
A bohemian in his early years, as all those high-born aesthetes drawn to the "Bloomsbury Set" were, Rupert had affairs with women and men, including Lytton Strachey's brother James (to whom he wrote the most candid letters describing gay sex - one of which is reproduced at Rictor Norton's site [see link above]) and several young men whose acquaintance he made at Rugby School. His sexual obsessions even led him to have a bit of a nervous breakdown. Many historians debate - for their own reasons - whether he was actually homosexual or not, but throughout his short life and to his death Brooke had many close friends who were gay men, and became a "pin-up boy" for many more.
Besides, anyone who can compose a poem of such magnitude as And love has changed to kindliness had an understanding of the human heart in all its complexities that was way beyond his years:
When love has changed to kindliness -
Oh, love, our hungry lips, that press
So tight that Time's an old god's dream
Nodding in heaven, and whisper stuff
Seven million years were not enough
To think on after, make it seem
Less than the breath of children playing,
A blasphemy scarce worth the saying,
A sorry jest, "When love has grown
To kindliness - to kindliness!"...
And yet - the best that either's known
Will change, and wither, and be less,
At last, than comfort, or its own
Remembrance. And when some caress
Tendered in habit (once a flame
All heaven sang out to) wakes the shame
Unworded, in the steady eyes
We'll have, - that day, what shall we do?
Being so noble, kill the two
Who've reached their second-best? Being wise,
Break cleanly off, and get away.
Follow down other windier skies
New lures, alone? Or shall we stay,
Since this is all we've known, content
In the lean twilight of such day,
And not remember, not lament?
That time when all is over, and
Hand never flinches, brushing hand;
And blood lies quiet, for all you're near;
And it's but spoken words we hear,
Where trumpets sang; when the mere skies
Are stranger and nobler than your eyes;
And flesh is flesh, was flame before;
And infinite hungers leap no more
In the chance swaying of your dress;
And love has changed to kindliness.
Rupert Chawner Brooke (3rd August 1887 – 23rd April 1915)
Our previous entry for Rupert Brooke.