OBITUARY



LESLIE BRICUSSE (1931-2021)

The prolific composer and lyricist Leslie Bricusse has died at the age of 90. During a career spanning nearly 70 years he wrote numerous songs and shows, some on his own and some in collaboration with others, notably Anthony Newley. Born in Pinner, NW London, he was educated at University College School, Hampstead and Cambridge University. He appeared in revue with Beatrice Lillie and scored his first hit in 1954 with Out Of Town, recorded by Max Bygraves and adopted as the signature tune for a popular Southern Television series.

In 1960, under a pseudonym, he collaborated with Lonnie Donegan on My Old Man's A Dustman, which reached Number One in the UK pop charts. Similar success followed with My Kind Of Girl, recorded by Matt Monro in 1961; in due course it was covered separately by all three members of The Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr). Sammy Davis was to become a close personal friend.

Bricusse's collaboration with Anthony Newley began in 1961 with Stop The World I Want To Get Off, which was a hit both in the West End and on Broadway and included the songs Once In A Lifetime and What Kind Of Fool Am I? Other Newley collaborations for the stage included The Roar Of The Greasepaint, The Smell Of The Crowd (1965) and The Good Old Bad Old Days (1972).

Bricusse wrote the lyrics for the Charles Dickens-inspired Pickwick starring Harry Secombe in 1963, with music by Cyril Ornadel. In 1964 he and Anthony Newley provided the lyrics to John Barry's signature tune for the James Bond film Goldfinger, starring Sean Connery.

In 1967 he worked with John Barry again (this time on his own) with the words for another Bond picture You Only Live Twice, performed by Nancy Sinatra, as well as with Henry Mancini on the theme song for Two For The Road, starring Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn.

At this time he was struggling to complete the score for 20th Century Fox's Doctor Dolittle starring the irascible and uncooperative Rex Harrison, who did not appreciate the presence of Anthony Newley in a supporting role. The film was a financial disaster but won Bricusse his first Oscar for Talk To The Animals. Sammy Davis Jr and Bobby Darin both recorded the entire score and Dr Doolittle was later successfully turned into a stage musical.

Another film Goodbye Mr Chips (1969), with Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark, was also a flop but the score, which included one of the composer's favourite songs You And I, was nominated for several awards. Scrooge (another Dickens adaptation) followed in 1970, with Albert Finney in the title role. It too became a stage musical, starring Anthony Newley. Newley and Bricusse also collaborated on the score for the hugely successful film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971).

Bricusse renewed his partnership with Henry Mancini for the film Victor, Victoria starring Julie Andrews. Released in 1982 it won an Oscar for Best Music Score. It was subsequently adapted for the stage and opened on Broadway in 1995, with Julie Andrews reprising her film role and additional songs supplied by Frank Wildhorn (with whom Bricusse had collaborated on Jekyll & Hyde The Musical in 1990). It has yet to be staged in London.

There were many other projects that for some reason or other never came to fruition and Bricusse's trials and tribulations are amusingly recounted in Pure Imagination, his 500-page autobiography published in 2015.

Leslie Bricusse was inducted into the American Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 1989: only the fourth Englishman to be so honoured, following in the steps of Noel Coward, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. He mixed with Hollywood royalty, yet he has never been a household name and was often underrated in his own country. He married the actress Yvonne Romain in 1958 and she was with him when he died on 19th October.


Anthony Wills
October 2021


(A Musical Theatre Melodies broadcast from Inner FM)



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