Sir John Betjeman & Gracie Fields Parkinson


Sir John Betjeman & Gracie Fields

Another chance to see the 1977 Michael Parkinson interview with Sir John Betjeman and Gracie Fields.


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Transcript


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APPLAUSE

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Evening and welcome.

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Tonight is a very special occasion because I have

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as my guests two very distinctive and distinguished people.

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One is someone who is arguably the greatest entertainer

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this country has ever produced and she is Gracie Fields.

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The other, my first guest,

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is also arguably the most entertainingly paradoxical figure

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in Britain today. He was once described, and I quote,

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as, "a popular poet who has the respect of unpopular poets."

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He's a bestselling poet

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in an age when poetry is not much bought or read,

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a man who regrets much that has happened to the English way of life

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and yet who's celebrated the nature

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of the modern existence that he deplores.

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As another poet once said of him, and I quote again,

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"He's always been easy to underestimate."

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Lately his career has entered new territory with a series of records

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in which his verse is set to music.

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The tunes are by Jim Parker,

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the words and the performance are by our Poet Laureate,

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Sir John Betjeman.

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APPLAUSE

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THEY PLAY IN A TRAD JAZZ STYLE

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How straight it flew, how long it flew,

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It clear'd the rutty track,

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And soaring, disappeared from view

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Beyond the bunker's back.

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A glorious, sailing, bounding drive

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That made me glad I was alive.

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And down the fairway, straight and long

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It glowed a lonely white

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I played an iron sure and strong

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And clipp'd it out of sight,

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And spite of grassy banks between

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I knew I'd find it on the green.

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And so I did. It lay content

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Two paces from the pin

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A steady putt and then it went

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Oh, most securely in

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The very turf rejoiced to see

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That quite unprecedented three.

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Ah! Seaweed smells from sandy caves

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And thyme and mist in whiffs,

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Incoming tide, Atlantic waves

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Slapping the sunny cliffs,

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Larksong and sea sounds in the air

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And splendour, splendour everywhere.

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APPLAUSE

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That was my first guest tonight, Sir John Betjeman.

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APPLAUSE

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As someone newly taken up golf myself I love that poem, actually.

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Very kind of you. Smashing poem.

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Are you much of a golfer yourself?

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Very bad.

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I used to be better than I am now but I was never really good.

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Yes. And people, ahem, I hoped,

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weren't looking when I did the bad shots.

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They never were when I did the good ones.

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LAUGHTER

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Yes, I think every golfer could say that, Sir John, yes.

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What about this fusion now, of your poetry and music?

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You've had quite a staggering success, actually.

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You're a best selling long-playing record artist now,

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because I think Banana Blush, I think that sold about 20,000 copies,

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which is very good indeed.

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I wonder how easy you felt in this situation?

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I was very pleased and delighted when Jim Parker,

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whom I hadn't met but I met through the Barrow Poets,

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wanted to do these, set these things to music.

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And he's a very quiet, modest man.

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And his music seemed to catch the mood of the verse.

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I was staggered and delighted.

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How musical are you, in fact?

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Can't sing a note in tune.

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LAUGHTER

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I know about rhythm, I think, and the sound of words.

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I'm not really musical,

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and I was always told by my parents I wasn't musical because I couldn't

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sing in tune. Was there any music in your family, though, at all?

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Oh, I had forebears who were musical, yes.

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There was an old thing called Gilbert Betjeman

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who was a great friend of Grieg,

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and was something to do with Covent Garden,

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I think he was first violin,

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and he introduced Wagner to Glasgow first.

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And when the music started, the audience began to laugh.

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So Gilbert Betjeman tapped his baton

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on the whatever it is, and said,

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"Are you going to listen to this music or are you not?

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"Because if you don't, I shall go home and enjoy a whisky toddy."

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LAUGHTER

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And they stayed? They did, yes.

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Are you an admirer of lyricists, of lyric writers?

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Very much. And particularly... Who's your favourite?

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Lorenz Hart is my favourite.

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All-time favourite, I think.

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Didn't he write My Heart Stood Still?

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I think he did. "I took one look at you."

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Oh, he's like Burns, he's frightfully good.

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Yes. Do you think it stands up as poetry,

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some of the best lyric writers? I'm sure it does.

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And I think some of the best is Cole Porter. Yes.

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Once described to me by another lyric writer as being both

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Gilbert and Sullivan, because he wrote the music...

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The music and the words, did he?

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Yes. What's the difference, do you think, Sir John,

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I mean, why did you never write a lyric for a song?

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Because several other very good writers have done that.

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PG Wodehouse, for instance, he wrote lyrics for songs, didn't he?

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Did he? That was clever of him.

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LAUGHTER

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I can't, er, get the tune in my head

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to write the words that'll go with it.

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I'd have to write the words first and trust to luck,

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as with Jim Parker, that the right tune had come along.

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Tell me about writing poetry.

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As you get older, is it easier or harder to write poetry?

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Harder and slower.

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A very kind question.

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LAUGHTER

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Why, why is it a kind question?

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Because it doesn't get easier.

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It doesn't? I find I do it,

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and I find I only think of something in the morning when I wake up,

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a line occurs.

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Then if I've got a pencil near, I write it down,

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and then I look at it at breakfast and it's awful.

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And I hope for the best

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and that it'll gradually be added to during the day.

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Walking about, I find the best way of writing poetry.

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Was it ever easy for you, though?

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Yes. It was? I longed to do it all the time.

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And I felt every time I didn't write a poem

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when I had a bit of spare time I was wasting my time.

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Really? And the words literally flowed in those days?

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Yes. And nothing made time rush by quicker

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than sitting down with a poem in mind and writing it out,

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and part of the pleasure is writing it on the page,

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and seeing how it looks.

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And then reciting it again and again,

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then trying it out on a friend, whom you can trust,

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and then you can tell whether they like it or not.

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If they cough, you know it's a bore. and it won't work.

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LAUGHTER

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And what do you do on those occasions?

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You didn't publish the poem, or do you rewrite it, or what?

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Well, I had a very kind publisher who I knew at Oxford.

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I think everything is done by graft.

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And, if I hadn't known this man I would never have been printed,

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I don't expect. Mm, mm.

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When in fact did you last write a poem,

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or attempt to write a poem in recent weeks?

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About three days ago I was trying to do one

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on Peterborough Cathedral,

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an un-regarded, beautiful building which has got in it

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a chapel called St Sprite

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and I imagine that's the Holy Spirit.

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And it's such a nice name for a chapel,

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I thought I'd try and do a thing about the Sprite

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in Peterborough Cathedral.

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I got the first words out, and have now lost them.

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You've lost them. Mislaid them?

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Mislaid them somewhere.

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Can't you remember them? No.

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LAUGHTER

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So what are you going to do? Hope I'll find them again.

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LAUGHTER

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You're not going to sit down and rewrite them, no.

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What, what, what moves you to write poetry nowadays?

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What stirs you to write poetry?

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Places, faces, eyes.

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Eyes? Eyes.

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Why? I think people speak through their eyes.

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And you can catch somebody's eye

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and that's how you talk, very often.

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I think they're our antennae.

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Yes.

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So do you literally go round looking at people's eyes

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and waiting for inspiration?

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Well, not too pointedly, or you'll get into trouble.

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LAUGHTER

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Of course you've always been moved in your poetry to write about

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You, of course, were many things before you were a poet, Sir John.

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You've had some remarkable jobs.

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You did all the things that James Thurber said he never did

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before he became a writer.

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You were once, you were what, a copywriter for Shell, weren't you?

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Yes, indeed. I mean, how disastrous effect did that have on your spirit?

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Or perhaps it didn't? I didn't like it very much.

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I started, though, as a journalist.

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As you did. Yes.

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And it teaches one to write things simply and not like, um,

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government department forms.

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Yes.

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It's a very good training, it's a good training in economy, isn't it?

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Yes. Yes.

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Now, still on the advertising, I mean,

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advertising slogans and phrases and this sort of thing

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have always been a part of your poetry, haven't they?

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You've always stuck them in there. What's the fascination you have?

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I think sitting in the underground seeing things like,

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"Whatever her party, the sweet young thing,

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"it's certain she'll vote for a Bravington ring."

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LAUGHTER

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"He was bashful, she was shy,

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"a Bravington ring and the cloud passed by."

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LAUGHTER

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And, er, they didn't pay me - that suddenly occurred to me, that.

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LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE

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Do they still exist?

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Bravingtons? Yes. I think they do, yes, I think they do.

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And was it Virol you used to...?

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"Virol. Anaemic girls need it," do you know?

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LAUGHTER

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And iron jelloids.

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LAUGHTER

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Mazawattee Tea, all those things, I think they are most beautiful names.

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Yes, Mazawattee Tea is beautiful, isn't it?

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You really couldn't invent that as a writer, could you?

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Which of all the jobs you did, Sir John,

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on your way to becoming a poet, did you enjoy the most,

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in the sense that it inspired the most poetry for you later on?

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Undoubtedly being a schoolmaster.

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Because it was being a single act on the stage,

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having to keep everybody interested,

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whatever their boredom was,

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and you had to entertain and instruct.

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And boys are very decent to talk to, young boys,

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when they're sitting in a class. You can feel when they're bored.

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You can feel when they respond.

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And I think it's a splendid training, being a schoolmaster.

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But you're talking as if... I mean, I can see,

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what you explained to me, actually,

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a splendid training for a performer, rather than a poet.

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I see that now, as I've always admired music hall above everything

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because there, the music hall artiste has to establish himself

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in the first few seconds,

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otherwise he's a flop.

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Yes. What was the first poem you ever wrote?

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Can you remember?

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Yes, it was appallingly bad.

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It was a crib of Up The Airy Mountain,

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a thing we all had to learn,

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"Down the rushy glen.

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"When the moors are pink with heather,

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"When the sky is as blue as the sea,

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"Marching all together," that seemed all right,

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then the last line is a complete failure.

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"Come fairy folk so we."

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LAUGHTER

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It's not that bad for a first effort.

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Well...

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It's the last line that counts in every poem, I think.

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The last line. Yes, the last line.

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That's interesting. Like the last act in a variety,

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or the last but one act, isn't it, in variety?

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The last act has to be the one that they remember,

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so must the last line be.

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Yes, it's like the punchline at the end of the story.

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Yes.

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You've also written an awful lot, and beautifully,

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some of the most evocative of your poems are about your childhood.

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Why is this? What kind of childhood was it?

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Comfortable. I had kind parents, who, on the whole, let me alone.

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But they sometimes left me with nannies who weren't all that jolly

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and were rather alarming but I've always found I liked my own company

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better than anyone else's, except the children next door in Highgate,

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they were marvellous. You were a solitary child, were you?

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On the whole, yes, I was an only child. Yes.

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And it was an upper-middle-class upbringing that you had.

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Yes, I suppose middle-class, more than upper-middle-class, yes.

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We're talking of course about 60, 70 years ago, aren't we?

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Talking about an Edwardian upbringing. Yes, I'm 71, yes.

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Now, how strict was that upbringing?

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Oh, getting to school in time,

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running up West Hill, feeling sick with breakfast inside one,

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coming home...

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..wondering what mood my father would be in,

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or my mother,

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and then...

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Often having to eat things I didn't like at all, can you remember that?

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Hating fish, I remember.

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And finding it very chewy.

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But the theory was that you ate what was put in front of you.

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You weren't allowed to pick and choose. Oh, yeah, "Finish it up."

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The most awful idea, isn't it? That's right, yes.

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I came across a line of yours which interested me, actually,

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about your childhood, which I'd like to talk to you about.

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You're talking about, you used to go shooting.

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Yes, with my father, yes.

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And the line is, "How many times

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"must I explain the way a boy should hold a gun?"

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That's your father talking to you.

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"I recollect my father's pain at such a milksop of a son."

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That's right. He wanted me to be open air, with nice, greased hair,

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and a happy smile, and very keen on sport.

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I was no good at any of it.

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LAUGHTER

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Did you try hard?

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To fulfil his ambition in those respects?

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Not very. I think shooting, I couldn't bear.

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I didn't like killing the things,

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and then I was always missing, and wounding the unfortunate bird.

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Yes. Or rabbit.

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Ooh, it was horrible. Yes.

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What about the sort of moralistic attitudes prevalent in those days?

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Because in Edwardian times things were proper, weren't they?

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Oh. yes.

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And I wasn't, I thought... I didn't know anything about sex.

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You didn't? No, I thought it was...

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I didn't know what it was.

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Really? I mean, what age are we talking about now?

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Up until what age didn't you know about it?

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I don't think I found out about it until I went to my public school.

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I used to be told vague things about plants,

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and didn't know what they were talking about.

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LAUGHTER

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And, er, then I thought that it was something very wicked

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when I found out about it.

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I thought if there was a sin against the Holy Ghost then it was sex.

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Really? I really thought that.

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Yes. And what about, I mean,

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did you have crushes, though, when you were...?

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Oh, Lord, yes. Endless crushes.

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The purest love of one's life is before one's had any sex.

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And when one doesn't know what it is, this passion, outgoing passion,

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I'd do anything for the person I loved.

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It didn't matter whether it was girl or boy.

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My first people I noticed were girls.

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And it moved on, of course.

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I don't believe that one's indifferent to either sex.

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Yes, yes, but you were more strongly towards the girls, were you?

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I did, yes, on the whole. In the end, you got it sorted out.

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LAUGHTER

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I'm delighted about that, Sir John.

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LAUGHTER

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Did you, in fact, did you, when you had these crushes,

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did it move you to write poetry?

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Yes.

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Deeper feelings than I've ever felt,

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never felt so sick with love as when I was in my teens.

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And indeed at the age of about seven, I think,

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was the first love I felt. Really? The most beautiful girl,

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with gold hair, called Peggy Purey-Cust.

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LAUGHTER

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Called Peggy...? Purey-Cust.

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She lived in West Hill, Highgate, and she had blue eyes and gold hair,

0:19:310:19:35

and a slightly turned-up nose, and a sort of down over her cheeks,

0:19:350:19:39

so that ever since then,

0:19:390:19:43

people I've loved have had to look slightly like Peggy Purey-Cust.

0:19:430:19:47

LAUGHTER

0:19:470:19:50

Amazing. And everyone you've met like that

0:19:500:19:52

have you fallen in love with and written a poem about?

0:19:520:19:55

Generally, yes. LAUGHTER

0:19:550:19:57

You've written, of course, there's a specific kind of Betjeman woman,

0:19:570:19:59

isn't there, you've celebrated it in your poems?

0:19:590:20:03

I mean, she's been on the whole, is she not,

0:20:030:20:05

a rather strapping-thighed lady?

0:20:050:20:07

I like athletic girls, yes.

0:20:070:20:08

LAUGHTER

0:20:080:20:10

Yes.

0:20:100:20:13

There's a lovely poem of yours, The Licorice Fields of Pontefract.

0:20:130:20:16

Oh, yes, I remember who she was, too.

0:20:160:20:18

Who was she?

0:20:180:20:19

LAUGHTER Well, she was a Berkshire girl

0:20:190:20:21

with red hair and brown eyes and freckles,

0:20:210:20:24

and a rather sulky expression.

0:20:240:20:28

Oh, she was beautiful. Really? Still is, yes.

0:20:280:20:31

And still is, I see.

0:20:310:20:32

Did they respond to your...?

0:20:320:20:36

Well, that was that talking with the eyes,

0:20:360:20:39

I never said anything in that instance -

0:20:390:20:41

I just hoped, but nothing happened.

0:20:410:20:43

Nothing happened?

0:20:430:20:44

LAUGHTER

0:20:440:20:48

Let's talk now about another aspect of your life, Sir John,

0:20:480:20:51

this thing you touched on before,

0:20:510:20:53

the thing about loving all things music hall and this sort of thing.

0:20:530:20:56

When did that date from, your love of the theatre?

0:20:560:21:00

I think when we lived in Chelsea,

0:21:000:21:04

and I used to go to the Chelsea Palace,

0:21:040:21:06

and they had Lew Lake on then,

0:21:060:21:09

and old-fashioned comedians,

0:21:090:21:12

and then there was a marvellous time when I was taken to the Palladium

0:21:120:21:16

and saw Marie Lloyd, and heard her sing,

0:21:160:21:20

"I'm one of the ruins that Cromwell knocked about a bit," and she was

0:21:200:21:23

very old then, but I could see, even then here was somebody,

0:21:230:21:26

a huge personality.

0:21:260:21:30

Yes. Who are your favourites at that time,

0:21:300:21:33

who were the ones you really went out of your way to go and see?

0:21:330:21:37

Still I'd go miles, if he were alive, to see Max Miller.

0:21:370:21:41

I think he was funnier than anyone I ever saw.

0:21:410:21:45

Though George Robey made me cry with laughter, and so did...

0:21:450:21:51

Why, there were so many. Wilkie Bard, do you remember?

0:21:510:21:54

"I want to sing in opera, I've got that kind of voice.

0:21:540:21:59

"Yes, yes. Signor Caruso told me I ought to do so."

0:21:590:22:02

Awfully good words, I wonder who wrote them.

0:22:020:22:04

I don't know, somebody we've never heard of, possibly.

0:22:040:22:06

Yes. Why, why this particular regard that you have for comedians?

0:22:060:22:09

For blue-nosed comedians, too, I mean, let's face it, Max Miller,

0:22:090:22:12

I mean, a cheeky chappie. Oh, he was wonderful.

0:22:120:22:15

Was he? Oh, my goodness, the timing.

0:22:150:22:19

That record, Max at the Met,

0:22:190:22:23

and incidentally it was the favourite record of TS Eliot,

0:22:230:22:25

the poet.

0:22:250:22:27

He adored it, yes.

0:22:270:22:29

How do you know that? Because he played it to me.

0:22:290:22:31

Really?

0:22:310:22:32

LAUGHTER

0:22:320:22:34

The thought of TS Eliot playing Max Miller at the Met to you, I mean,

0:22:340:22:38

that's absolutely mind-blowing.

0:22:380:22:39

How extraordinary. What did Eliot like about him?

0:22:390:22:42

Oh, he liked the timing and the words.

0:22:420:22:45

And that's to do with the poet's sense of rhythm,

0:22:450:22:47

of meter and this sort of thing?

0:22:470:22:49

Yes, and his being in touch with the audience was a lovely thing.

0:22:490:22:52

You can tell when people are listening,

0:22:520:22:54

you can tell when they're bored, by a sort of feel.

0:22:540:22:57

Yes. And Max had it superbly.

0:22:570:22:58

The Met at Edgware Road, do you remember it?

0:22:580:23:01

It was wonderful. No.

0:23:010:23:03

Oh, there was a swish of the bar doors at the back

0:23:030:23:06

when it was a boring bit.

0:23:060:23:07

LAUGHTER

0:23:070:23:13

Yes. That kind of life,

0:23:130:23:16

that kind of theatre's gone now, sadly, hasn't it?

0:23:160:23:18

Oh, it's so sad, it was wonderful.

0:23:180:23:20

Isn't it still going on in the north?

0:23:200:23:22

I believe it is. It is, but in clubs, and not in theatres.

0:23:220:23:25

I've never been to a club.

0:23:250:23:26

Oh, you must go along, you'd enjoy it, actually.

0:23:260:23:28

It's not the same kind of thing at all.

0:23:280:23:31

I mean, you don't have the promenade at the back,

0:23:310:23:33

you don't have the bar at the back,

0:23:330:23:35

and the drinks are there in the audience, you know? Yes.

0:23:350:23:38

And the likelihood is that the audience gets drunk

0:23:380:23:40

more quickly that way, but it still happens there,

0:23:400:23:42

and you still get very, very big audiences there.

0:23:420:23:44

Do people stop talking to one another, if the act is good?

0:23:440:23:48

It depends how good the act is. I mean, they can get nasty,

0:23:480:23:52

I mean, as it was, I think, I imagine,

0:23:520:23:54

in the days of music hall when you were there.

0:23:540:23:56

In the old music hall, I do remember people getting the bird,

0:23:560:23:59

but only twice, I think.

0:23:590:24:02

And then it was very painful, awful, agonising.

0:24:020:24:07

Yes, yes. Sir John, can we now talk a little bit more just about

0:24:070:24:11

your poetry? Because you're going to read another poem for us

0:24:110:24:14

that you've set to music, or Jim Parker set to music,

0:24:140:24:16

and this is called A Russell Flint.

0:24:160:24:22

Now, what's the story behind A Russell Flint?

0:24:220:24:28

I wanted a secretary,

0:24:280:24:31

and I put in an advertisement when I was with a paper called

0:24:310:24:35

Time and Tide, edited by Lady Rhondda.

0:24:350:24:36

I once worked for that.

0:24:360:24:38

Did you? Yes, I work for that, but a long time after Lady Rhondda,

0:24:380:24:41

when it was run by a very nice man called John Thompson,

0:24:410:24:44

was the editor of the time.

0:24:440:24:45

Oh, well, you know how those things are very intimate.

0:24:450:24:47

I used to write under assumed names,

0:24:470:24:49

because I was working for another paper at the time.

0:24:490:24:52

I had two names, it's true, I was blacklegging.

0:24:520:24:54

When I wrote about the North, I was called Jack Braithwaite...

0:24:540:24:57

THEY LAUGH

0:24:570:25:02

..and when I sent stuff from abroad, I was called Warren Brady, Jr.

0:25:020:25:05

LAUGHTER

0:25:050:25:07

Jack or Warren, how marvellous!

0:25:070:25:08

I'm sorry, I interrupted you. No, no, I'd forgotten about it!

0:25:080:25:11

LAUGHTER

0:25:110:25:14

You were talking about, you were working on Time and Tide,

0:25:140:25:16

and you wanted a secretary. I wanted a secretary,

0:25:160:25:19

and somebody came and replied to an advertisement,

0:25:190:25:23

and she was so staggeringly beautiful, like Peggy Purey-Cust...

0:25:230:25:26

LAUGHTER

0:25:260:25:30

..that I was rather worried, for there I was, a married man,

0:25:300:25:33

and happily married, and I thought,

0:25:330:25:35

"I'd better not employ her,"

0:25:350:25:39

the temptations to touch and kiss were too great.

0:25:390:25:45

And I went to Lady Rhondda, and said,

0:25:450:25:47

"What do you think I ought to do?" And she said,

0:25:470:25:49

"Oh, always have the good-looking ones, they're much nicer

0:25:490:25:52

"than anybody else, because people have been nice to them."

0:25:520:25:54

MICHAEL LAUGHS

0:25:540:25:56

That's a lovely thing to say, isn't it?

0:25:560:25:58

And it was very good advice, it was a great success.

0:25:580:26:01

It was a great success, was it?

0:26:010:26:02

Yes, and now she's married and has children.

0:26:020:26:04

She lives in Stratford-on-Avon.

0:26:040:26:07

We have in fact a photograph of her, don't we?

0:26:070:26:09

Have we got...? There she is, look, she is beautiful too, isn't she?

0:26:090:26:12

Freckly Jill, yes.

0:26:120:26:13

Freckly Jill!

0:26:130:26:17

In fact, then, this poem, then, that we're going to hear now,

0:26:170:26:21

is about that lady, it's called A Russell Flint, as I said,

0:26:210:26:24

and it's Sir John Betjeman reading it,

0:26:240:26:26

and the music put to the words is by Jim Parker.

0:26:260:26:31

THEY PLAY REFLECTIVE MUSIC

0:26:340:26:44

I could not speak for amazement at your beauty,

0:27:010:27:06

As you came down the Garrick stair,

0:27:060:27:11

Grey-green eyes like the turbulent Atlantic,

0:27:110:27:13

And floppy schoolgirl hair.

0:27:130:27:17

I could see you in a Sussex teashop,

0:27:170:27:21

Dressed in peasant weave and brogues,

0:27:210:27:25

Turning over as firelight shone on brassware,

0:27:250:27:29

Last year's tea-stained Vogues.

0:27:290:27:35

I could see you as a large-eyed student,

0:27:350:27:39

Frowning as you tried to learn,

0:27:390:27:43

Or head flung back, the confident girl prefect,

0:27:430:27:48

Thrillingly kind and stern.

0:27:480:27:52

I could not speak for amazement at your beauty,

0:27:520:27:57

Yet when you spoke to me,

0:27:570:28:00

You were calm and gentle as a rock pool,

0:28:000:28:04

Waiting, warm, for the sea.

0:28:040:28:08

Wave on wave, I plunged in them to meet you,

0:28:080:28:12

In wave on wave I drown,

0:28:120:28:17

Calm rock pool, on the shore of my security,

0:28:170:28:20

Hold me when the tide goes down.

0:28:200:28:29

STEEL GUITAR PLAYS

0:28:300:28:40

APPLAUSE

0:29:410:29:51

And that's from a second LP you made, called Late Flowering Love.

0:30:000:30:03

You're getting quite a recording star, you know, Sir John,

0:30:030:30:06

you really are. Oh, thank you very much.

0:30:060:30:08

You'll be on Top Of The Pops next! LAUGHTER

0:30:080:30:10

Sir John Betjeman, for the moment, thank you very much indeed.

0:30:100:30:13

Sir John Betjeman.

0:30:130:30:14

APPLAUSE

0:30:140:30:24

Well, my next guest is one of the legendary figures

0:30:270:30:29

of British show business.

0:30:290:30:31

She was born above a fish and chip shop in Rochdale,

0:30:310:30:33

went on to become the nation's sweetheart on stage, on record,

0:30:330:30:36

in films and radio.

0:30:360:30:38

Indeed, Parliament once adjourned because she was about to broadcast.

0:30:380:30:41

She was once described as

0:30:410:30:43

the greatest entertainer this country has ever produced,

0:30:430:30:45

and if that assessment causes a few raised eyebrows,

0:30:450:30:47

all I can say is that her doubters

0:30:470:30:49

never saw and heard Grace Stansfield of Rochdale,

0:30:490:30:52

who became to millions simply "Our Gracie", in movies like this.

0:30:520:30:57

# Sing as we go and let the world go by

0:30:570:31:01

# Singing a song, we march along the highway

0:31:010:31:04

# Say goodbye to sorrow

0:31:040:31:07

# There's always tomorrow to think of today

0:31:070:31:11

# Sing as we go although the skies are grey

0:31:110:31:15

# Beggar or king, you've got to sing a gay tune

0:31:150:31:19

# A song and a smile make it right worthwhile

0:31:190:31:21

# So sing

0:31:210:31:25

# As we go along. #

0:31:250:31:35

Hey, who are you shoving?!

0:31:350:31:38

Ladies and gentlemen, Gracie Fields.

0:31:380:31:40

APPLAUSE

0:31:400:31:43

MUSIC: Sally

0:31:430:31:53

APPLAUSE

0:31:550:32:05

Thank you.

0:32:160:32:17

I know I'm not Peggy.

0:32:170:32:19

LAUGHTER

0:32:190:32:22

You're not the type, are you, love?

0:32:220:32:23

You don't know! No, that's for sure, yeah.

0:32:230:32:26

I tell you what, you're a remarkable lady, you really are.

0:32:260:32:29

You're 79 now, aren't you? Pushing 80.

0:32:290:32:32

Pushing 80, yeah, amazing. Just about three months off, isn't it?

0:32:320:32:34

It's ridiculous. It's too long, you shouldn't live that long, I think...

0:32:340:32:37

LAUGHTER

0:32:370:32:41

Just watching that there, I was talking to Sir John, actually,

0:32:410:32:43

about that clip we saw there,

0:32:430:32:45

it was the most extraordinary voice you had,

0:32:450:32:47

wasn't it? It was a really remarkable instrument.

0:32:470:32:51

I know, excuse me taking this off, I put it on for swank, so I'll just...

0:32:510:32:55

You're stopping, are you? Yeah, I decided to stop.

0:32:550:32:57

Very good. Thank you very much.

0:32:570:32:59

Yeah. Well, I did have, I realise, I was playing a few of my old records.

0:32:590:33:03

You know, I was making them so many years and years ago,

0:33:030:33:09

and working so hard, in the theatre all the time,

0:33:090:33:11

doing charity shows in the daytime, I never listened to a record.

0:33:110:33:14

Only when I just passed it,

0:33:140:33:16

when I made it, they'd say, "Is that all right?"

0:33:160:33:19

"That's all right, I've done it," and I'd out the place.

0:33:190:33:22

And I wouldn't listen to 'em.

0:33:220:33:23

And recently I was listening to some with my husband,

0:33:230:33:26

who was re-recording them and trying to bring out the sound of today,

0:33:260:33:29

and I says, "You know, I was a bit extraordinary,

0:33:290:33:32

"I've never heard a voice like that!"

0:33:320:33:36

LAUGHTER

0:33:360:33:39

I was really, I couldn't believe it, that I'd made those noises,

0:33:390:33:42

it was just incredible. It was an operatic voice, wasn't it?

0:33:420:33:44

I mean, you could have been an opera singer. It was, absolutely, yes.

0:33:440:33:47

You never wanted to be an opera singer? Well, my mother

0:33:470:33:50

wanted me to be an opera singer but we couldn't afford it.

0:33:500:33:53

No. It cost money to have lessons and we needed the brass.

0:33:530:33:56

Yes. So I did whatever we could do,

0:33:560:33:59

I was doing high kicks and acrobats and what have you.

0:33:590:34:03

But was it, really, I mean we're talking about 79 years ago now,

0:34:030:34:06

in Rochdale, which in those days was...

0:34:060:34:08

A mill town.

0:34:080:34:11

A mill town.

0:34:110:34:14

I mean, was it really a sort of clogs and shawl existence?

0:34:140:34:16

Oh, yes, I've got the marks today on me ankles

0:34:160:34:19

where me clogs used to just catch me ankles.

0:34:190:34:21

You haven't? Yes, I have.

0:34:210:34:23

Where? I'll show you, there's lines round there...

0:34:230:34:27

You just wanted to look at me legs!

0:34:270:34:29

LAUGHTER

0:34:290:34:32

Sir John wanted to have a look, too.

0:34:320:34:35

Yeah! Yeah, I wore clogs and shawls.

0:34:350:34:38

It used to be awful in the winter time when it was snowing,

0:34:380:34:41

because my mother sent me to the factory.

0:34:410:34:43

I was on the stage, the first time, when I was seven years old,

0:34:430:34:47

singing a singing competition.

0:34:470:34:49

My mother always tried to find a house,

0:34:490:34:52

if we didn't have one big enough,

0:34:520:34:55

or we were rich enough to have one big enough to rent a couple of rooms

0:34:550:34:59

to the theatricals that came to the old circus in Rochdale of that time.

0:34:590:35:03

And she'd find another house that would face a house

0:35:030:35:07

where they did take in professionals,

0:35:070:35:10

and I used to sing up a little alleyway

0:35:100:35:13

just by the side of our house.

0:35:130:35:16

So this lady heard me singing, one of them, a woman called Lily Turner,

0:35:160:35:20

and she said, "I want to put Grace into this singing competition."

0:35:200:35:23

So she taught me to sing the song.

0:35:230:35:26

I remember it, half of it, today, but anyway.

0:35:260:35:31

What was the song? I was very...

0:35:310:35:34

It was called What Makes Me Love You As I Do.

0:35:340:35:37

What Makes Me Love You As I Do.

0:35:370:35:40

But I couldn't say "what".

0:35:400:35:44

I would sing...

0:35:440:35:46

# Wot makes me love you as I do

0:35:460:35:49

# Wot makes me think you're so divine, wot makes me long to...? #

0:35:490:35:55

She said, "You must say, 'What, what!'"

0:35:550:35:58

# Wot makes me love you as I do...? #

0:35:580:36:02

And this went on till she was going crazy.

0:36:020:36:06

So she said, "You must sing 'q-what.'"

0:36:060:36:09

So I sang, # Q-what makes me love you as I do,

0:36:090:36:12

# Q-what makes me think you're so divine,

0:36:120:36:15

# Q-what makes me long to...? #

0:36:150:36:18

And my q-whats won the competition, dear.

0:36:180:36:22

Then you went to work with Lily Turner, this same woman, didn't you?

0:36:220:36:25

Yeah, I went to sing to her a song from the gallery.

0:36:250:36:28

She used to wear sort of short velvet short pants,

0:36:280:36:30

with sort of a manly coat,

0:36:300:36:33

it was a funny sort of dress, now you think of it back.

0:36:330:36:37

She used to sing this song with such feeling, and I was singing it,

0:36:370:36:41

again in a chorus, from the gallery.

0:36:410:36:45

While I was singing it there was an old lady one time got very annoyed.

0:36:450:36:50

She wanted to listen to the lady down on the stage and this child was

0:36:500:36:54

singing this chorus, was annoying her,

0:36:540:36:57

so she started to bash me with her umbrella.

0:36:570:37:00

Well, I started crying

0:37:000:37:04

and all that, so she wondered what was happening.

0:37:040:37:06

So after then she put me on the stage to sing it.

0:37:060:37:09

Yes. And then slowly I started doing a little single act around Rochdale,

0:37:090:37:12

Castleton, Norden, any type of party that was going on, I was going.

0:37:120:37:18

What kind of, what kind of venues were you playing, Gracie,

0:37:180:37:21

in those days? Were they clubs or musicals, or what?

0:37:210:37:25

No, no, no, they were sort of little charity shows

0:37:250:37:28

that people were putting on all around Rochdale.

0:37:280:37:31

I called myself the tuppenny pie queen because they used to pay me

0:37:310:37:35

in tuppenny pies, meat pies they used to sell for tuppence.

0:37:350:37:38

They're about ten and tuppence now, I think!

0:37:380:37:40

LAUGHTER

0:37:400:37:43

I ate so many tuppenny pies and took 'em home in me umbrella,

0:37:430:37:46

where I could pinch a few,

0:37:460:37:47

and took 'em home to the family so we all had tuppenny pies to death

0:37:470:37:51

when there was another concert on somewhere.

0:37:510:37:53

What about school at this time?

0:37:530:37:54

My mother didn't think school was necessary.

0:37:540:37:57

She's probably right, what a very wise woman.

0:37:570:38:00

She kept me home and she said, "Oh, you'll find out when you grow up,

0:38:000:38:04

"it'll all happen to you".

0:38:040:38:06

But she had to go to school because they paid two pennies a week,

0:38:060:38:10

which must have been very expensive when she was a child.

0:38:100:38:14

But she didn't think it was necessary as far as I was concerned.

0:38:140:38:17

I used to stay home while Mother used to go out and take laundry in

0:38:170:38:21

or go and do a day's work at somebody's fine house.

0:38:210:38:24

After I'd finished school, sometimes, I'd go from my school,

0:38:240:38:28

find out where she'd gone and eat all the leftover rice puddings

0:38:280:38:31

and things in the fine house and that kind of thing.

0:38:310:38:34

But of course, you did go to school, didn't you?

0:38:340:38:37

A little, yes. And you didn't much like it, did you?

0:38:370:38:40

A bit. I loved school when I did go.

0:38:400:38:42

When I joined a juvenile troupe, where there was six...

0:38:420:38:47

The first juvenile troupe was the Nine Dainty Dots.

0:38:470:38:51

They didn't bother with me going to school - or if I did go to school,

0:38:510:38:55

each school in another town

0:38:550:38:56

couldn't be bothered to teach this one child by herself,

0:38:560:38:59

so they'd sit me on the side, on a seat, and give me a book,

0:38:590:39:02

which I couldn't read -

0:39:020:39:05

but I had to sit there until it was time to break loose

0:39:050:39:09

and then get running back to my digs,

0:39:090:39:11

to go and join the kids at night.

0:39:110:39:16

I mean, the more you tell me about that,

0:39:160:39:19

the more extraordinary it is that you became what you became.

0:39:190:39:22

I mean, as I said, the biggest star in this country,

0:39:220:39:25

I mean a superstar, the first, well, you were.

0:39:250:39:28

Well, you never think of yourself as anything else but what you are.

0:39:280:39:31

I never think of myself as a star.

0:39:310:39:33

I know, I suppose - I know I have been around,

0:39:330:39:35

but I never think of myself...

0:39:350:39:37

I'm just the same as I've always been.

0:39:370:39:39

But I wondered how it happened.

0:39:390:39:41

How that girl from Rochdale eventually went to London,

0:39:410:39:43

took London by storm, and then took the nation by storm?

0:39:430:39:46

Because I was interested in other people on the stage, don't forget.

0:39:460:39:49

I saw the different stars we worked with,

0:39:490:39:53

and my mother used to write to me.

0:39:530:39:55

She knew all about them, because she was stage-mad.

0:39:550:39:57

She used to take in the performer and the stage, the papers,

0:39:570:40:00

the theatre papers, and she'd write to me,

0:40:000:40:02

"Next week you're on the stage with Gertie Gitana,

0:40:020:40:05

"so don't forget to learn all her songs!"

0:40:050:40:08

And I had to learn them,

0:40:080:40:10

because I daren't go home if I didn't know them.

0:40:100:40:13

So I had to get very friendly with the stage manager,

0:40:130:40:16

if he would be kind enough and let me stand on the side of the stage,

0:40:160:40:20

because they only allowed the children to stand on the stage,

0:40:200:40:23

a few, one at a time and no more.

0:40:230:40:26

So then I got friendly with the man who pulled up the curtains,

0:40:260:40:31

up on the top of the lofts, and I used to go up there,

0:40:310:40:34

"Please can I come up here?

0:40:340:40:38

"I have got to learn Gertie Gitana's songs".

0:40:380:40:40

So I'm up in the top,

0:40:400:40:42

watching them pull the thing up and listen to her singing...

0:40:420:40:45

# My sweet Iola

0:40:450:40:49

# Iola, list to me...

0:40:490:40:52

# Da, da, da... # I forgot the words!

0:40:520:40:55

You can expect it at 80 - who cares?!

0:40:550:40:57

APPLAUSE

0:40:570:41:06

Nellie Dean... You were a fan of Gertie Gitana?

0:41:060:41:08

Oh, yes. Yes. I remember her singing Nellie Dean.

0:41:080:41:10

Nellie Dean.

0:41:100:41:12

# By the old stream

0:41:120:41:14

# By the stream, Nellie Dean... #

0:41:140:41:16

Yes, she used to sing all those.

0:41:160:41:18

You know, I had a very sad experience, for me,

0:41:180:41:20

because I thought that she was the biggest star in the world

0:41:200:41:23

when I was a child.

0:41:230:41:26

I used to listen to her,

0:41:260:41:28

even from the man who gets in the orchestra pit underneath the stage,

0:41:280:41:31

I used to ask him, "Please can I keep your door open

0:41:310:41:35

so I can learn her songs?"

0:41:350:41:36

And... When I...

0:41:360:41:40

went to a charity concert in Chelsea,

0:41:400:41:45

it must have been about 25 years or 30 years ago,

0:41:450:41:48

and I hear someone singing one of my songs,

0:41:480:41:51

and it was Gertie Gitana mimicking me.

0:41:510:41:56

I cried. I said, "Oh, that's not right, she's such a big star."

0:41:560:41:59

Because to me she was still that big star

0:41:590:42:01

and she shouldn't be mimicking me -

0:42:010:42:03

I'm just Gracie Fields from Rochdale,

0:42:030:42:05

but I couldn't feel...

0:42:050:42:06

Amazing. It just upset me, really.

0:42:060:42:09

You started off taking her off

0:42:090:42:10

and she ended up taking you off. That's right,

0:42:100:42:12

and she ended up sort of taking me off, it's very funny. Yeah.

0:42:120:42:15

What did you feel like when you came down,

0:42:150:42:17

this raw girl from Rochdale into London?

0:42:170:42:19

I mean, it must've been a bit of a problem.

0:42:190:42:21

Did you feel socially uneasy, in the world of London...? No -

0:42:210:42:24

I don't think I ever bothered about anything at all.

0:42:240:42:29

I'd been when I was a child in the juvenile troupes,

0:42:290:42:33

and every time if I could go to a matinee and see a big star...

0:42:330:42:38

Mother used to write and tell me to go and see Shirley Kellogg

0:42:380:42:41

and different actresses and singers in London when I could get a chance,

0:42:410:42:44

and I was always looking for somebody important.

0:42:440:42:50

So she was really ramming all this stuff down my neck,

0:42:500:42:53

and...give her an idea, so I was actually mimicking everybody.

0:42:530:42:56

Yes. You also, at this time, 1928 or so,

0:42:560:42:59

I mean, you cracked the London stage as well, didn't you?

0:42:590:43:01

There must have been...

0:43:010:43:02

you met Sir Gerald du Maurier, for instance, who employed you...

0:43:020:43:05

Well... That must have been a certain amount of conflict there,

0:43:050:43:08

between this sort of high-bred, rather posh fellow and you?

0:43:080:43:11

Well, we were different people.

0:43:110:43:14

We were ordinary people in heart, the same, you know what I mean?

0:43:140:43:17

It didn't bother me.

0:43:170:43:21

I said, "Oh, well, you..." When I went to the St James Theatre,

0:43:210:43:24

the first thing I did was take my gramophone.

0:43:240:43:26

I remember when I first bought my first gramophone,

0:43:260:43:29

I was in Nottingham and I got to know the girl in a gramophone shop.

0:43:290:43:32

So I said, "Would you give me some very good records?

0:43:320:43:35

"I want classical ones."

0:43:350:43:39

So she gave me a bunch of Caruso, Galli-Curci and different people.

0:43:390:43:43

Well, I took those records home and I was in a dream,

0:43:430:43:47

listening to this... wonderful voices.

0:43:470:43:49

And I used to mimic them, I used to sing

0:43:490:43:52

all these things that Caruso used to sing.

0:43:520:44:00

STRIDENT OPERA SINGING

0:44:000:44:03

You know, I'd get the voice out.

0:44:030:44:05

It reminds me, just before I came here,

0:44:050:44:07

on Sunday, when we started off from Naples...

0:44:070:44:11

..we had a taxi man.

0:44:110:44:13

So he was very puzzled at Boris sitting next to him

0:44:130:44:16

and a friend of mine who plays the piano for me -

0:44:160:44:19

Teddy Holmes, you must know him...

0:44:190:44:21

Yes. ..he was sitting next to me, and the driver was talking to Boris,

0:44:210:44:24

we come to... "These people are speaking English behind here

0:44:240:44:27

"and you're speaking the dialect of Naples."

0:44:270:44:30

So he must have said something, "Oh, well, she sings," or something.

0:44:300:44:35

So I started...

0:44:350:44:37

# Vide'o mare quant'e bello

0:44:370:44:40

# Spira tantu sentimento

0:44:400:44:42

# Comme tu a chi tiene mente... #

0:44:420:44:48

and this man started going mad, "Ah, wonderful!"

0:44:480:44:52

He forgot to drive and he started to conduct...

0:44:520:44:54

LAUGHTER ..all the way to the station.

0:44:540:44:57

Teddy and Boris were scared to death!

0:44:570:45:01

But I finished it outright to the end when I got to the station.

0:45:010:45:04

Gracie, of course, lives abroad now all the time.

0:45:040:45:06

Could you do that, could you live abroad, anywhere else? I don't know,

0:45:060:45:09

I only like living in England.

0:45:090:45:11

But why's that? I can't understand the language anywhere else.

0:45:110:45:13

LAUGHTER

0:45:130:45:15

I don't, it's all right, I just get through, you know?

0:45:150:45:18

It's Lancashire Italian.

0:45:180:45:21

But I get all I want. If I want to know what's going on in the kitchen,

0:45:210:45:25

I always say I'm either starring or charring, I can't keep still,

0:45:250:45:28

so I do a bit of cooking one day, I do a bit of fiddling around,

0:45:280:45:31

cleaning and playing in the garden.

0:45:310:45:34

I find so many things to do.

0:45:340:45:37

But you'd just feel totally an alien then, would you?

0:45:370:45:41

Yes, I very much like Italian people,

0:45:410:45:43

they're very kind and very good with children

0:45:430:45:46

and very cheerful, but, oh, the noise they make!

0:45:460:45:49

You prefer more quiet?

0:45:490:45:52

I like things quiet, yes.

0:45:520:45:55

What about - you've lived all your life, of course, down here,

0:45:550:45:58

haven't you, in the south? Yes.

0:45:580:46:00

I say down here like it was a southern state of America

0:46:000:46:02

or something, but there is, we all know,

0:46:020:46:04

this north and south divide in Britain, still.

0:46:040:46:06

In fact, you've not discovered the north until recently, have you?

0:46:060:46:09

Quite lately, yes.

0:46:090:46:10

And you like it, don't you? Very much indeed - and the Isle of Man.

0:46:100:46:14

The Isle of Man you like. Very fond of that.

0:46:140:46:16

I've never been there. Oh, it's nice.

0:46:160:46:18

You don't say! The one place I've never been, to the Isle of Man.

0:46:180:46:21

Oh, it's beautiful. Yes.

0:46:210:46:22

What do you like, specifically, about the North?

0:46:220:46:24

People speak directly - and Coronation Street.

0:46:240:46:26

LAUGHTER

0:46:260:46:30

What, do you like...?! You like Coronation Street?

0:46:300:46:32

Yes, it's my favourite programme.

0:46:320:46:33

LAUGHTER Is it really?!

0:46:330:46:36

I enjoyed it, I saw it this week

0:46:360:46:38

and I haven't seen it for such a long time,

0:46:380:46:40

and it takes me right back to Rochdale.

0:46:400:46:42

How marvellous. It's a lovely feeling

0:46:420:46:44

of everybody knows everybody,

0:46:440:46:46

we all interfere with everybody's business,

0:46:460:46:48

we all want to know everything -

0:46:480:46:51

but I find that Capri people are the same in Capri.

0:46:510:46:54

All the Capresi, they all know everything,

0:46:540:46:56

they all want to know the tittle-tattle about everybody,

0:46:560:46:58

but they're one family,

0:46:580:47:00

and I feel that the Lancashire people are like that,

0:47:000:47:03

Yorkshire people up north are very much together.

0:47:030:47:05

Much closer than they are down south.

0:47:050:47:15

That's typical. What do you like -

0:47:210:47:22

who's your favourite character in Coronation Street?

0:47:220:47:24

I'm hard put to it to say.

0:47:240:47:26

I'm very fond of Mrs Walker, and...

0:47:260:47:27

Oh, I think Doris Speed, the actress who plays her, is fantastic.

0:47:270:47:30

Yes. I think really incredible.

0:47:300:47:32

..and Stan Ogden and his wife, Hilda...

0:47:320:47:33

LAUGHTER

0:47:330:47:34

You like the curlers, do you? ..I'm very fond of -

0:47:340:47:37

and I like Ken Barlow, as a cultivated contrast,

0:47:370:47:39

and I'm very fond of that very...

0:47:390:47:41

..pushy one that is going to do very well in business, Mike Baldwin.

0:47:410:47:44

Oh, yes. Who lately appeared.

0:47:440:47:45

What about Albert Tatlock?

0:47:450:47:46

He's wonderful. He is wonderful, isn't he?

0:47:460:47:48

He must have been on the holes.

0:47:480:47:49

I don't know if he was, actually.

0:47:490:47:51

You know he lives in the Midland Hotel in Manchester?

0:47:510:47:54

I heard that, very nice.

0:47:540:47:56

Now, you know that Ena Sharples speaks posh, don't you?

0:47:560:47:59

Does she? Mm. Well, not posh, but, I mean, it's sort of...

0:47:590:48:01

POSH ACCENT: But she's refined. Yes! Really?

0:48:010:48:03

LAUGHTER

0:48:030:48:06

Oh, well, we can all be refined, you know, just the same.

0:48:060:48:09

That's right, yes.

0:48:090:48:10

You were talking earlier, Gracie, about filming.

0:48:100:48:13

I mean, you had a spectacular film career.

0:48:130:48:15

You were, in the '30s here, you were the biggest film star in Britain.

0:48:150:48:19

You also went to Hollywood, too, didn't you?

0:48:190:48:21

Yeah. But didn't like it.

0:48:210:48:22

Well, I didn't like making films at all in the beginning. You didn't.

0:48:220:48:27

I couldn't stand it, cos you're waiting around

0:48:270:48:30

and doing nothing and when you do say something

0:48:300:48:33

you've said, "Good morning, George" all day and it drives you crazy -

0:48:330:48:36

and then when they lock the gate when they've got you in,

0:48:360:48:39

I always felt I was imprisoned and I can't get out of this place.

0:48:390:48:42

Yes. But I could get out of a theatre, I never thought of that -

0:48:420:48:46

I mean, I got through the stage door.

0:48:460:48:48

Yes. That's always open, I always felt, morning, noon and night...

0:48:480:48:50

Yes. ..but the film studio, I'd see them close that gate,

0:48:500:48:53

"They've got me, I'm stuck now for the day."

0:48:530:48:57

Yes...but you must have met - when you were in Hollywood,

0:48:570:48:59

you must have met some extraordinary people,

0:48:590:49:01

people who you admired on the screen? Oh, yes, quite a lot.

0:49:010:49:04

I did one or two good films.

0:49:040:49:06

You did, I remember them. But not much.

0:49:060:49:08

Do you? Yes, I was a film critic in those days.

0:49:080:49:11

Oh, you were. Did you review Gracie?

0:49:110:49:12

I think probably, yes.

0:49:120:49:14

Yes? I remember that one we saw...

0:49:140:49:16

what was the song in it? Well...

0:49:160:49:18

I remember... Sing As We Go. Sing As We Go.

0:49:180:49:21

Sing As We Go, that's it. That was done in England. Yes.

0:49:210:49:24

But most of those stories

0:49:240:49:26

were kind of written around me for some reason -

0:49:260:49:29

they weren't real stories to start off with.

0:49:290:49:32

The first film I ever made was Sally. Oh, yes.

0:49:320:49:34

Now, that was written properly as a play, and it was a very good play.

0:49:340:49:38

Well, you had something to play with.

0:49:380:49:41

The others were all stitched up around five or six songs.

0:49:410:49:45

"Get six songs ready, Grace,

0:49:450:49:46

"because you're going to make a film,"

0:49:460:49:48

and then it was just stitched up.

0:49:480:49:51

Now, when I went to Hollywood and I did the one by Arnold Bennett,

0:49:510:49:55

Buried Alive it was called, the book, it was called...

0:49:550:49:59

What was it called?

0:49:590:50:00

Holy Matrimony. Holy Matrimony, that's right, yes.

0:50:000:50:03

It was a joy to do that without a song in it

0:50:030:50:06

because you'd real words to say that the author enjoyed writing...

0:50:060:50:09

Mm. ..and then you enjoyed saying them,

0:50:090:50:11

and it was something to do -

0:50:110:50:13

but when they stitched around you, you know,

0:50:130:50:16

they don't come up quite the same, the stories were not good.

0:50:160:50:21

Of course, in fact JB Priestley wrote a couple of films for you,

0:50:210:50:24

didn't he? Yeah - well, he did the Sing As We Go.

0:50:240:50:27

That's right, yes. You met him, did you?

0:50:270:50:29

Yes, oh, yes. Well, you obviously did.

0:50:290:50:30

He came, yes, he came with Basil Dean.

0:50:300:50:32

They talked about the story and doing these things.

0:50:320:50:34

I said, "Well, I think it's going to be a kind of a popular thing

0:50:340:50:38

"and it might make money and be all that."

0:50:380:50:44

He says, "Well, we don't like to think about money."

0:50:440:50:46

I said, "Well, what are we working for?"

0:50:460:50:48

LAUGHTER

0:50:480:50:51

That was Priestley said that? Yeah. "We don't like to think of money"?

0:50:510:50:54

Yes. You've never been afflicted by that, have you, Sir John,

0:50:540:50:57

the thought that art should not make money? No. No.

0:50:570:50:59

No, I think not, no.

0:50:590:51:01

It always amazed me if it ever has.

0:51:010:51:03

Yes, yes.

0:51:030:51:04

But it's a nice end product if it does?

0:51:040:51:07

I think it's an extra, kindly supplied by the management.

0:51:070:51:11

Can I ask you, finally, the two of you

0:51:110:51:13

who've lived long and many years in this country,

0:51:130:51:23

what's disturbed you coming from what you did,

0:51:230:51:25

from an Edwardian background into the present time?

0:51:250:51:29

Motorcars, I think, have made things much worse.

0:51:290:51:31

That's another thing, yes.

0:51:310:51:32

I think people go mad when they get inside motorcars

0:51:320:51:34

and become quite like fiends.

0:51:340:51:35

I know I do myself.

0:51:350:51:37

LAUGHTER People forget to walk.

0:51:370:51:38

Yes. I got rid of my car when I was 70.

0:51:380:51:40

I said, "I'm going to walk!"

0:51:400:51:42

How marvellous!

0:51:420:51:44

Up those hills in Rochdale, very steep!

0:51:440:51:50

Up those hills, in Capri, too!

0:51:500:51:51

Of course, you know Rochdale, don't you?

0:51:510:51:53

Yes. Lovely place.

0:51:530:51:54

Rochdale, we had a great-grandfather who lived until he was 103

0:51:540:51:57

and when he was 100 they gave him some special prizes

0:51:570:52:03

and they said... So he had free tram rides,

0:52:030:52:05

so he killed himself, my father said,

0:52:050:52:07

by having free tram rides,

0:52:070:52:09

he never walked after he got that prize!

0:52:090:52:11

LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE

0:52:110:52:21

"He died of goodwill" should be the epitaph for that gentleman!

0:52:220:52:25

Now, we're going to,

0:52:250:52:26

you're not going to go away without singing for us,

0:52:260:52:29

and you're going to sing, I hope... do you remember Grace's comic ones?

0:52:290:52:33

Yes.

0:52:330:52:34

What about the Aspidistra one?

0:52:340:52:37

The Biggest Aspidistra. Oh, no!

0:52:370:52:39

You must be sick of singing that one!

0:52:390:52:40

I'm sick of singing it, sick of hearing it!

0:52:400:52:43

Are you? Yeah!

0:52:430:52:45

But if you want it... What was the story about it, Gracie,

0:52:450:52:47

the sort of background to it?

0:52:470:52:49

Well, just a man who brought all these songs to me for many years,

0:52:490:52:52

he brought one along -

0:52:520:52:54

but when I went to America

0:52:540:52:56

I remember we were doing a very big...

0:52:560:53:01

a three-hour marathon radio show for charity,

0:53:010:53:06

so I was on this show doing three songs, which I did, and...

0:53:060:53:09

Bob Hope was the MC.

0:53:090:53:15

He said, "We're ten minutes short, have you got another song?"

0:53:150:53:18

I said, "Yes, but they wouldn't understand it."

0:53:180:53:20

He says, "What is it?" I says, "The Aspidistra."

0:53:200:53:22

He says, "What's that?"

0:53:220:53:24

He'd forgotten because he'd been in America too long.

0:53:240:53:26

He says, "Well, never mind, sing it."

0:53:260:53:29

Well, when I sang it I really caused a sensation,

0:53:290:53:33

because the aspidistra has a different meaning to the Americans

0:53:330:53:35

than it has for us.

0:53:350:53:37

LAUGHTER

0:53:370:53:40

It's got a different meaning for me

0:53:400:53:42

than I suspect it does for you, but...

0:53:420:53:43

Well, it always meant a plant,

0:53:430:53:46

the aspidistra plant, and all up north

0:53:460:53:48

I think everybody has an aspidistra plant.

0:53:480:53:51

I know my grandmother used to have one, my mother had one,

0:53:510:53:54

my grandmother used to put paper flowers in between them.

0:53:540:54:01

Well, our MV Mr Harry Stoneham is waiting over there, Gracie.

0:54:010:54:03

Oh, well. So if you want to cross there.

0:54:030:54:06

Gracie Fields. # Put your shoes on, Lucy... #

0:54:060:54:08

APPLAUSE

0:54:080:54:16

Well, well, well.

0:54:160:54:17

We've got the music, we hope for the best.

0:54:170:54:20

I hope I remember it.

0:54:200:54:21

Right.

0:54:210:54:24

# For years we had an aspidistra in a flowerpot

0:54:260:54:30

# On the whatnot near the hatstand in the hall

0:54:300:54:34

# Well, it didn't seem to grow till one day our brother Joe

0:54:340:54:38

# Had a notion that he'd make it strong and tall

0:54:380:54:44

# So he crossed it with an acorn from an oak tree

0:54:440:54:49

# And he planted it against the garden wall

0:54:490:54:54

# Well, it shot up like a rocket till it nearly reached the sky

0:54:540:54:58

# It's the biggest aspidistra in the world.

0:54:580:55:05

# We couldn't see the top of it it got so blooming high

0:55:050:55:08

# It's the biggest aspidistra in the world

0:55:080:55:14

# When father's had a snootful at his pub, The Bunch Of Grapes

0:55:140:55:18

# He doesn't go all fighting mad and getting into scrapes

0:55:180:55:23

# You'll find him in his bearskin playing Tarzan Of The Apes

0:55:230:55:28

# Up the biggest aspidistra in the world

0:55:280:55:34

# The pussycats and their sweethearts

0:55:340:55:37

# Love to spend their evenings out

0:55:370:55:40

# Up the biggest aspidistra in the world

0:55:400:55:45

# They all begin meowing when the buds begin to sprout

0:55:450:55:49

# From the biggest aspidistra in the world

0:55:490:55:54

# The dogs all come around for miles, a lovely sight to see

0:55:540:56:00

# They sniff around for hours and hours and wag their tails with glee

0:56:000:56:05

# So I've had to put a notice up to say it's not a tree

0:56:050:56:10

# It's the biggest aspidistra in the world. #

0:56:100:56:16

# I could have danced all night. #

0:56:160:56:19

APPLAUSE

0:56:190:56:29

SHE WHISTLES

0:56:430:56:46

Stop.

0:56:460:56:48

Did you enjoy that, Sir John?

0:56:480:56:50

Oh, I did, every moment.

0:56:500:56:51

You liked the lyric? Yes.

0:56:510:56:53

Who wrote it?

0:56:530:56:55

It was Bill Haynes... Clever man.

0:56:550:56:58

..and somebody else. There were always three or four names,

0:56:580:57:00

because they used to join in.

0:57:000:57:02

I don't know how much they put in in each one,

0:57:020:57:04

but there were always three or four names it,

0:57:040:57:07

but Bill Haynes had this little music shop,

0:57:070:57:08

and he was a consul, too, for Haiti.

0:57:080:57:12

He was really a funny Cockney, a real Cockney.

0:57:120:57:16

He used to say, "Grace, I've got a lovely number for you now.

0:57:160:57:19

"This is the best you've ever had. Now I'll sing it for you."

0:57:190:57:22

He says, "Wait a minute, I'll get up," and he'd say, "Now....

0:57:220:57:25

"Walter and me, we've been courting for years,

0:57:250:57:27

"but he's never asked me to wed.

0:57:270:57:29

"When leap year comes round I'll give three hearty cheers,

0:57:290:57:32

"hooray, because I do the asking instead."

0:57:320:57:36

And he used to go on with that.

0:57:360:57:38

And then another time he came and he said he got this Sally

0:57:380:57:41

which I was talking about, and I wondered where he got it,

0:57:410:57:44

but we found out, and it worked out fine.

0:57:440:57:46

That was by Haynes, was it?

0:57:460:57:48

Yes, he was part of the Sally song.

0:57:480:57:51

He might well become our favourite lyricist

0:57:510:57:52

after Cole Porter and Lorenz Hart. Yes.

0:57:520:57:55

Bill Haynes. Yes.

0:57:550:57:57

I thought he was going to write one for Peggy, you see.

0:57:570:58:00

He should have done, shouldn't he?

0:58:000:58:03

Mm. I mean... He should have written that one, yes.

0:58:030:58:06

He should have written a love song for Peggy, yes.

0:58:060:58:09

# Isn't it bliss

0:58:090:58:11

# How we're a pair?

0:58:110:58:14

# Me here at last on the ground

0:58:140:58:17

# You in midair... #

0:58:170:58:21

SHE HUMS THE MELODY

0:58:210:58:23

That's Stephen Sondheim.

0:58:230:58:24

# Where are the clowns...? #

0:58:240:58:26

APPLAUSE

0:58:260:58:28

Did you see that show?

0:58:280:58:35

No. Send In The Clowns.

0:58:350:58:41

Yes, of course. A Little Night Music, the show is called.

0:58:410:58:44

A Little Night Music, yes. Written by a man called Stephen Sondheim.

0:58:440:58:46

Lovely. The one thing that discernible from people like you,

0:58:460:58:49

great stars, the one thing that separates you from the rest,

0:58:490:58:51

actually, is your energy, your boundless, boundless energy.

0:58:510:58:55

Well, you can't keep me still.

0:58:550:58:57

I got that from my mother, I guess.

0:58:570:58:59

It's God-given, anyway. Gracie Fields, you're still a great star,

0:58:590:59:03

and thank you very much for being our guest tonight.

0:59:030:59:05

Thank you very much for asking me. I enjoyed it immensely.

0:59:050:59:08

Bless you. Nice to meet you.

0:59:080:59:09

APPLAUSE

0:59:090:59:16

Sir John, as always, a pleasure to have you on my show.

0:59:160:59:20

Thank you very much indeed. I think he's lovely.

0:59:200:59:24

I wish I'd been his Elsie.

0:59:240:59:26

APPLAUSE

0:59:260:59:35

I'm six years older than Doris, but I don't even look older.

0:59:350:59:39

He's only 71! He is only 71.

0:59:390:59:42

Well, thank you, Warren. Warren!

0:59:420:59:43

LAUGHTER

0:59:430:59:45

I'll give you Warren.

0:59:450:59:47

Thank you, both of you.

0:59:470:59:49

Till same time... Thank you, Christopher Robin.

0:59:490:59:51

That's right. Till the same time next week, goodnight.

0:59:510:59:53

APPLAUSE

0:59:531:00:03

Another chance to see the 1977 Michael Parkinson interview with Sir John Betjeman and Gracie Fields.


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