Herbert Kretzmer, lyricist of Les Miserables, dead at 95

Herbert Kretzmer, lyricist of Les Miserables, dead at 95

LONDON — Herbert Kretzmer, the journalist and lyricist best known for his English-language adaptation of the musical Les Miserables, has died. He was 95.

His family confirmed Wednesday that Kretzmer died after a long illness with Parkinson’s disease at the London home he shared with his second wife, Sybil Sever.

Tributes poured in from giants of the London stage, including theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh, singer Elaine Paige and lyricist Tim Rice.

Les Miserables producer Mackintosh said Kretzmer was instrumental in bringing Victor Hugo’s classic tale of defiance and redemption in early 19th century France to the stage in English in October 1985, five years after it had opened in Paris.

“His wonderful words for Les Misérables will live on in his memory forever more,” he said in a statement.

For Paige, he was a “masterful wordsmith” while Rice described Kretzmer a “great lyricist and man of theatre” and a “giant of his trade.”

Kretzmer, known as Herbie to his friends, was born in Kroonstad, a small town south of Johannesburg, South Africa, in October 1925. He was one of four sons of Jewish-Lithuanian immigrants who ran a grocery shop and later a prosperous furniture store.

Though his childhood under the vast expanse of South African sky was “blissful,” he wanted by the age of 11 to become a “newspaper man” — so he could get closer to his heroes on screen.

From Johannesburg, he moved to Paris in 1953, playing the piano by night in a bar in return for a meal. A year later, he moved to London and fulfilled his dream of being at the heart of the movie action, in an award-winning journalistic career that included stints at the Daily Express and Daily Mail.

His catalogue of interviews reads like a Who’s Who? of 20th century entertainment, including Muhammad Ali, Judy Garland, Groucho Marx, David Niven and Frank Sinatra. Some interviewees, like Peter Sellers and Terence Stamp, became close friends.

The music was never far away though. He wrote weekly songs in the 1960s for That Was The Week That Was, the BBC’s ground-breaking satirical show that proved the launchpad for the careers of luminaries in the world of television over subsequent decades, such as John Cleese and David Frost.

Some songs were humorous, such as “Goodness Gracious Me,” others more poignant, notably “In the Summer of His Years,” a tribute to President John F. Kennedy that was written hours after his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

There were further songs, including “She,” which he wrote with French singer Charles Aznavour and which topped the U.K. Singles Charts for a month in 1974. He explained decades later that it was about a British woman with whom he had recently broken up following a year-long affair.

But the really big time never quite came. Until a young British producer by the name of Cameron Mackintosh invited Kretzmer to tea in June 1984 and his life changed.

Though the expanded English version of Les Miserables — it was never Les Mis for Kretzmer — had mixed reviews at the start, it would soon become one of the biggest successes of 20th century theatre.

Were it not for the coronavirus pandemic, it’d still be running in London, testament to the enduring popularity of the story as well as the songs, such as “I Dreamed a Dream,” “One Day More” and “Do You Hear the People Sing?”

Add “Suddenly” to that list, the song he wrote for the 2012 blockbuster ?lm version that earned him at the age of 87 an Academy Award nomination.

Kretzmer has been appointed Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters in France and an Officer of the Order of British Empire.

Pan Pylas, The Associated Press

Music

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sgt. Andrew Harnett, 37, of the Calgary Police Service is shown inthis undated handout image provided by the police service. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Calgary Police Service
Bail hearing continues today for teen accused in Calgary officer’s hit-and-run death

CALGARY — A bail hearing for a teen accused in the hit-and-run… Continue reading

President Donald Trump speaks near a section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, in Alamo, Texas. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor via AP)
Trump bids farewell to Washington, hints of comeback

‘We will be back in some form’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, January 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada in touch with Biden admin about disputed oil pipeline

Premier Jason Kenney says ‘rescinding the Keystone XL border crossing permit would damage the Canada-US bilateral relationship’

The wreckage of a fatal crash involing the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus outside Tisdale, Sask., is seen on Saturday, April, 7, 2018. A number of Broncos parents are angry there has been little action on seatbelts on buses since the crash that killed 16 people and injured 13. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

Jaskirat Singh Sidhu was sentenced to eight years after pleading guilty

.
B.C. to still administer second doses despite loss of Pfizer shipment next week: Dix

VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s health minister says the province is still on… Continue reading

A view of the stage on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, ahead of the 59th Presidential Inauguration on Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Susan Walsh, Pool
Canadians tune in to Joe Biden inauguration amid pandemic threat, violence concerns

TORONTO — Canadians tuned in Wednesday with a mixture of relief and… Continue reading

The constituency office of Derek Sloan, Conservative MP for Hastings-Lennox and Addington is show in Belleville, Ont., on Tuesday Jan. 19, 2021. Sloan says he’ll fight efforts by his party’s leader to boot him from caucus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
Expelling Derek Sloan from Conservative caucus not entirely up to Erin O’Toole

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole wants Derek Sloan booted out of… Continue reading

Early morning fire destroys grocery and retail store in Igloolik, Nunavut

A fire has destroyed a grocery and retail store in Igloolik, Nunavut.… Continue reading

Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux waits to appear before the Commons finance committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday March 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
PBO says reformed fiscal stabilization program to cost Ottawa $4.5 billion

OTTAWA — Reforms to a federal support program for provinces will nearly… Continue reading

Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem takes part in a news conference at the Bank of Canada in Ottawa on December 15, 2020. Canada’s central bank will update its economic forecast for the country that will offer a window when it expects a recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic to take hold. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Bank of Canada keeps key rate at 0.25 per cent, warns of economic decline in 2021

OTTAWA — The Bank of Canada says the national economy will go… Continue reading

President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a COVID-19 memorial, with lights placed around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Sighs of relief accompany a sense of unease as Biden takes oath, Trump departs D.C.

WASHINGTON — Relief, apprehension and a touch of pandemic-tinged festivity washed over… Continue reading

FIL - In this Nov. 7, 2020, file photo Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks in Wilmington, Del. Harris will make history Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, when she becomes the nation’s first Black, South Asian and female vice president. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Vice-President Harris: A new chapter opens in US politics

Harris moves into the vice presidency just four years after arriving in Washington as a California senator

Most Read