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Herbert Kretzmer: Les Misérables lyricist dies aged 95

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Lyricist and journalist Herbert Kretzmer, best known for his English-language adaptation of the musical Les Misérables, has died at the age of 95.

The South African-born English writer also penned the lyrics to the 1960 song Goodness Gracious Me, made famous by Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren.

And he worked with French singer Charles Aznavour on his 1974 hit She.

Paying tribute online, fellow lyricist Sir Tim Rice described him as "a giant of his trade", adding: "RIP Herbie."

Les Misérables producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh said the news was "terribly sad", and "his wonderful words for Les Miserables will live on in his memory forever more".

In his day job as a journalist, Kretzmer became senior drama critic at the Daily Express, and later wrote television criticism for the Daily Mail.

But he stressed in a 2013 interview with The Guardian that it was his role in coming up with the English lyrics to Les Misérables that would go on to define his career and life.

'Changed my life'

"I returned to the Mail, but then it became clear that the show had a fairly certain future: I was able to give up my day job at 61," he said.

"Les Misérables has brought me my London house and my wife, whom I met at the opening-night party in New York. I often marvel at how those few feet between [producer] Cameron Mackintosh's sofa and his door changed my life."

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image captionKretzmer (left) working with Charles Aznavour in 1965

In the same interview, he explained that his role in coming up with famous songs, which included Do You Hear the People Sing and I Dreamed a Dream, was as much about re-imagining them as it was translating them from the French original.

"The word 'translation' makes me shiver," he explained. "Words can resonate in one culture but not another, so I read the novel and then told the story in my own way."

'A work that speaks to the rest of the world'

In a joint statement, the musical's original French songwriters, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, described their counterpart as "a vibrant, hard-working man, but above all a man with an exceptional moral force as well as a brilliant lyricist".

They wrote: "Thanks to him, Les Misérables found its English voice - Herbie embraced our original version and turned it into a work that speaks to the rest of the world.

Kretzmer also wrote the 1960s West End shows Our Man Crichton, starring Millicent Martin; and The Four Musketeers, starring Harry Secombe.

His long-running songwriting collaboration with Aznavour included Yesterday When I Was Young and She, which reached number one in the UK.

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Related Topics

  • Theatre
  • Music
  • Les Miserables