Judy Garland

Judy Garland: The Final Rainbow

The spectacular story of Judy Garland's last concerts in London.
Renée Zellweger introduces a programme exploring Judy Garland's last concerts at London's the Talk of The Town in 1969 - the subject of a new feature film.

Weaving together newly restored archive recordings and eye-witness accounts, we separate the woman from the myth, examine her exceptional talent, exploitation and troubled relationship with Hollywood.

Judy Garland was one of the 20th century's greatest entertainers. A living legend. But in late December 1968, embattled and in poor health, she arrived in London for a five week run at the Talk of The Town in Leicester Square, for £2,500 a week. London was her place of sanctuary, she had performed spectacular comeback concerts in the city in 1951, 1957, 1960 and 1964.

When Renée Zellweger was preparing to play Judy in a new biopic, directed by Rupert Goold, little-heard archive concert recordings and first hand accounts were key to understanding the singer's state of mind during those final performances. Judy Garland died of an accidental overdose in her Chelsea home six months later, aged 47. 

Rosalyn Wilder was the young production assistant tasked with getting Judy on stage each night at the Talk of The Town. Looking back now, Rosalyn describes the stress of that responsibility, but she is also deeply sympathetic - it was clear Judy's personal life had spiralled out of control. Michael Hirst, the venue's general manager, also remembers Garland's 5 week engagement for its unpredictability.

For jazz pianist Dave Lee, now 93, his experiences working with Judy couldn't be more different. Starting in 1960, he worked with her over a six year period. The Judy Garland he encountered was bouncy, happy and fun - but with an incredible talent for picking the wrong men.

We also hear from Judy director Rupert Goold, New York composer Johnny Meyer who gave Garland shelter in the summer of 1968, film critic David Benedict, and audio engineer John Haley who has restored many rare Judy Garland recordings.

Produced by Victoria Ferran and Susan Marling
A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4