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Herbert Kretzmer

Sue Lawley's castaway is songwriter Herbert Kretzmer.

This week Sue Lawley's castaway is the journalist and songwriter Herbert Kretzmer. Born in South Africa in 1925, he came to Europe after World War II. For a while he lived in Paris, playing piano in a bar. He rubbed shoulders with Jean Paul Sartre and became friends with one of France's greatest singer-songwriters Charles Aznavour. The two formed a musical partnership and Kretzmer re-worked many of his songs into English - including the hits Yesterday, When I Was Young and She, which was more recently recorded by Elvis Costello for the film Notting Hill.

His day job was as a journalist and Kretzmer wrote celebrity profiles for the Daily Express. He says his most memorable interviewees were "writers and fighters", including George Foreman, Muhammad Ali, Truman Capote and Arthur Miller. But it wasn't until he was nearly sixty that he had his greatest success. The director Cameron Mackintosh was working on Les Miserables but did not have a 'book' - that is, a set of songs that he could produce. He remembered a chance meeting he'd had with Kretzmer, recalled the songs he'd written and his connection with France - and invited him to write the lyrics. The show has been running in London for the past 19 years and has played all over the world. Now aged 78, he continues to work. He is currently collaborating with the former ABBA musicians, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus on another musical.

[Taken from the original programme material for this archive edition of Desert Island Discs]

Favourite track: Gymnopedies by Yikin Seow
Book: The Great War and Modern Memory by Prof Paul Fussell
Luxury: Zippo Lighter

Available now

45 minutes

Last on

Fri 17 Oct 2003 09:00

Music Played

  • Stephen Sondheim

    Not While I'm Around

    • Sweeney Todd - Original Cast Recording.
    • RCA.
  • Teal Choir

    Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika

    • South African Gospel According to Earthworks.
    • Earthworks.
  • Jacques Brel


    • Jacques Brel.
    • Universal.
  • Kretzmer; Aznavour


    • The Best Of Charles Aznavour.
    • PREMIER.
  • Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington

    It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing

    • Complete L Armstrong & Duke Ellington Sessions.
    • Roulette.
  • Peter Sellers & Sophia Loren

    Goodness Gracious Me

    • All Aboard.
    • EMI.
  • Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II

    The Carousel Waltz

    • Carousel.
    • MCA.
  • Castaway's Favourite

    • Erik Satie


      Performer: Yitkin Seow.
      • Piano Music by Erik Satie.
      • Hyperion.
  • Book Choice

    • The Great War and Modern Memory - Prof Paul Fussell

  • Luxury Choice

    • Zippo Lighter


Role Contributor
Presenter Sue Lawley
Interviewed Guest Herbert Kretzmer


  • Sun 12 Oct 2003 11:15
  • Fri 17 Oct 2003 09:00

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