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Kretzmer, Herbert 1925-

KRETZMER, Herbert 1925-

PERSONAL: Born October 5, 1925, in Kroonstad, South Africa; son of William and Tilly Kretzmer; married Elisabeth Margaret Wilson, December 20, 1960 (divorced, 1973); married Sybil Sever, 1988; children: Danielle, Matthew. Education: Attended Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.

ADDRESSES: Home—Flat 55, Lincoln House, Basil St., London SW3 1AW, England. Office—Daily Mail, Tudor St., London EC4, England. Agent—London Management, Noel House, 2/4 Noel St., London W1V 3RB, England.

CAREER: African Film Productions, Johannesburg, South Africa, wrote weekly cinema newsreel commentaries and documentary films, 1946; Sunday Express, Johannesburg, journalist, 1951-54; Daily Sketch, London, England, feature writer and columnist, 1954-59; Sunday Dispatch, London, columnist, 1959-61; Daily Express, London, journalist, 1960-62, drama critic and feature writer, 1962-78; Daily Mail, London, television critic, 1979-87.

MEMBER: Royal Automobile Club.

AWARDS, HONORS: Ivor Novello Award, 1960, for song "Goodness Gracious Me"; award from American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), 1969, for song "Yesterday When I Was Young"; gold record, 1974, for "She"; Tony Award, 1987, and Grammy Award, 1988, for Les Misérables; television critic of the year award from Phillips Industries, 1980; Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Richmond College, American International University, London, England, 1996; Jimmy Kennedy Award, British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, and Authors, 1989.


Our Man Crichton (play; first produced on the West End at Shaftesbury Theatre, December, 1964), Hodder & Stoughton, 1965.

(with Milton Shulman) Every Home Should Have One (novel), Hodder & Stoughton, 1980.

Author of song lyrics for plays, including English version of Les Misérables, 1985, and The Four Musketeers. Also author of lyrics for films, including Hieronymus Merkin. and Les Misérables. Writer for television programs, including That Was the Week That Was.

SIDELIGHTS: Herbert Kretzmer is a former drama critic for British newspapers who turned to writing adaptations and lyrics later in life. He is best known for writing the lyrics to the English version of Les Misérables.

Kretzmer began his journalism career writing a commentary for a weekly cinema newsreel. He also worked as a feature writer before moving to London in 1954. He joined the London Daily Express in 1960 and later became the drama critic, a position he held for eighteen years. Kretzmer covered more than three thousand first nights and garnered many awards for his work. He turned to television criticism in 1979 when he accepted a job for the Daily Mail. For this criticism, he was awarded two national press awards.

Kretzmer wrote the book and lyrics to adaptations for the musical stage. His first was The Admirable Crichton. He wrote both the lyrics and the play for Our Man Crichton, performed in the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1964 and starring Millicent Martin and Kenneth More and the lyrics for The Four Muskateers, featuring Harry Secombe and performed in Drury Lane in 1967. During this time, Kretzmer also wrote many songs for stars, including "Goodness Gracious Me," which won the Ivor Novello Award and was sung by Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren.

Kretzmer's thirty-year partnership with French sensation Charles Aznavour resulted in songs such as "Yesterday When I Was Young," "Happy Anniversary," and the very popular, "She," which first topped the charts in 1974. In a confession to a reporter for the Evening Chronicle, Kretzmer admitted a past romance inspired him to write the song. "In the summer of 1973 I enjoyed what you might call a luminous romance with a delightful woman, a Geordie," he recalled. "When we split up, I remember saying to her in a pub on the Kings Road: 'There'll be a song in this one day.' Six months later, when I was offered 'She,' she was very much in my mind when I was describing the personal attributes of a woman." Kretzmer has never revealed the identity of the woman, but noted that both he and the woman are now married to other people. "She" enjoyed renewed success when it was re-recorded by Elvis Costello for the movie Notting Hill, released in 1999, starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. Writing for the Independent on Sunday, Stuart Husband noted that Kretzmer "wasn't invited to mingle with Hugh, Julia, Liz and Co." Husband considered this "an astonishing oversight, given that he wrote the lyrics for the movie's theme song." Kretzmer told Husband he was pleased with the remake of "She." "They haven't messed with it. It's a heartfelt song, and Costello plays it straight," he said.

It was Kretzmer's collaborations with Aznavour that caught the attention of Carmeron Mackintosh, who invited Kretzmer to write an English version of the French musical Les Misérables, based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Les Misérables was Kretzmer's greatest success. Les Misérables tells the story of Jean Valjean, who steals a loaf of bread and is then condemned to prison and life on the run. In time Valjean is forgiven of his crimes and becomes the mayor of a poor town, which he transforms into a prosperous community. He falls in love with a beautiful, but poverty-stricken woman in the town. After her death, he raises her daughter, Cosette, and devotes his life to keeping her out of harm's way. In a review, Martin Denton said this about the prologue: "In ten deft, remarkable minutes, Nunn & Card and authors Claude-Michel Schonger, Alain Boublil, and Herbert Kretzmer provide economical exposition and set forth the major themes of their show; they also introduce their simple epic story theatre format and all of the important musical motifs that define Les Misérables." Kretzmer extended the original musical from two to three hours. It opened in the Barbican Theatre, London, England, in 1985. Since then, it has been seen by more then forty-three million people.



Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre 2nd edition, Schirmer Books (New York, NY), 2001.


Evening Chronicle, October 18, 2003, "She Was a Geordie," p. 13.

Guardian, "The Guide: Sound Bites," p. 67.

Independent on Sunday, Stuart Husband, "The Real Heroine of Notting Hill the Film's Soundtrack, 'She,' Could Be This Summer's Hit, but Who Inspired It?," May 2, 1999, p.4.

South Wales Echo, October 15, 2002, "Amazing Story of Musical: Do You Hear the Students Sing?," p. 11.

Sunday Telegraph, December 8, 2002, "Black Notes."

online, (February 19, 2004).*

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