Magazine article The Spectator

Tunes for the Tories

Magazine article The Spectator

Tunes for the Tories

Article excerpt

The other day my singing teacher, Kate took me to see a show at the King's Head pub in Islington, which has a small theatre. The government has stopped funding its enterprises, which is a scandal as the King's Head produces some of the best entertainment in London. If Covent Garden can be subsidised so that fat businessmen and their dyspeptic clients can sit through operas they don't understand, appreciating only the interval, then why not give money to this tiny theatre which often succeeds in putting on more imaginative and crowd pleasing productions?

At present, it is offering one of the best shows in London: Dorothy Fields Forever, a celebration of the lyrics of Dorothy Fields. When I told a friend that I was going she remarked, `Oh, isn't that the woman who said, "You can lead a horticulture but you can't make her think", and sat at a round table?' Well, no, that was another Dorothy. But Fields was equally witty and enjoyed a longer career, spanning the early 1920s to the 1970s. Her collaborators began with Jerome Kern, he of 'Ol' Man River', and Harold Arlen and ended with Cy Coleman.

Fields began writing lyrics aged just 24. Her first big hit was during the Depression: 'I Can't Give You Anything But Love'. It contains the lines, `Gee, I'd love to see you looking swell, baby/diamond bracelets Woolworths doesn't sell, baby'. The only female lyricist in an abrasive male song-writing world, she was the first woman to win an Oscar for the best song in a motion picture. This was the iridescent ballad `The Way You Look Tonight', composed for Swing Time with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Aside from love songs, Fields also wrote sarcastic numbers such as 'A Lady Needs A Change', which contains lyrics as good as anything done by 20th-century satirists and certainly up to the standards of Noel Coward. Then there was 'A Fine Romance', again for Astaire and Rogers: `True love should have the thrills that healthy crime has/we don't have half the thrills that the March of Time has'.

Fields herself had man trouble. She was married, divorced, remarried and then her husband copped it. She then went on an extended alcoholiday. Amazingly enough, her career revived at the height of the success of bands such as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. It is extraordinary that the woman who wrote `The Way You Look Tonight' in the 1930s had her biggest hit in the late Sixties, with `Big Spender', the song that made Shirley Bassey. …

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