HOW WE MET: RAY DAVIES AND NED SHERRIN
Sunday 25 February 1996
RAY DAVIES: Ned got in touch with me in 1967 via my managers quite a time before he made The Virgin Soldiers - I think he wanted to meet my brother Dave really and got the wrong one, but was just too polite to mention it. My managers, Robert Wace and Grenville Collins, told me that Ned was the man who invented David Frost; and That Was the Week That Was had had such an effect on me that of course I wanted to meet Ned. So I went round to No3 Bywater Street in Chelsea, where he lived, for tea. We'd just put out Death of a Clown and we were on the road, so I only had time for tea, and then I had to go to a gig, I forget where. Ned had a nice Mrs Somebody who prepared scones and jam and then disappeared, and that was the first time we met.
My first impression was that Ned resembled a giant pigeon. He has a very military bearing, he has wonderful manners, and he puffs his chest out. I think he was in the transport division of the Army once - but good at being driven rather than driving. Recently, I drove him back to his house in Chelsea after we'd had dinner at the Groucho Club, and he told me I'd have made a very good minicab driver.
After our first meeting, I can remember going round to dinner and Eleanor Bron was there; Ned has a great flair for collecting people, and his gatherings were rather like the New York Algonquin ones. At the time, I tended just to mix with pop music people - the pop and comedy worlds hadn't really started to spill over into each other much. Initially, Ned asked me if I wanted to act in his production of the film The Virgin Soldiers, but acting didn't really interest me - I was doing quite enough of it onstage with the Kinks. However, Ned is someone who likes to involve unlikely people in projects: he'd have offered the train robber Ronnie Biggs a part if he could have.
Basically, Ned said to me, "You can do the audition for Virgin Soldiers and be a star, or you can work very hard for very little money and do the music," so I decided to do the music.
I remember recording the film music at Shepperton with an orchestra of about 60 people - and Ned knew something scandalous about every single one of them. He wouldn't have used it in a malicious manner, it's just the way Ned is: collecting facts about people. Ned is a great producer because he enjoys people, he reads what they're thinking or feeling. Some of the things he says off the cuff at a dinner would build the career of a lesser person for a lifetime; there's a great intellect there.
Ned is also very good at giving advice tactfully and kindly. Originally I wrote the Virgin Soldiers music with noble lyrics, and I realised they didn't work when Ned very gently and humorously managed to get me to see it and we dropped them. More recently, when I was asked to direct a project of mine about a train journey I made, Return to Waterloo, for Channel 4, I phoned Ned to ask what he thought about it and he said, "Do you think that's wise?" He was trying to warn me it was a difficult thing to do; and he was right, because directing is something that was much harder than I had thought.
My favourite time that Ned tactfully defused a situation was during a lunch with a producer at Alexanders, a Chelsea restaurant near Bywater Street. The man really wanted Ned to do something and then got sidetracked on worthy social issues. When he'd finished, Ned simply looked up and smiled and said, "I'm terribly sorry; I was finishing my artichoke," and that was the end of that.
After Virgin Soldiers, Ned asked the Kinks to do the music slot for a six-part BBC satirical series called Where was Spring and then there was another topical satire series called The Eleventh Hour. It was a very quick turnaround - I was given a storyline on Thursday, had to write the song, deliver and record it on Friday and the show went out on Saturday; I enjoyed that. I remember that the programme had a young researcher called Esther Rantzen, who was very keen indeed.
Ned is a very committed person. He does everything thoroughly, so if he has a meal it will be a good one with good wine: we've split a good many bottles over the years. Ned also has a very sweet tooth, so he's had a few visits to the fat farm and I do remember a zealous phase of jogging - maybe he still does it. Certainly, at one point in the Eighties, he was so into keeping fit he bought tracksuits wholesale. I've still got a white one I bought off him for pounds 25. I still wear it round the house.
One of his ideas at the moment is to do this show of my songs called See My Friends. It sounds like a worthwhile project and I'd be very happy if it happened. Ned is someone you can call up at any time if you've got a problem, but you'd better make it an interesting problem, and make it worth his while to listen to. He's like an older brother or sister to me.
NED SHERRIN: In 1967, I was just about to finish my contract with Columbia Pictures when they asked me if I'd produce the film of The Virgin Soldiers as they'd bought the book by Leslie Thomas. I was talking to my old friend and co-writer Caryl Brahms about a good composer to do the opening music, and almost without hesitating Caryl said, "Oh, you should use Ray Davies of the Kinks." Caryl was about 70 at the time and completely au fait with the pop scene, and drew my attention to their singles "You Really Got Me" and "Sunny Afternoon". I'd never heard them before. I rarely play music at home; I'm more of a Radio 4 person. But Ray's music really interested me - it seemed accurately topical and to catch the spirit of the moment. I thought the Beatles's music was charming pap and and there seemed to be no relevance to the period in the Rolling Stones' lyrics - I just couldn't understand them.
I asked Ray to come round to my house in Bywater Street, and he agreed to do the opening tune. I can't remember what he was wearing or who was there, but we've remained friends ever since. We auditioned all the virgin soldiers in that house. Wayne Sleep, Hywel Bennett and David Bowie all came round. David did a rather wooden screen test, but we did use him in once dance scene as an extra; I still get letters from people asking which one he is.
Ray may have had a reputation for being quite a prickly person at the time, but as far as I was concerned he was never a moment's trouble: polite, attentive to what was needed, and then he just went away, composed the music and delivered it on time. I don't think he wrote it down - because I don't think he can read music. Writing, though, is something we never usually discuss - we deliberately shy away from the daily grind. It's a wonderful piece of music; it's perfect for the film, and it utilises the fife and other military band instruments over a series of historical stills of soldiers up until the present day. Everyone was very pleased with it.
We've known each other ever since; not in a hip and thigh sort of way, but we've had a great many meals and sunk a great many bottles together over the years. The conversation simply flows between us - Ray's a loquacious sort of fellow. I do remember that after one meal in about 1969, we'd had so many bottles that we went to the Jermyn Street Turkish Baths to sweat it out, and simply carried on talking until morning. We usually eat around Chelsea - it was the Casserole in the old days, now we often go to the Canteen. The last time we had a meal together was at the end of last year with Tim Rice, who is a notorious collector of rock icons and who hadn't met Ray - so I introduced them. It was rather a success, I think.
In the early Seventies, I did a series for the BBC called Where was Spring with Eleanor Bron and John Fortune. Klaus Voorman of Manfred Mann did some simplistic animations for it and each programme had a musical interlude which I got Ray and the Kinks to do. Ray wrote something for each show, and the whole group would come in and do it. He and his brother, Dave, would quite often bicker - they were famous for it.
I've listened to all Ray's music now. He hasn't produced that much over a long period of time, but he has a love of rural England and a view of social history that's very special - he's perhaps the best English songwriter ever. I've put a show together of his songs under the working title of See My Friends - rather on the lines of Noel Coward's Cavalcade. I'd like to do it by the millennium and it will cost about pounds 5 million - but then everything does these days. Ray loves the idea and will probably have strong ideas and get closely involved when the thing gets off the ground.
I'm of a different generation to him - about 10 years older, but I'm not old enough to be paternal; we're simply friends. Sometimes I'll get a phone call from Ray's office, asking my advice on something, or sometimes Ray will ask me himself. He needed a manager, so I put him together with mine, Deke Arlon, back in 1994; it seems to be working well.
I keep in touch with both Ray and Dave. There's always a watershed in people's lives that affects their work; and in Dave and Ray's case, it was the death of their elder sister, Rene, when they were teenagers, that affected them hugely. Ray's always had an original mind - he's a curious mixture of a streak of iron with a running sore on top. !
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