Alec Grahame

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The Independent Online

James Alexander Patchett (Alec Grahame), lyric writer and theatrical agent: born Broadstairs, Kent 22 September 1926; died London 21 August 2001.

Someone once described Saint-Saens as the greatest composer who ever lived, who wasn't a genius. Alec Grahame might similarly be described as the finest lyric writer who remained unknown to the general public.

He was born James Alexander Patchett, the son of a naval Commander, in Broadstairs in 1926, and educated locally, entering the business in the late 1940s and building up a reputation, as "Alec Grahame", as a stage manager. In these first years he wrote revue lyrics mainly for his own enjoyment. During 1950 he met Peter Myers, who by then was established with his first revue, starring Hermione Gingold, at the St Martin's Theatre. Grahame very diffidently showed Myers some of his lyrics. Myers thought they were brilliant, and the partnership of Myers and Grahame was born.

The two became synonymous with stinging satirical lyrics. They were a prolific partnership, but their great love was "Intimate Revue", and they churned these revues out as fast as Ernie Wise produced plays. Grahame brought to the duo a wicked wit, plus a devotion to the art of lyric writing based on his love for the greatest of these, Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Alan Jay Lerner and Cole Porter. It is not an exaggeration to say that at his best he could stand comparison with them.

In 1951 a triumvirate of Myers, Grahame and myself was responsible for creating the Irving Theatre. (An art gallery by day, and a theatre at night.) The first revue there was 10.15 (1951) starring Betty Marsden, Gabrielle Brune, Ronnie Stevens and, in her first show, Shani Wallis. This was followed by The Irving Revue (1952), introducing a young lad called Larry Hagman. We also sent the revue After the Show to Edinburgh, giving birth to the Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival.

The Irving continued to prosper, but the team moved on to the New Lindsey Theatre in Notting Hill Gate, and spawned two more revues there, Intimacy at 8 (1953) and More Intimacy at 8 (1954). It was in the first of these that Ron Moody, hotfoot from the London School of Economics, began his career.

Both these shows transferred to the West End. The former, starring Cyril Ritchard, Diana Churchill and Ian Carmichael, became High Spirits (1953) at the Hippodrome and the latter, starring Joan Heal, Joan Sims and Dilys Laye, became Intimacy at 8.30 (1954) at the Criterion, where it remained for 18 months.

It is hard to believe today, but the word "intimacy" was spoken with much awe in 1954, and nightly many of the audience at the Criterion remained puzzled, waiting salaciously for the "intimacy" the title had promised them to begin.

Grahame went on to become the guiding light of the television series On the Bright Side (1959-60), starring Betty Marsden and Stanley Baxter, before seeing it safely into its long run at the Phoenix Theatre as the revue On the Brighter Side.

In 1958 he rejoined Myers with For Adults Only at the Strand Theatre. It was there he wrote what many consider to be his greatest number, "Black Magic", dealing with the ubiquitous Black Dress. It was performed by Pat Lancaster and was unique in that it stopped the show every night of the year-long run. (As indeed it did in every subsequent show in which it appeared.)

Grahame was at his satirical best in an item called "The Establishment" from The Lord Chamberlain Regrets at the Saville Theatre (1960). It was performed by Joan Sims, Millicent Martin and Ronnie Stevens. Every single line of the song produced a laugh and it dissected the Establishment with clinical precision:

There's a song in Guys and Dolls,

I'd like to quote from same:

The Establishment is the oldest

permanent floating CRAP game.

It was at this point Grahame was a bit miffed to be told by the critics that satire had actually been "invented" by four young men from Cambridge, and Intimate Revue was quietly laid to rest.

With his encyclopaedic knowledge of the theatre Grahame then became a quite splendid theatrical agent, finding and developing the careers of such artists as David Kernan and Amanda Barrie. He was also a superb chef and spent many years satisfying many grateful eaters.

But scratch a satirist and underneath you are apt to find a sentimentalist of high order. Such was the case with Alec Grahame. In his latter years he wrote a musical called Raj (both book and lyrics), an ambitious work tracing the British in India through three generations. It includes some of the most tender love songs you could imagine.

He did not live long enough to see it performed, but the recording of the score was near completion, and will be completed. No more suitable epitaph can be written than his songs from that show. I just hope the music I have written for it does it justice.

Ronnie Cass