Tuesday 13 December 2005
In 1966 at Cambridge, as the May Week show for the university's Amateur Dramatic Club, I directed a Feydeau farce, Hotel Paradiso,
writes Robert Cushman. In the supporting role of Monsieur Martin, a barrister of overflowing geniality somewhat impeded by a spectacular stammer, I cast, on impulse and without audition, an imposing red-haired first-year undergraduate who had begun to establish himself as a magisterial comic presence at the Footlights and whose name was Jonathan James-Moore [obituary by Alan Strachan, 24 November].
It turned out to be the smartest casting decision I ever made. In the short term, Jonathan gave a virtuoso performance that stopped the show every night of the run; in the long, our association began a friendship that, reversing the usual order of things, developed into the longest, happiest and most productive working relationship I have known - though this time he was the one doing the directing.
It was in the BBC Radio Light Entertainment Department, some 15 years after our first meeting, that I wandered into his office at one end of Light Ent's fabled corridor to say that I had an idea for a Radio 3 programme on musicals, and would he kindly produce it? We made a pilot, which led to a series - eventually to half a dozen of them - which at his suggestion we called Book, Music and Lyrics; and which in turn led, over the course of 20 years, to other shows, both series and one-offs, of which our joint favourite - not only because it involved a series of wonderful trips to New York - was Sweet and Low Down, an informal history of Manhattan cabaret. We proved, I think, that it was possible to treat popular music on radio and to be entertaining without compromising anyone's intelligence: our subjects', our listeners' or our own.
As a producer, Jonathan was simply the best: shrewd, encouraging and endless fun to work with. About halfway through our two decades, he became head of the department. Jonathan prided himself on his political skills, but he must have been the least bureaucratic of BBC chiefs, and certainly one of the best-loved.
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