Ronnie Cass

Unstoppable composer
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Ronald Cass, composer: born Llanelli, Carmarthenshire 21 April 1923; married 1955 Valerie Carton (one son, two daughters); died London 2 June 2006.

Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson, describing intimate revue in the 1950s, wrote: "It is the work of Peter Myers, in association with Ronnie Cass, that epitomises the era." Although he made his name writing music for that late lamented genre, Cass went on to further success in cinema, cabaret, television and the literary world.

He was born in Llanelli, south Wales, one of five brothers. His father was a jeweller, but Ronnie had musical ambitions from the start. He was giving piano concerts in his teens, but, to help with family finances, became a maths teacher. He was studying economics at Aberystwyth University when the Second World War began and he joined the RAF. When his squadron was posted to Burma, they took a piano with them so that he could carry on entertaining them.

After the war he returned to Wales but in 1949 he came to London in search of musical opportunities. He found them when Cecil Landeau hired him as musical director at Ciro's night-club. There he met Peter Myers, who was preparing a new revue. Their after-the-show-show 10:15 was staged at the tiny Irving Theatre, and well received. I saw 10:15 many times, and eventually offered Cass and Myers some material I had written. To my delight, they placed it in their next show, The Irving Revue (1951), which I also stage-managed. The revue starred Betty Marsden, Michael Medwin, Eunice Gayson and Larry Hagman, later to play the evil J.R. Ewing in Dallas.

In 1952 Cass attended a show performed by students of the London School of Economics, one of whom, Ron Moody, was so funny, he was soon making his professional début in Intimacy at 8 (1952), a Cass-Myers revue presented at the New Lindsay Theatre in Notting Hill Gate. A revised version, Intimacy at 8:30 (1954), ran for 551 performances in the West End.

For Amusement Only (1956) was even more successful, with Moody hilarious in "The Vagabond Student", a sketch about amateur operatic societies. Cass always said his favourite revue was High Spirits (1953); although it ran only five months at London's cavernous Hippodrome. Its cast included the actress Valerie Carton, whom he married.

In 1957 he joined Charles Ross to write a musical about a London mews and its denizens, which included a male agony aunt, an ex-madam, a young actress and a blackmailer, but the show only managed 62 performances.

Cass was reunited with Peter Myers to create For Adults Only (1958) and The Lord Chamberlain Regrets (1961). Realising that intimate revue was losing its popularity, Myers and Cass turned to the cinema, scoring great success with the Cliff Richard vehicles The Young Ones (1962) and Summer Holiday (1963). Although the title songs of both films were written by other hands, Cass and Myers provided the basic scores as well as the screenplays. Their third Cliff musical, Wonderful Life (1964), was less successful.

Peter Myers once said to me, "Ronnie could give Robinson Crusoe lessons in survival." The unstoppable Cass went on to create Déjà Revue (1974), a "review of revues". He wrote TV plays. He composed a cantata performed at Norwich Cathedral. He devised cabaret shows for cruise liners. He and his old friend Warren Mitchell teamed up to bring to the stage The Thoughts of Chairman Alf (1975), which they took here, there and everywhere for the next 20 years. Then there was the Taffia; Cass worked with his fellow Welshman Tom Jones on more than 70 television shows and with Harry Secombe on the religious series Highway.

I reminded him recently that I had understudied Larry Hagman in The Irvine Revue, but, to my frustration, he never missed a performance. "Oh yes," said Ronnie. "You wanted to shoot J.R. 30 years before anyone in Dallas did."

Dick Vosburgh

Comments