L'événement culturel de l'été à Bruxelles!
Beyond the rainbow
I received a phone call from Harry Bernsen, an American producer, asking if I would be interested in co-presenting with him an Italian musical, which had been running very successfully in Rome. He added that 75% of the finance for mounting it would be provided by Universal Pictures. The idea interested me, and as I had never visited Rome, I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to mix business with pleasure.
I flew to Rome, saw the show twice, had meetings with Harry Bernsen and the Italian producers, and I agreed to do the show in London. I also spent a glorious couple of days sight-seeing in Rome, St. Peter’s, The Forum, The Trevi Fountain, the fabulous Pantheon, The Coliseum, and as many of the landmarks as I could cram into, in two days. I then returned to London to start to set the show up.
I went to see Tommy Steele, explained what the show was all about, and asked if he would like to play the leading role. He said he didn't think that he would want to do it, but if I’d like to pay his first class fare and expenses, for him and his wife Annie to see it in Rome, he would think about it. I said, ‘That’s going to be an awful lot of money – perhaps you could give me a more promising answer, before I prepare to shell out’. At that he got angry, and said, ‘Don’t ever ask me to do a show with you again’. Needless to say, we soon got over this contretemps, but we forgot the idea of him of appearing in ‘Beyond the Rainbow’.
We finally brought over the leading man from Italy, Johnny Dorelli, who could speak English. Leslie Bricusse was engaged to write the English lyrics, and we opened at the Adelphi on 9th November. Among the supporting cast were Roy Kinnear, Noel Johnson and Lesley Duff.
Originally, one of the problems I had in setting it up was that I couldn't find the right size theatre. Harold Fielding had the Adelphi well and truly locked up, and as this was a perfect venue for the show, I approached him, asking if he would like to co-present the show with us at the Adelphi. I explained to him that this was probably one of the best deals he was ever likely to achieve in show business; he could co-produce with us for practically nothing, since 75% of the finance was to be provided by Universal Pictures, which meant that he and I would only have to find 12.5% each, and most of the scenery and costumes would be recycled from the Italian production. A great bargain – what could go wrong?
It was an extremely colourful, tuneful and humorous show, but the critics didn't really latch on to it, and we had no known star performers. Shortly after we opened, our leading actor, Johnny Dorelli, unaccustomed to our traffic flow, looked the wrong way, stepped off the kerb and was hit by a bus. He suffered severe head injuries, and spent several weeks in hospital.
The show dragged on, and eventually he returned, but each week the show was losing money. The trickle became a flood as the business diminished, and we and Harold were stuck with severe running losses, since Universal had only agreed to provide the capitalization for mounting it, not for paying its running losses.
Seeing these weekly costs continue to escalate, I said to Harold, ‘We’ve got to pull the plug’. Harold, being Harold, and never wanting to give up without a fight, demurred. ‘Harold’, I said, ‘this is going to finish up losing £20,000 a week' - an absolute fortune in those days. 'We are definitely out, and I beg you not to be stubborn – take it off’. Harold refused, ran it on his own and shouldered all the losses.
Each week, even though we were no longer involved, I would phone Harold, begging him to stop hemorrhaging these vast sums of money, but it took about eight weeks before he finally agreed to call it a day. I still believe that with Tommy Steele playing the leading role, we could well have had a very successful show.
Harold could certainly have used the money he expended to far better effect later on in his career when in 1990 he became bankrupt. This was a tragic event for one of the great showmen of our time, whose total and absolute love was the theatre. He made very tough deals, but every penny he ever made he ploughed back into the business. Never giving up - always battling - which regretfully, ended in disaster.