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Guest Stories

A Writer’s Love Affair With Cunard

June 1, 2009

We Are Cunard

Posted in: Guest Stories

We were fortunate enough to have one of Britain’s most successful creative partnerships on board last voyage on Queen Mary 2. In two lectures Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, gave the audience a fascinating insight in to their four decades of working together. As I mentioned last week this was a great opportunity to hear the stories behind the TV programmes I was brought up on and to meet the people whose names appear on the credits of so many programmes, and now films. In chatting to Dick Clement it soon became clear that this was almost a pilgramage for him having travelled on Queen Mary in her heyday as a youngster in the 1950’s. He was kind enough to offer to write a Guest Blog for me, but before we get to that here’s a look back at the career of an enduring partnership.

It began in British television with a blue-collar comedy called The Likely Lads, which instantly struck a chord with the viewing public. They revisited the same characters some six years later with the award-winning series, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? and quickly followed it with another perennial, Porridge, starring Ronnie Barker.

By now they had already written several feature films, such as The Jokers for Michael Winner, Villain, starring Richard Burton and Otley, starring Tom Courtenay, which Dick directed, as well as Not Only…But Also, starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Simultaneously, they enjoyed a smash hit at London’s Drury Lane Theatre, adapting Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar into the musical Billy with Michael Crawford.

Dick and Ian moved to California in the seventies and wrote The Prisoner of Zenda, with Peter Sellers playing twin roles and worked extensively on Never Say Never Again, in which Sean Connery returned to the role of James Bond. They racked up more frequent flying miles to Leningrad and Moscow with Elton John, making the ‘rockumentary’ To Russia with Elton. In the eighties they had another hit for British television with Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, about English bricklayers seeking employment in Germany, among them Jimmy Nail and Timothy Spaull. This was another series they revisited recently to great acclaim. Ian also created the long-running series Lovejoy, starring Ian McShane. Dick directed their screenplay of Water, with Michael Caine.

They won the Peter Sellers Award for Comedy for their screenplay for Alan Parker’s film, The Commitments.They returned to the rock world with their original screenplay Still Crazy, starring Bill Nighy and Billy Connolly, which won two Golden Globe nominations. They spent four years as writers and supervising producers with Tracy Ullman on HBO’s Emmy award winning series, Tracy Takes On and worked with Sean Connery again on The Rock, for producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who employed them several times as ‘script doctors’ on films such as Pearl Harbor and Coyote Ugly.

In the last few years they have been as busy as ever, adapting The Rotters’ Club and Archangel, starring Daniel Craig, for the BBC, and getting four films made in completely diverse genres: a sports film, Goal! The Dream Begins, an animated movie, Flushed Away, a thriller, The Bank Job, and a musical, Across the Universe, directed by Julie Taymor and nominated for a Golden Globe (Best Picture, Musical or Comedy.)

So here is Dick with his guest blog.

Guest Blog – Dick Clement – Guest Lecturer on Queen Mary 2

In my last year at school in England I made friends with a young American who was there on a scholarship from the English Speaking Union. He inspired me to find out if the scheme worked in reverse. When I found out that it did, I applied, went up to London for an interview, and much to the astonishment of my Headmaster I was successful. It meant spending an extra year at a school in Connecticut and my transportation was provided by Cunard.

I set sail on the Queen Mary with seventeen other scholarship winners, all wide-eyed at the idea of discovering America for ourselves. Remember, this was the Fifties, when travel was a great deal more limited than today. We were an object of some curiosity to the Americans on board who asked us two key questions repeatedly: why had we kicked Winston Churchill out of power after he had won the war for us and what was it like living with food rationing? They also tended to greet me with ‘Pip-pip, old bean!’ which mystified me as I had never read P.G.Wodehouse at the time.

There were three classes of travel in those days and naturally scruffy schoolboys were assigned modest cabins on a lower deck. But we soon found various companionways to go through, with words on them like ‘Absolutely No Access’, which led to forbidden parts of the ship. As long as we looked and acted as if we belonged we found that no one challenged us in either Cabin or First Class. Not that I did this all the time. It was September and we ran into heavy seas and I couldn’t get out of my cabin for a couple of days.

Happily, the storm petered out before we reached America. I have flown the Atlantic many times since but never again have I had such a sense of excitement as the one I felt on peering through the mist for my first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, followed by the skyscrapers of Manhattan and ‘a host of golden taxicabs’.

My first day in America is an indelible memory. My school term was still a few days away, so I was billeted on the mother of one of the boys who had been to school in England the year before. She happened to be Margaret Hamilton, who is famous for playing the wicked witch in ‘The Wizard of Oz’. She was anything but wicked to me. She took me for dinner at Luchows, which sounds Chinese but actually serves German cuisine and is still there to this day. We then went to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers play baseball, a game I’d never seen before. I had very little idea of what was taking place but I cheered in all the right places and I remember they won. This was the year the Dodgers won the World Series. To this day I win bets with Americans who find it hard to believe that a Brit could even have heard of Ebbets Field.

That year in America changed my life and is probably the reason that I make California my home today – as do the Dodgers. I had a hundred dollars spending money to last me the entire year so there were days when I chose not to squander a nickel on a Coke. But the hospitality I received was fantastic and everyone assumed I was posh – which I’m not – when they heard a British accent.

When the year was finally over I returned to Southampton, this time a smoother crossing in July on Queen Elizabeth. Several decades went by before I sailed with Cunard again. Ian La Frenais and I were invited to give some talks about our work writing scripts on both sides of the Atlantic and we were delighted to accept. We crossed the Atlantic from Brooklyn to Southampton on Queen Mary 2 last June and fell in love, not only with the ship but the pleasure of traveling at a civilized stately pace with none of the cramped conditions of air travel. Just a few days ago we took another voyage around the Mediterranean. With any luck, we hope this is the start of a long-lived love affair.

What a great story and Blog – thanks so much Dick; we look forward to seeing you back soon to continue your love affair! Meanwhile I’ll be back on Thursday with more news from the Cunard World. Cheers Alastair

  1. Jack Bush says:

    An entertaining and informative blog entry by Mr Clement. My wife and I will be sailing the Mediterranean on Queen Victoria in early September and would love to hear him and Ian La Frenais speak!

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