Sometimes it takes two to create winning words. DAVID WHETSTONE talks to one half of Marks and Gran ahead of their latest musical hitting the North East
LIKE gloves or scissors, good sitcom writers come in pairs, it seems: Perry and Croft, Clement and La Frenais, Marks and Gran.
Maurice Gran, whose fruitful partnership with Laurence Marks has given us Birds of a Feather, Goodnight Sweetheart and The New Statesman, suggests it’s a way of staving off paranoia.
“We hardly do anything separately except a bit of journalism or travel writing. At least you always know you can make one person laugh.
“Comedy writers can have a desperate time if they work on their own.”
Maurice has nothing but respect for the other aforementioned comedy writing duos – Jimmy Perry and David Croft who created Dad’s Army and Dick Clement and Geordie-in-exile Ian La Frenais who gave us Porridge and The Likely Lads.
“They were among the reasons Laurence and I wanted to be comedy writers,” says Maurice, who lives in Cheltenham. “We always cite Porridge as a masterpiece.”
But if you regard sitcoms as their forte, Laurence and Gran have more than one good string to their bow. It is a stage musical, Save The Last Dance For Me, that brings Maurice to the phone.
Bound for the Theatre Royal at the end of the month, the show takes us back to the 1960s and the musical hits of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.
These include A Teenager in Love, Hushabye, This Magic Moment, Turn Me Loose, Sweets For My Sweet and the song – first recorded in 1960 by Ben E King with The Drifters – that would give the Marks and Gran show its title.
Save The Last Dance For Me, the stage musical, had an initial 25-week tour last year.
“It did quite well and it was gathering pace towards the end of the tour and that was what made the producers want to go again,” says Maurice.
“Also they’d got sympathetic connections with the material. The producers were personal friends of Mort Shuman who was one of the two writers whose songs they were celebrating.
“He came to this country in the late 60s and he died quite young so it had long been a notion of theirs to do this show. They also thought Save The Last Dance For Me was one of the great titles for a musical that didn’t exist, so they were always going to give it their best shot.
“It went down very well but we all felt, particularly Laurence and I, that we could make it better. There has been a fair bit of tinkering and some of the songs have been changed around.”
For the record, Pomus (born Jerome Felder) and Mort Shuman were both born in Brooklyn, New York, the former in 1925 and the latter in 1936. They both died in 1991, Shuman from complications resulting from a liver operation and Pomus from lung cancer.
But they left a legacy of music to which the producers of the show wanted to pay homage.
Maurice Gran says there was no abnormal pressure. “I prefer to work with producers who have an emotional commitment to something. You try very hard not to get involved in something unless you’ve got a personal commitment to it. Working for a producer who just does something because he thinks he can turn a profit would be pretty grim.”
In the Theatre Royal spring/summer brochure you will see Save The Last Dance For Me described as “Dreamboats & Petticoats meets Dirty Dancing in an all-new rock ‘n’ roll musical”.
Dreamboats and Petticoats is an established and successful Marks and Gran musical. On their website they recall being asked to turn a hit compilation CD into a stage musical.
“Having spent some time trying to turn our television comedy Goodnight Sweetheart into a musical, we took on the daunting task of Dreamboats and Petticoats. Four years later, it’s still touring.”
Maurice says they actually wrote it in 2004, taking the view that in this grim old world people go to the theatre wanting to be cheered up for a couple of hours.
“That was what we set out to do because a couple of tickets to the theatre and an ice-cream is not that cheap a night out. I think we achieved it.
“This show has got a slightly grittier story – white girl falls for black GI. Although it’s fairly soppy, set in 1960s England it does have this edge to it. It’s a reminder of how things used to be.”
Despite their successes on television, Maurice says he and his writing partner get tremendous satisfaction from the theatre – “and particularly musical theatre.
“There are fewer pleasures more enjoyable than watching an audience enjoying your work. You don’t get that on TV really unless you invite 1,000 people round to your house.”
As well as a good book and hit songs, there are other reasons to see Save The Last Dance For Me.
Maurice says: “I do marvel at the talent of the cast in both of our shows because they really are all-singing, all-dancing.
“Bill Deamer, who directs it, is one of the country’s top choreographers. He choreographs Bruce Forsyth’s dance shows and he choreographed Top Hat in the West End.
“All the cast are really young and they all sing and dance and play three or four instruments.”
On a grey winter’s day, who could ask for more?
Save The Last Dance For Me is at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, from January 28 to February 2. Tickets: 08448 112 121, or www.theatreroyal.co.uk