The day Elvis played Suffolk: The creators of Birds Of A Feather unveil their latest flight of fancy
When comedy writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, creators of a string of hit TV sitcoms, began work on their new stage musical, Save The Last Dance For Me, they racked their brains to find a suitable holiday town for its setting.
‘The only rule was that it mustn’t be glamorous,’ says Gran.
They chose Lowestoft.
‘Actually, it was the worst place we could think of,’ cuts in Marks. ‘I went there last year, so I know what I’m talking about.’
Sixties' sounds: New stage musical Save The Last Dance For Me sees two teenage girls travel to Lowestoft before they fall in love with GIs based at the nearby U.S. Air Force Base at Lakenheath
‘Oh, I wouldn’t agree with that,’ Gran protests. ‘But the clincher was it was near to the big U.S. Air Force base at Lakenheath, which in the Sixties, when the story is set, was probably the most glamorous place in England.
‘All those dashing American airmen with their big cars, big wallets and flash ways were an irresistible magnet for young girls.’
The story that Marks and Gran devised was simple: two teenage sisters from Luton are in the Suffolk town for a week’s holiday from their dull assembly-line jobs. As they shelter from the rain on the promenade, a handsome GI invites them to a dance at the base. ‘Elvis will be playing,’ he tells them.
‘Oh yes Pull the other one!’ they scoff.
‘It’s true,’ he tells them solemnly. ‘I swear on my mother’s eyesight.’
The girls are hooked.
‘He forgets to mention that the promised Elvis is an unknown drummer — one Elvis Simpkins,’ says Marks. ‘But the girls don’t care: suddenly they find themselves living the American dream.
‘Love blossoms, bringing with it parental objections, but with Sixties’ hits belting out every few minutes, everyone’s cares get drowned in music.’
Creative minds: The stage show is the latest offering from writing duo Maurice Gran and Laurence Marks
The show, which opens a long nationwide tour in Bromley, Kent, tonight, is the latest in a long line of successful stage productions based on pop songs, including We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia, Jersey Boys and — another Sixties’ rock-fest written by Marks and Gran — Dreamboats And Petticoats.
The title, Save The Last Dance For Me, was a hit for The Drifters in 1960 and was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, whose songs are featured in the show. Their hits include Teenager In Love, Viva Las Vegas, Suspicion and Can’t Get Used To Losing You. Marks, 63, and Gran, 62, met when they both joined a youth club in North London at the age of ten. ‘I was the spotty one, he was the fat kid,’ says Marks.
Marks became a journalist, Gran a civil servant, and they churned out scripts without much luck. Their break came when they were asked to write for Frankie Howerd.
‘He was a nice man, but not easy to work for,’ says Gran. ‘We were writing his radio series while trying to hold down our day jobs. The stress was so bad that I’d be sitting there choosing the music for my funeral.’
The pair wrote an ITV sitcom called Shine On Harvey Moon, which drew 17 million viewers and teamed Linda Robson with Pauline Quirke — a pairing so successful that they went on to write Birds Of A Feather for them.
Classic sitcom: Maurice Gran and Laurence Marks wrote Birds Of A Feather, which teamed up Pauline Quirke, (L) Lesley Joseph (C) and Linda Robson
Goodnight Sweetheart — with Nicholas Lyndhurst as a time traveller — came about after Marks remarked that some buildings in London’s East End still showed wartime bomb damage, in contrast to the modern edifices just a few yards away.
Recruited by a U.S. TV network to write a sitcom, they found every gag they submitted was analysed to death. It wasn’t their style.
‘We’d been given a great apartment and lots of money,’ says Marks, ‘but that life wasn’t for us. The only light moment came after we’d been kept awake by the loud piano-playing next door.
‘The manager promised he’d have a word with the occupant.
‘Later, he told us: “Mr Stevie Wonder says he’s sorry and it won’t happen again.”’
Save The Last Dance For Me opens at Bromley Churchill Theatre tonight. Tickets 0844 871 7651. Other venues: www.kenwright.com