Journalist and Les Misérables lyricist Herbert Kretzmer dies aged 95

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Journalist and Les Misérables lyricist Herbert Kretzmer dies aged 95

Former Daily Mail writer also co-wrote Charles Aznavour’s 1974 UK No. 1 hit ‘She’ and the 1960 song ‘Goodness Gracious Me’

Herbert Kretzmer (Screenshot from YouTube. Credit:
Herbert Kretzmer (Screenshot from YouTube. Credit:

The former Daily Mail journalist who begged extended leave to pen the lyrics for English-language adaptation of hit musical Les Misérables has died aged 95.

Herbert Kretzmer, born in South Africa, also co-wrote Charles Aznavour’s 1974 UK No. 1 hit ‘She’ and penned the 1960 song ‘Goodness Gracious Me’, as ‘popularised through Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren’s version of the film ‘The Millionairess.’

Kretzmer moved to London in the 1950s and worked as a Fleet Street journalist while also pursuing a parallel career as a lyricist, the success of which led theatre legend Tim Rice this week to call him “a giant of his trade”.

Writing first at the Daily Express and then the Daily Mail, he retired aged 61 as Les Mis took off, subsequently setting records by running in London’s West End non-stop from 1985 until the coronavirus lockdown earlier this year.

In an interview with the Guardian in 2018, he recalled meeting producer Cameron Mackintosh in 1984. “I was so keen to work on a big musical, I’d have accepted if it had been Three Blind Mice,” he said.

When the call eventually came, Kretzmer said he “begged extended leave, holed up in my house and barely emerged for five months,” adding:  “Lyrics and journalism are a good match: both are about manipulating language under constraint. Bars of music can’t be negotiated.”

He lived his later years in Kensington and was proud to discover that pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong last year used his Les Mis number ‘Do you Hear the People Sing’ as a rallying cry.

Daily Mail columnist Richard Kay this week said: “Few people, however brilliant, transcend their area of expertise the way Kretzmer did.

“Playwright, journalist and composer of Top 10 hits, he was also a man who never forgot the inequalities of his native South Africa. He wore his social conscience easily but the paradox of that day last year when he tuned in to those protesters was not lost on him.”

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