Key Changes: A Musical Memoir by Denis King. Amazon. 5*****. William Russell

The life span of a boy band is short and chances are nobody remembers the King Brothers, of whom Denis was the youngest. But these three lads were Britain’s first boy band way back in the early 1950s and toured and performed with everybody – regulars with Morcambe and Wise – and also appeared at the Palladium. But while all this is interesting it is ancient history. What makes this chatty, occasionally bitchy and frequently very funny memoir impossible to put down is what happened to Denis after the band had disbanded. Apart from anything else he became a prolific composer of musicals – 25in all – some of which were hits, some flops and he is fascinating on the latter and very interesting in his dealings with the playwright Peter Nichols. It was Nichols’ Privates on Parade, and RSC production, which launched his musical career – he was asked to set 13 lyrics to music and did so in a week. They are one of the reasons – the play itself while a massive it went through several plot changes – why he is a treasured part of theatrical history. It starred Denis Quilley as Captain Terri Dennis, the outrageously camp star of a group entertaining the troops in Malaysia during the troubles there. It won the 1977 Olivier Award, the Ivor Novello Award and the Evening Standard Best New Comedy award, was a hit in America with Jim Dale as Terri, and filmed. Nichols proved a difficult friend failing repeatedly to give credit where credit was due and behind the scenes ensured that King would not compose the work for his next play with music, Poppy. King is also interesting on his musical based on Stepping Out which was a hit on its provincial try out but when brought in to town had a new director and a new cast and nobody listened to the composer. It was not a hit. One highlight is the evening he and his wife were invited for afters to a house where the guest at dinner was Princess Margaret, who fancied herself as a performer of songs – King got to play for her, a mixed blessing because HRH knew it all and left the assembled guests, not all of whom had been invited to dine, having to stand while she warbled on and on.
His story about travelling with his friend Albert Finney, who recorded an album of songs for Motown with his help, in the United States promoting it is an eye opener. The things Motown provided its stars is nobody’s business.
He has played for the best, appear with the best, written the theme tunes for countless television shows – one being Lovejoy – and now retired has taken up wild cold water swimming.
He comes across as splendid company, pulls no punches – especially when the people who crossed him are dead – and opens the eyes to the ghastly business of trying to get a musical together, let alone getting a hit. There is no business like show business? Well it certainly has its monsters. But Denis King is not one of them. Read it, be entertained and end up crying encore. The only flaw is it does not have an index.
Key Changes by Denis King. Available on Amazon. Paperback £9.99. Kindle £4.99.

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