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Herbert Kretzmer, Fleet Streetmarker journalist and lyricist (“Les Miserables”), was born on October 5, 1925 in South Africa, where he began his professional career writing documentary films and the commentary for a weekly cinema newsreel. However, he soon moved on to print journalism, initially as a reporter and feature writer for the Johannesburg Sunday Express. He has lived in London since the mid-Fifties, pursuing twin careers as newspaperman and lyric writer.

After several years as a feature writer on the London Daily Sketch, Kretzmer became a profile writer on the Sunday Dispatch and the Daily Express, interviewing such notables as John Steinbeck, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Sugar Ray Robinson, Louis Armstrong, Henry Miller, Cary Grant and Duke Ellington. In 1962 he became senior drama critic of the Daily Express post he held for 18 years, covering about 3,000 first nights.

From 1979 to 1987 he wrote television criticism for the Daily Mail, winning in this capacity two national press awards, including TV Critic Of The Year.

Kretzmer‘s weekly lyrics for the BBC’s TV satire show “That Was The Week That Was” included the controversial, racially-charged “Song of Nostalgia For an American State” and the much recorded tribute “The Summer Of His Years”, written and performed by Millicent Martin within hours of the assassination of President Kennedymarker. Kretzmer won an Ivor Novello Award for the Peter Sellers-Sophia Loren comedy hit “Goodness Gracious Me” (composer: David Lee). Other award-winning Kretzmer lyrics include “Yesterday When I Was Young” and the chart-topping “She”, both written with, and for, the French singer Charles Aznavour. Kretzmer ‘s association with Aznavour continues to this day.

Kretzmer wrote the lyrics for Anthong Newley’s cult musical film “Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness”, whose score included “When You Gotta Go”, often used as a closing song by singers including Barbra Streisand.

Kretzmer wrote the book and lyrics of the West End musical “Our Man Crichton” (composer: David Lee), based on J M Barrie’s satirical play about the English class system “The Admirable Crichton”. The musical starred Kenneth More and Millicent Martin. Kretzmer later wrote (with composer Laurie Johnson) the lyrics for a large-scale comedy spoof “The Four Musketeers” which ran for more than a year at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lanemarker, starring Harry Secombe as the swordsman D’Artagnan.

In 1985 Kretzmer’s songs for Aznavour came to the attention of producer Cameron Mackintosh, who invited him to write an English version of a French musical “Les Miserables” (by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg). Kretzmer’s lyrics extended the two-hour Paris original into a three-hour show. The all-sung “Les Mis” opened at the Barbican Theatre on October 8, 1985 and is still running in the West End, the longest running musical in history. The score includes such well-covered ballads as “I Dreamed A Dream”, “Bring Him Home” , “On My Own” and “Empty Chairs At EmptyTables”. For his “Les Miserables ” lyrics Kretzmer received ”Tony” and “Grammy” awards

In 2008 (once again from an original text by Alain Boublil) Kretzmer wrote the lyrics for “Marguerite” set in Nazi-occupied Paris to the music by Michel Legrand. The show was part of a Jonathan Kent Season at the Haymarket Theatre before moving on to a season in Japan. "Marguerite" was shortlisted in the Best Musical category in the Evening Standard Drama Awards 2008.

Kretzmer’s current musical project is “ Kristina”, based on Vilhelm Moberg’s epic suite of novels about Swedish emigrants to Minnesota in the 19th Century. The show, originally conceived and written by lyricist Bjorn Ulvaeus and composer Benny Andersson (ABBA) will be presented and recorded in a concert version over two nights at Carnegia Hall, New York, in September, 2009.

Herbert Kretzmer married, first, Elisabeth Margaret Wilson (one son, one daughter, marriage dissolved), and secondly, Sybil Sever. Kretzmer is one of four brothers born to Lithuanian-born William and Tilly Kretzmer who fled the racist pogroms of Czarist Russia to settle in small-town South Africa early in the 20th Century. Elliot, the oldest of the brothers, flew as part a bomber crew in the South African Air Force during the second World War, eventually becoming the Mayor of Johannesburg in 1991.

In 1988 Herbert Kretzmer was elected a Chevalier of L’Ordre Des Arts Et Des Lettres. He received the Jimmy Kennedy Award (a division of the Ivor Novello Awards) for services to songwriting. In 1996 he was elected an Honorary Doctor of Letters at Richmond College.


  1. Kretzmer official website

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