Thursday, 16 July 2009


The Crippen story has inspired many writers over the years, long before I wrote Dancing for the Hangman. One of the most remarkable fruits of that inspiration was a musical called Belle, alternatively titled The Ballad of Dr Crippen.

The music was written by Monty Norman, with a book by Wolf Mankowitz. It opened at the Strand Theatre on 4 May 1961, and managed a mere 44 performances before critical opprobrium killed it off. There was an outcry about bad taste, with the acerbic Bernard Levin in the vanguard. However, a CD of the show has been issued, and the notes claim that it ‘has to be one of the truly great British musicals, admirably incisive in its invention, wit and sympathy for its subject’.

The music hall style is not really to my taste, but the score does have verve, and it might be argued that the show was simply ahead of its time. The cast featured George Benson as Crippen (I remember him from countless TV comedy shows in the 60s), Rose Hill as his wife, and Virginia Vernon as Ethel Le Neve. There is a track listing on the Crippen page on my website.

I have managed to obtain a programme of the show, inscribed by Vernon. She was a pretty young actress who had already appeared in The Millionairess with Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren, but her musical career ended with Belle. She married a comedian, Ben Warriss, and retired from the stage.

As for Norman, at least his music attracted the attention of the producer of a new spy film. And so it was that Norman was asked to write The James Bond Theme….


R/T said...

Are you familiar with John Boyne's CRIPPEN? I have featured it at today BOOKED FOR MURDER . Boyne's book, though playing a bit fast and loose with the "facts" of the case, is an entertaining fictional representation of the Crippen case.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Tim. I certainly am familiar with it. That such a good writer had published a Crippen book when mine was nearly finished was a shock at the time, but I was pleased to find that my take on the case was very different from his.