Mum, me and the long-lost signed Andre Previn LP
The recent death of Andre Previn has sent David Clayton's memory back to the days when his parents rubbed shoulders with the great man
You know the feeling when you can't remember where you put something, and you haven't seen it in years? I've been rummaging at the back of cupboards, occasionally cursing and frequently getting distracted by what I wasn't looking for.
I wouldn't have been searching, but I was prompted by Andre Previn's death because I knew I had an autographed LP. I never met him, but my mother did, and it was she who persuaded him to sign it to me.
After my father retired, they lived the life of two pensioners in their Hellesdon bungalow. My resourceful mother was always looking to add to their frugal means and at some point, landed on the possibility of house-sitting for the rich and famous. So off they would go to mind a mansion and occasionally fill-in for a housekeeper who was having a holiday. They looked after some fantastic places for some seriously wealthy and titled people. When they were covering for staff on leave, my mother's relatively plain cooking seemed to go down a treat. Her dish of pears poached in lemonade achieved the status of a delicacy.
It was hard work but had its perks. I once phoned to ask my father something. He'd just gone out to the shops in the Rolls!
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Eventually they did this work via an agency and while it was always a bit hush-hush as to who they were working for, or indeed where they were working, I usually knew. I remember my mother calling me, 'We're going to work for Andre Previn,' she whispered, as if someone important was listening-in.
I'd love to have been a fly on the wall because my mother's wit combined with her northern cheek clearly endeared her to Previn and his then wife Heather, because they returned on a good few occasions to work for the couple. Usually it was no more than a month or so at a time. She'd do some light housework, including dusting the matching ornaments on his mantelpiece - his Oscars. When Andre was at home, he'd potter around and tended to gravitate to the kitchen, possibly for company, where my mother would be busy. He'd be unwittingly interfering with whatever she was doing, to the point she once told him, 'Will you just clear off and write a symphony!' He did, chuckling as he went.
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This was the mid-eighties when, for many of us, his fame was as much for his legendary appearance on Morecambe and Wise's 1971 Christmas Show as it was for his music.
To my shame I've never played the LP and now don't have a working turntable in the house to do so. The inscription says, 'To David – thanks for the book – hope to see you in Aldeburgh.' I appear to have sent him a book and its dawned on me that when I was presenting the mid-morning show on Radio Norfolk, my on-air partner, Neil Walker and I had compiled The Norfolk Airline A-Z, a sort of compendium of subjects we'd broadcast. I've no doubt my overly-proud mother acquired a copy and made me sign it. I can't imagine Andre Previn ever reading it, but its an intriguing thought that if anyone has cause to go through the shelves of his library, it could well be sitting there.
His appearance with Eric and Ern is, for me, still the funniest TV sketch ever. Lured on the show to conduct Yehudi Menuhin, he's stuck with Eric playing, 'Grieg's Piano Concerto, by Grieg.' 'I'll just go and get my baton. It's in Chicago' says Previn, with perfect comedy timing. The rest is pure genius. 'Easy on the banjos in the second movement,' pleads Eric. On one of Andre's kitchen visits, my mother asked him about it, 'Oh, I loved it, they were marvellous,' he told her.
I've just inspected the LP cover again. The signature clearly says 'Andre', but the rest might easily be 'Preview.'