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Bert Finally Gets An English Accent

Stiles & Drewe and The Sherman BrothersFor George and Anthony, there was one day in the summer of 2003 that turned out to be practically perfect.

When the two men who wrote the original songs to Mary Poppins met the two men who have written the new songs to Mary Poppins, one might imagine a small cloud of uncertainty in the sky up there with Mary herself.

George Stiles, Sherman Brothers and Julian FellowsBrothers Robert M Sherman and Richard M Sherman won two Oscars for their music and lyrics for the 1964 Disney film Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews as the flying no nonsense nanny and Dick Van Dyke as cockney chimney sweep Bert.

With instantly recognizable numbers that immediately entered the human DNA chain - who can't hum 'Chim Chim Cher-ee', 'A Spoonful Of Sugar', 'Let's Go Fly A Kite' and 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious'? - here was one of the most popular songwriting teams of all time having their enduring Poppins classics ('Feed the Birds' was Wait Disney's own favourite song) re-arranged and augmented by a couple of young Olivier Award-winning Brits.

Their brief?

To compose new songs and additional lyrics for the eagerly-awaited Disney / Cameron Mackintosh produced stage version. But as George Stiles and Anthony Drewe recall, after they played all of the new music they had written for the show at that time, no-one in the room was in any doubt that the Shermans were overjoyed at what they heard.

 
George Stiles

It really was one of the best days ever. I remember Richard sat on the sofa in Cameron's office and absolutely cried tears of joy that all of their original stuff was intact, but also relief that we'd caught and complemented their spirit in our songs.

It's hard to imagine being given a project that is more brilliant or rewarding than Mary Poppins. It's also true to say that it was extremely terrifying at first.

We were given carte blanche by Cameron to pretty much do what we wanted with the existing Sherman brothers' songs as well as to write or develop the new ones it was felt were needed for the story on stage which is not the story of the film and owes a lot to the much darker original books by PL Travers.

I mean, how far do you go and mess around with classic songs that we have both known since we were six years old? That was the terrifying side of the thrill.

 
 

 

Sitting comfortably in their West London studio..,

Stiles and DreweGeorge composes on a grand piano in a back-room overlooking the garden.

Anthony jots down lyrics in his small den at the front (usually, he confides, lying face-down on his tummy on huge floor-cushions).

The writing partners seem to be tickled pink that no-one heard the join between their six brand-new numbers and the Shermans' songs when the show previewed in Bristol.

Stiles and Drewe showstoppers like 'Brimstone and Treacle' and 'Anything Can Happen' immediately created a buzz.

 

 
 

We'd been working on the songs for over a year and a half by the time we got to Bristol, so there wasn't a bar of the show we hadn't arranged - and there are over three thousand of them.

You'd hear people coming out saying that 'Temper Temper' was definitely in the film, and yet it's one of ours, and everyone came out humming 'Supercalifragilistic...' even though its 80 per cent new lyrics"

In the film there aren't many 'ocious' rhymes so I had to make them up - the Shermans used 'atrocious' and 'precocious' but not 'ferocious', so I put that in, then made up my own like 'Check your breath before you speak in case it's halitoicious'.

Anthony Drewe
 

 

 
George Stiles

My favourite is: 'Add some further flourishes, it's so rococococious'!"

 
 

 

You can see why...

Practically PerfectCameron Mackintosh and his Disney production partners led by the equally impassioned Thomas Schumacher, commissioned these two Poppins addicts to re score the show: you expect a flying nanny to call by any second, or see sooty-faced chimneysweeps dancing on their roof tiles. As Mary herself might say, they are "practically perfect" for the job. Indeed, the first completely new song they wrote was entitled 'Practically Perfect'. That was ten years ago when a Mary Poppins stage musical was still a long-held dream for Cameron Mackintosh, and the Stiles and Drewe writing partnership had hit the big time with Honk!, their delightful musicalisation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling.

After they wrote 'Practically Perfect', however, there was eight years of silence before they got the phone call in January 2003 to join the creative team, which includes director Richard Eyre, choreographer Matthew Bourne and book writer Julian Fellowes. "Then it was all systems go. Cameron made us write a song a week for the first few weeks."

But it wasn't all spoonfuls of sugar. On one occasion they'd been summoned to the Mackintosh residence in Somerset and arrived knowing full well that they hadn't got a new theme to play him.

"We felt like kids who hadn't done their homework," blushes Drewe.

 
 

Temper TemperI was in the kitchen making coffee with Cameron and George was in the lounge tinkling on the piano and Cameron heard him and said

'Oh I like the sound of that. What is it?'

I said I thought it was the new sequence when the children misbehave - which it was. But George hadn't actually written anything.

He just busked - and rhythmically it sounded a bit angry, like "temper, temper".

So almost on the spot we came up with an idea for a song. Of course, Cameron loved it.

Anthony Drewe
 

 

 

 

 

 
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