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16th March 2015

St George’s, Hanover Square
St George Street, London, W1S 1FX


Directed by Tony Palmer

Tony Palmer will introduce the film and take questions afterwards.

This film was originally shown in 1985 on Channel Four, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the birth of that honorary ‘British’ composer, Georg Frederic Handel. It caused a predictable furore.

First, it was written by John Osborne, and what the hell did he know about music?

“A trashy comic strip”, was among the more generous of reviews. Trevor Howard, in what turned out to be his last major film, was thought incoherent at best and absurd at worst. As for me, well.....!!! Osborne was amused (although not surprised) by all of this virago, especially when he was struck down with pneumonia and lugged off to a hospital in, yes, you guessed it, Tunbridge Wells. “Mr Osborne”, he was told by a very sexy nurse (his description, as he related in The Spectator), “this is punishment for having mocked our lovely town. How can you say ‘God Rot Tunbridge Wells’? Oh naughty Mr Osborne”.

Only the music escaped criticism. Mackerras (another honorary ‘Brit’) and his fiery cast – Emma Kirkby, James Bowman, Elizabeth Harwood, John Shirley-Quirk, Simon Preston, Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, Valerie Masterson, Andrei Gavrilov, the English Chamber Orchestra - were rightly praised for making Handel sound, well, like Handel, full of life and fury, and not the usual syrupy stodge served up by a massed choir of thousands.

Looking back over twenty years later, I can see why the film caused the purists to wet their pants. Not for the first (nor the last) time, John Osborne had taken aim at an icon of ‘British’ culture, and come up with an altogether radical view of a national treasure. Mackerras adored the film, and for a time I was told went round slightly misquoting one of Handel’s speeches from the film. Handel/Osborne/Trevor Howard says, with appropriate insouciance: “What have I done for the Georges of England?” Mackerras said: “What have I done for the Handels of England?” Rescued them, great Sir. Rescued them.

Why the title? Well, for the answer you have to see the film!

unreserved seating


Tony Palmer

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London Handel Festival

London Handel Society
PO Box 79,
TA19 9WP


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