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The Liberace Show

After a long-running hit series in the USA and straight from a European tour, Liberace arrived at Elstree. Despite jokey early derision, he quickly won over everybody with his geniality and sheer professionalism. From a sound perspective, he was a joy to work with.The middle part of the hour show was the Concert Spot. With a sixty-piece orchestra behind his special personalised Baldwin piano, Lee, dressed in one of his famous heavy brocade glittering suits would proceed to play any one of the popular classics before four cameras almost invariably in one take. Interestingly, I never saw classically-trained Liberace read a note of music throughout the three months on site. Three concert spots of approximately twenty minutes each were recorded in one short day to avoid the set having to be erected every week. The specially made Baldwin piano was something that Liberace was proud of. He always told his audiences that there were only two in the whole world ... and he had both of them.After the very first concert spot recording, he was invited up to sound control for a replay. The brocade suits were very heavy and even the walk up the sound stairs was arduous. My sound console was a hundred-channel Rupert Neve desk. To reach both ends of the desk, a sliding chair had been installed on a six-foot track. Lee sat in this chair and after joyfully sliding himself from side to side, greatly admired the desk, likening it to a Boeing 747 flight deck. I remarked that there were only two in the whole world, and he quickly interrupted saying ‘I know, and you've got both of them. His laughter was infectious. At one point, he had made a slight error in the Tchaikovsky 4th. When director Colin Clewes asked him if he wanted a re-take, he replied, after a pause, ‘No, I think I'll quit while I'm ahead.'I had given his piano a very sharp top end sound, which he commented on and admired. ‘Especially' he remarked ‘as I can't see any microphones' (so, he noticed?)  I had hidden three mics in the body of the piano, one top end, one mid and the third at the bottom far end of the enormously long Baldwin piano. The level produced by the piano was such that even when all three microphones were faded up, no other sounds infiltrated, not even the sixty-piece orchestra. Totally unseen in shot, all the cabling for these microphones came out of the bottom end of the instrument down the hidden back leg and with the complicity of the design department disappeared under the rostrum floor.The shows were recorded on a Thursday evening before an audience. Lee would always address them before, during and after recording. They were mostly ardent fans and devoured his every word, admiring his diamond rings and costumes. After the show was finalised he would thank the audience for their patience during the scene breaks and tell them how much he admired the guest star's performance, often sharing a little private story about them, but never detrimental. He would then tell them that the only part of the show they hadn't seen was the Concert Spot - which, for technical reasons, they had to record earlier . . .'but I could play it for you now if you wanted'. They wanted. He would return to the home base set furnished with an ordinary baby grand and, without orchestra, play the piece all through.On any other show, the floor crew, would be tearing the set down at this juncture, the lighting crew would be noisily working their lighting tracks and generally the studio would be dark in twenty minutes - in short . . .a wrap. But no, all the floor crew watched dutifully whilst Lee played the entire piece, after which they joined in with the applause just as heartily as the audience. I can think of no other show, no other artiste where this occurred. Liberace had won the hearts and minds of everybody at ATV Elstree, just as he had, surely, around the world.The shows were edited over the weekend. On Monday mornings, before rehearsals started for the next show Lee was invited to the director's control room to watch last week's finalised edit. He would sit with his eyes glued to the screen, as if seeing it, and himself for the first time. When introducing the guest star, he would often turn and say something like ‘Oh I really like her' - it was always apparent that he enjoyed watching the show just as much as starring in it.During the rehearsal of one show, I tried to raise my sound guys (John Clark and John Segal} on the floor because a minor problem had occurred up-stage. Having no success on talkback I dashed down the stairs to find both of them sitting in the darkened Liberace home base set having a quiet discussion with Lee. I jokingly admonished them and they tore up-stage quickly to sort out a small problem with a foldback speaker. Ten minutes later, Lee crept quietly into my control room and apologized for upsetting the routine of my crew. He assured me it wouldn't happen again despite my trying to convince him that all was well.After the delightful experience of working on The Liberace Show we were all invited to Madame Tussauds in London where Lee had organized a big party for everybody. All the guests were invited to bring a partner, an unusual occurrence for conventional wrap parties. Many of the guest stars still in the country also showed up. At the entrance of the venue, Lee would be standing with his mother who had flown over for this event. He gleefully introduced her to virtually everybody as they arrived. ‘Mom, this is Teddie' ‘Hi Teddie' ‘He did the audio' ‘Oh' ‘He did it good Mom' (pause) ‘He'd better'During that memorable evening where wine and goodwill flowed, Lee managed to take his mom round to just about everybody there. Something like 250 people, giving as much time to, say, a lighting console operator and his wife as Lord and Lady Lew Grade, who were also present. Producer/Director Colin Clewes and his wife Joy had just been presented with a baby boy. They named him Lee, and Liberace happily became the Godfather.I can think of no nicer guy, no more talented an entertainer than Liberace and I wish that we could all see, and enjoy, programmes of this stature again.