Driving home one evening, Robert caught a radio article about a man named Archie Leach. Archie Leach would go on to change his name to Cary Grant and become one of the world's most famous and enduring film stars. It was not long before Robert decided that this was the subject matter he had been waiting for, and set to work not only composing the music for the show, but this time also writing book and lyrics.
Over the next three years, researching the show took Robert from London, to Bristol (Archie's hometown) and ultimately to the Californian sunshine and Hollywood. Along the way he would encounter a surprising number of coincidences, which in turn, would lead him to a write a book entitled "The Journey".
After a bright, glamorous award ceremony (Kings of Hollywood) the birth of a baby in Bristol in 1899 begins this musical about the early life of a Hollywood legend. Elsie and Elias Leach have a son, John. The hardworking parents are delighted and devoted to their new arrival. Tragedy strikes, however, as John, a sickly baby, dies eleven months later (What Did I Do?). Suddenly life is not quite so rosy (I Will Be Right Here for You).
Five years on, they have another child, Archibald Alexander Leach, born January 1904 (Second Chance). Elsie wants the best for her son, enrolling him in school early and saving hard for piano lessons. She invests all her time and energy in Archie, if at the expense of her marriage. She never forgets John and still blames herself for his untimely death. Money is tight, so Elias takes a job in Southampton in an effort to bring in more money. The strain of being away from home proves too much for him so he returns to Bristol.
Archie's early childhood continues with visits to the cinema - smart Clare Street with his mother and the not so smart Metropole with his father. He also enjoys magic lantern shows with his friends. One day he comes home to find his mother gone, with no explanation. She was never to return and her disappearance remained a mystery. The neighbourhood children tease Archie because he has no mother. As a result he becomes a loner and spends much of his time at the docks, watching the boats and sailors. All the while withdrawing more and more into himself (Sail Away).
School is not Archie's favourite place. He dislikes all the lessons save chemistry and has a good relationship with his chemistry teacher. It is this teacher who introduces Archie to the Bristol Hippodrome and once there, he never looks back (Hippodrome Song). He becomes a regular face in both the Hippodrome and the Empire, where he runs errands for the stage crew. Before long, he is call boy at the Hippodrome and school takes second place. No one at home is worried - his mother gone, his father working hard and his grandmother not bothered about him. Left to his own devices, he spends more and more time at the theatre.
The Pendertons - a group of young men, working as acrobats and knock-about comedians arrive at the Hippodrome. Archie overhears a conversation where Robert Pender tells how his troupe is depleted because of the war raging in Europe. Archie sees his opportunity and writes to Mr Pender asking to join the group. He is accepted and so begins his journey in show business. However, in order to join the group, he lies about his age, pretending to be 16 although he is only 13. He also wrote to Pender in his father's name, forging his signature. Elias, of course, soon finds out and brings his son back to Bristol, back to the school he now hates. Within months Archie is expelled and back with the Pendertons, eagerly learning his new trade and performing on the stage he has come to love. With their success in England growing, Robert Pender decides to take a small troupe of eight boys to America (Olympic). Archie is amongst those chosen (Should We Ever Meet Again?).
The Pendertons' tour of America is a huge success. Audiences up and down the country love the act. Much to the surprise of the troupe, Robert Pender announces that they are to return to England, deciding to quit while he his ahead. Archie is bitterly disappointed and resolves to stay. Pender talks to him and realises that he can't persuade him otherwise. Knowing that he can't keep Archie with him, Pender releases the young man from his contract and returns home. Archie is now alone in America (Chasing Fame).
Work is hard and varied in New York in the 1920s. Archie sells ties, works as a sandwich board man and entertains visitors to Colney Island as stilt-walker before joining the vaudeville circuit. He tries his hand at everything - acrobatics, juggling, even mind reading! As time goes by, he realises that vaudeville has had its day. It is the dawn of the "talkies".
Archie tries to get in on the movie scene,
auditioning in New York, but fails to get anywhere as people think his neck is too big and don't like the fact that he walks bow-legged. As a result, he stays with theatre, but that too is suffering from the depression that is sweeping across America. In one of the few plays to actually make it to the stage, Archie meets Fay Wray, a young actress on the brink of her big break into Hollywood (How Was I to Know That?). She sees potential in Archie and tells him to go to California - the place to be if you really want to get into movies.
After three years working on Broadway, Archie decides to take a break and heads to California. During the long drive there is plenty of time to think. Archie reflects on his mother again, as he has done day in, day out, over the years. It is a mystery that constantly haunts him. He wonders what happened to her and if it was something he did that caused her to disappear.
Once in Hollywood, Archie follows-up some contacts he's been given and is rewarded by an opportunity to audition. Unlike his previous experience, he is signed on the spot and contracted for several movies. He is inundated with offers, frequently working on more than one film at a time. People have difficulty with his name and before long he is asked to change it. He responds to their request, adopting the short, catchy name by which we know him today. What would be a long and successful career takes off.
During this time he is introduced to Virginia Cheryl (All To Me). Romance blossoms (Is It?) and his first big love affair ends in a proposal of marriage. (No One Else). Just before the wedding, Archie decides to return home to visit his father. Although they had not seen one another in many years, Archie had kept in contact, writing regularly and sending snippets on his work. He has mixed feelings, wanting to see his father, but returning to so many difficult memories. Thinking that his father would be proud of his hard work and achievements, Archie is surprised to discover that Elias is not too pleased to see him and appears to resent his success.
During this time with his father, Archie is totally shocked when it emerges that his mother is alive. After all this time, he learns that she has been living in Fishponds, a home only a few miles away, since that fateful day he came home to find her gone. Archie is devastated (Forgotten Son). Instead of returning to America as planned, he remains in England, confused and bewildered. With help and support from Virginia, Archie eventually goes back to fulfil his work commitments in America.
Some time later, he receives a letter informing him that his father has died. Having just lost one parent, he re-gains the other, as he also becomes his mother's guardian. He decides to return to Bristol to visit Elsie. Tormented with the circumstances of John's death, she has been institutionalised and has no contact with the outside world. She has not seen her youngest son in nearly 20 years and is unaware of who he is and what he has become. He, in turn, has been haunted by his mother's disappearance and knows nothing of her soul-searching and self-recrimination at John's death. Not surprisingly, the first meeting of mother and son is awkward, as they are, in effect, strangers to one another. Both are nervous and unsure. The story finishes as both mother and son try to come to terms with the effects of the death of John William Leach so many years before. (What's the Gain?).
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"Archie" photos by Simon Russell. Robert Barham photo by Chris Hare.