Sunday, May 31, 2009
Noel Harrison: The Windmills of Your Mind
Which singer from the 1960s competed for Britain in two Winter Olympics?
The answer is Noel Harrison, who was part of the skiing team at Oslo in 1952 and Cortina d'Ampezzo (Italy) in 1956.
He is best known for this song, which was used on the soundtrack of the original version of The Thomas Crown Affair in 1968. Written by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman and Michel Legrand, it won the Oscar for the best original song that year.
Harrison specialised in the songs of people like Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour - he had a hit in the USA with Aznavour's A Young Girl - and Leonard Cohen. He also enjoyed some success in America as an actor, with a leading role in the spin-off The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. This article gives a good picture of his career.
Noel Harrison is still performing today at the age of 75. His accent, both now and in his heyday, is an interesting study - public school leavened with notes of Anthony Newley cockney.
And, of course, Harrison is famous for being his father's son. He is the son of Rex Harrison by Colette Thomas, the first of his six wives. Rex Harrison won the best song Oscar the year before Noel with "Talk to the Animals" from Doctor Doolittle and a very different singing style.
Rex Harrison's other wives included the actresses Kay Kendall and Rachel Roberts. Another of them, born Elizabeth Rees-Williams (Katherine Parr to his Henry VIII) has had four husbands. Her first was Richard Harris and she is now married to Jonathan Aitken.
Her father David Rees-Williams, later Baron Ogmore, was a minister under Attlee, but went on to join the Liberal Party. He was its president in 1963-4.
You see how it all fits together?