Steve Brown obituary


The composer and lyricist Steve Brown, who has died of pulmonary fibrosis aged 69, had a profession not like anybody else’s. As a author of musical theatre, he co-created Spend, Spend, Spend (1998) – in regards to the soccer swimming pools winner Viv Nicholson – which prompted fan mail, cherished by Brown, from Stephen Sondheim calling it “the primary good British musical”.

As a comic, he labored carefully with Rory Bremner, Harry Hill and Steve Coogan on TV exhibits and excursions, most notably starring because the bandleader Glenn Ponder within the latter’s Alan Partridge talkshow Realizing Me, Realizing You (1994). Brown additionally produced acclaimed debut albums by the singer-songwriters Rumer and Laura Mvula. The latter’s was nominated in 2013 for the Mercury prize, a stratum of musical status you may need thought past the person who additionally wrote the Wonky Donkey jingle for Ant and Dec’s SM:TV.

However Brown didn’t make distinctions between his work for stage and display screen, comedy and music – or certainly youngsters’ tv. “He elevated all of the songs we did collectively,” Coogan stated, “to a stage they didn’t should be at to make the joke land. He’d say ‘let’s make the music good too’. Why? As a result of we are able to. As a result of he may.”

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Steve Brown, left, with Harry Hill on the Park theatre in London, the place their musical Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) was staged in 2022. {Photograph}: Mark Douet

Brown’s collaboration with Coogan straddled 30 years, after they met on the satirical puppet present Spitting Picture, for which Brown wrote songs. It spawned a fondly remembered second on Realizing Me, Realizing You, when a peevish Partridge sacked Brown’s character reside on air (“You’re sacked, I’m sacking you. Actually … it’s already occurred, you’re a sacked man”); in addition to a duet between Coogan (as his Tony Ferrino character) and Björk for Comedian Reduction in 1997 about an affair between a sleazebag and his au pair (“The reminiscence nonetheless lingers / You cooking the youngsters’ fish fingers”); and a tune – carried out on Coogan’s touring stage present – teasing on the comic’s vexed tabloid fame, Everybody’s a Little bit of a Cunt Typically.

Brown – “a extremely sort man with actually good values”, in Coogan’s phrases – was held in excessive regard by most who labored with him, the extra so as a result of he didn’t search (or didn’t discover) the limelight himself. “Comedy’s greatest stored secret,” Hill referred to as him, though Brown did have brushes with recognition, successful an version of Pointless Celebrities (with Barbara Dickson) in 2021, and showing briefly as Noel Gallagher alongside Jon Culshaw’s Liam on the tv model of Useless Ringers.

Whereas he performed second fiddle to Hill on TV exhibits and excursions, Brown was an equal companion – and shut pal – to the comic of their theatre endeavours. Their 2014 X Issue musical I Can’t Sing, produced by Simon Cowell, was successful with critics and a flop on the field workplace. In 2022, their present in regards to the New Labour years Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) did serviceable enterprise on the Park theatre in north London and on tour.

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Spend, Spend, Spend, which was co-created by Steve Brown, opened within the West Finish in 1999 starring Barbara Dickson. {Photograph}: PA Pictures/Alamy

Brown was born in south-east London, the third youngster of Margie (nee Sewell) and Len Brown. Having taught himself to play guitar and piano as a toddler, Brown left Bromley grammar faculty for boys at 16, taking part in in a wide range of bands on the identical south London pub circuit from which his close to modern David Bowie sprang.

He acquired his break writing music for West Finish and radio comedy, and when the choice comedy wave crested within the Eighties, Brown surfed it – within the Perrier award-winning sketch group Author’s Inc, alongside Smack the Pony co-creator Victoria Pile amongst others, and on Radio 4’s late-night comedy providing In One Ear.

Work on Spitting Picture – on which Brown joined his first spouse, the impressionist Jan Ravens (to whom he was married from 1983 to 1993) – adopted, and he was by Coogan’s aspect within the Nineties when the character of Alan Partridge took flight. Success in his personal proper got here with Spend, Spend, Spend (co-written with Justin Greene), which – within the first West Finish manufacturing, on the Piccadilly theatre, starring Dickson – gained the 1999 Night Customary award for greatest musical. It “totally deserves to hitch Blood Brothers as a working-class ‘up yours’ fixture amongst West Finish musicals,” wrote the Monetary Occasions reviewer, calling it “essentially the most superb new musical I can ever recall seeing”.

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Steve Brown because the bandleader Glenn Ponder in Realizing Me, Realizing You With Alan Partridge, in 1994. {Photograph}: BBC

Brown struggled to copy that early success. Because of rights points, a musical adaptation of the movie It’s a Fantastic Life by no means made it previous its first outing on the New Wolsey theatre in Ipswich. Brown’s two comedian musicals with Hill had been a supply of pleasure to each, {and professional} satisfaction – however they didn’t flourish commercially. “My spouse,” stated Hill, “refers to us because the Flop Twins.”

Earlier than his demise, Brown was laying plans with Coogan for an Alan Partridge musical, and a stage adaptation of Coogan’s 2013 movie Philomena. (A revival of Spend, Spend, Spend is within the works – as but unannounced – for Christmas 2024.)

However Brown took pleasure in his TV work – composing for Lenny Henry, the sitcom Not Going Out and Hill’s TV Burp, amongst many others – and nice satisfaction in nurturing the careers of Mvula and Rumer, on whose debut album Seasons of My Soul, wrote one critic, “each tune seems like a typical”. He took satisfaction too within the careers of his sons with Ravens, Alfie and Lenny, who adopted their father into comedy and music respectively, benefiting from his encouragement and perception. Brown later married the actor Deborah Cornelius in 2010. His household bear in mind a person with a voracious urge for food for studying, however for mischief and play too, who valued his accomplishments whereas believing he nonetheless had tons left to realize.

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Steve Brown’s 2014 X-Issue musical, co-created with Harry Hill and produced by Simon Cowell, was successful with the critics and a flop on the field workplace. {Photograph}: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

“So then what’s life? / What does it imply, what’s it about?” Brown as soon as requested, in a My Manner-esque tune written – tongue firmly in cheek – for Coogan’s Portuguese lounge-singer alter ego Tony Ferrino. “Is there a God above? / Why is he there? What does he do? / Don’t ask me. I’m unsure.” In keeping with Coogan: “Every time I circled onstage and regarded again at Steve, he was at all times smiling and laughing, although he wrote plenty of it and had heard all of it a thousand occasions earlier than.”

Brown is survived by Deborah, by Alfie and Lenny and his stepdaughter Manon, and by his siblings Christopher and Susanne.


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