I had worked with Bonnie and Lena Zavaroni when they were both students at Italia Conti - they were like chalk and cheese. Bonnie with her family supporting her and her training and
Lena had surprised the nation with her extra ordinary talent and great voice but she was not ever credited with her softer voice which was beautiful...on top of that her dancing and sense of comedy were the triple threat.Dorothy Solomons was a powerful and successful manager and took over Lenas career and guided her to great success. She acquitted herself brilliantly to the weird professional world that she was suddenly part of .
The third series I produced for LWT.was “Hi Summer” filmed on location around England in some beautiful and historical places. Beaulieu --Bucklers Hard etc. and featuring a top class team of performers -Leslie Crowther also Nottingham born and a versatile and warm professional— Derek Griffiths brilliant and under used - Lena Zavaroni plump talented little girl– Derek Waring handsome and accomplished actor– Carl Wayne popular singer (and much to his surprise in this show-- a dancer) - Anna Dawson funny lady - the brilliant voice of Marie Gordon Price -the beautiful Pearly Gates-- five male dancers including Chris Quinton (who went on to make a name for himself as an actor on Coronation Street --but for us was a very good acrobatic dancer) and the Blondes.... one of them was Stephanie Lawrence (who became a singing sensation in Evita) They swam ,cycled ,flew and drove their way through England -guided by the expert camera direction of Bruce Gowers and Paul Smith who made the whole thing look like a million dollar Hollywood film. The musical sequences still look wonderful today and in one shot from behind Mari singing her heart out -- a plane flies over her head -but only just. ! Inches lower and television would have had its first public beheading.
I choreographed The Lena Zavaroni series for the BBC and she was like a sponge we gave her all sorts of characters and types of music and she revelled in it and always delivered a good performance.
At the height of her success she arrived for rehearsals for her summer season that I was choreographing and directing. I knew that she hadn’t been well and we had staged all her numbers and her act with one of the dancers as a stand in. When she arrived she was weak and very thin so I sat her in the stalls huddled in a coat. - I told her to watch the stand in and then we would teach it to her slowly. She was a very good dancer as well as having the incredible bash voice she had made her success with. But here she was anorexic and weak and it was very sad to see such a sweet sixteen-year-old girl with such a talent looking so frail. I asked her if she would like me to give the dancers a coffee break and teach it to her slowly. She said “No thanks could you do it again for me” and we did … She watched - then as if something had turned on in her body she got up out of her seat - threw off the coat and Dr theatre took over and she did the routine all but perfectly. Immediately after she finished as she slumped back into the chair .all the dancers applauded her- It was the Judy Garland syndrome-- turn her on-let her perform and she was fulfilled. She did open in the show and she did complete the season but it was the beginning of the end for poor little Lena Zavaroni.
After rehearsals we would desperately try and entice her to come out and to eat. But she would always decline...But we did not realise at the time that it was a losing battle-we knew nothing about anorexia.
The talents were always a cert but after a few years it was desperately sad to see her growing weaker and weaker with her anorexic state-We suspected that this was the problem but of course could never really prove it.
A big 'Thank you' to Dougie Squires for taking the time to do this lovely tribute to Lena!