The Early Dance Lecture 2009

Humphrey Burton,  CBE

Leonard Bernstein’s

friend, biographer and television collaborator

20th February, 2009                     7.15 p.m.

St. Bride Institute

Bride Lane   off   Fleet Street

London  EC4Y  8EQ


For further information, please contact

Sian Jones (01227  462871)  or  Barbara Segal (020 7700 4293)

Humphrey Burton, CBE

Author, broadcaster, director and producer, Humphrey Burton was the first Head of Music and Arts for BBC Television, from 1965 to 1967. He resumed the position again from 1975-1981 after an eight-year absence in commercial television as a founder-member of London Weekend Television. For his work as a director, he has won four Emmies, two British Academy Awards and, as a presenter, received the Royal Television Society Silver Medal and a Sony Gold.


In the 1970s, at Leonard Bernstein’s request, he began an association with the famous composer-conductor, making documentaries and filmed concerts in which Bernstein both conducted and/or offered commentary.  He became Bernstein’s biographer (Leonard Bernstein, New York: Doubleday, 1994), friend and television director/collaborator.  A leading producer of television arts programmes for over 40 years, he has also been a key figure in many of British television’s long-running, influential arts magazines.


The ballet “Fancy Free” launched Bernstein’s composing career and was his first collaboration with choreographer Jerome Robbins. Its patriotic high spirits affirm the energy and vitality of a great city – Bernstein’s beloved New York – during the anxious years of World War II. Bernstein describes the scenario: “Three sailors explode on the stage. They are on a 24-hour shore leave in the city and on the prowl for girls. The tale of how they first meet one, then a second girl, and how they fight over them, lose them, and in the end take off after a third, is the story of the ballet.” Robbins sought to create a quintessentially American ballet; Bernstein obliged him with a vibrant, jazz-tinged score that was kinetic and tuneful, refracting popular dance music styles through a prism of angular melodies and syncopated rhythms. The resulting ballet was a huge success, drawing sold-out crowds to the Metropolitan Opera House.