Don Black: ‘It’s amazing how potting a few snooker balls can clear your head’

Where are you now and what can you see?

I am looking at the waterfall in the beautiful Japanese Kyoto Garden in Holland Park. This is a park that I love as it has secluded benches, which are perfect for reflection and contemplation. It also has lots of peacocks and no deckchairs.

What are you currently reading?

The Letters of Cole Porter. The word genius is overused but with Cole Porter no other word will do. He wrote both words and music and is considered one of the world’s greatest songwriters. He never wrote an autobiography, so these collected letters are a revelation.

Who is your favourite author and why do you admire her/him?

Graham Greene has been a big favourite ever since I read Brighton Rock. It’s a gripping tale and so is his The Third Man. I always find his work both thrilling and entertaining. I am currently working on a musical version of The Third Man.

Describe the room where you usually write

The room that I work in has a snooker table. It’s amazing how potting a few balls can clear your head. I’ve since learned that Ira Gershwin, Mark Twain and Mozart all loved to play billiards. My bookshelves are crammed with books by comedians and songwriters. Billy Crystal fits nicely next to Oscar Hammerstein.

Which fictional character most resembles you?

In my dreams I like to think I have an uncanny resemblance to Philip Marlowe, the character created by Raymond Chandler. He was a hard-boiled private detective working in the seamy side of Los Angeles in the 30s. He was played by Humphrey Bogart in the film The Big Sleep – one of the best film noir films ever made.

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Who is your hero from outside literature?

Irving Berlin. Like Cole Porter he wrote words and music, but unlike Porter, who came from a wealthy privileged family, Berlin arrived penniless in New York from Russia at the age of five. From such humble beginnings he became the most successful songwriter of all time.

The Sanest Guy in the Room: A Life in Lyrics by Don Black is published by Little, Brown (£20)


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