Belle, or The Ballad of Dr Crippen, was a musical written by Monty Norman and Wolf Mankowitz. It opened at the Strand Theatre on May 4 1961, and ran for a mere 44 performances. Critics, and evidently audiences, seemed to think that it was poor taste to create light entertainment from a real-life murder case, especially when one of the key players in the story, Ethel Le Neve, was still alive (although living under an assumed name; her husband never knew her real identity.)

Norman and Mankowitz had previously collaborated with success on a couple of musicals, and in his liner notes for the CD of the score, Adrian Wright argues, perhaps controversially, that Belle should now be re-evaluated, and adjudged ‘one of the truly great British musicals’. He says: ‘beyond the apparently effortless evocation of the spirit of British music hall caught in Monty Norman’s luminous score, Belle is at its best a stirring experience, and ultimately an affecting one.’

The cast included George Benson as Crippen, Rose Hill as his wife, and Virginia Vernon as Ethel. Nicolette Roeg (sister of the later-to-be- famous Nic Roeg) played a character called Jenny Pearl. But although the show was a flop, legend has it that the music appealed to a film producer who was starting work on a new spy movie. And so it came to pass that Monty Norman was asked to write ‘The James Bond Theme’.

Musical numbers:

The Ballad of Doctor Crippen
Fifty Years Ago - Lasher and Company
Mister Lasherwood and Might Mick
Bird of Paradise – Belle
Meet Me at the Strand - Jenny and Company
You Are Mine – Ethel
Colonies - Belle and Ladies
The Devil's Bandsman - Mick and Company
The Ballad of Doctor Crippen II – Lasher
Pills. Pills, Pills - Ethel, Mick
Ain't It a Shame? - Mick
Song of Our Future - Ethel and Crippen
Belle - Lasher, Jenny, Mick and Company
Lovely London - Ethel, Crippen and Company
The Bravest of Men Company
A Pint of Wallop – Rosemary
Fairy Godmother - Mick and Jenny
Waltzing With You - Ethel and Company
I Can't Stop Singing – Ethel
Coldwater, Michigan - Crippen and Mark
Don't Ever Leave Me – Ethel
The Policeman's Song - Mick, Lasher, Jenny, Primrose and Petunia
The Ballad of Doctor Crippen III - Lasher
The Dit-Dit Song - Lasher, Crippen, Ethel, Nick &, Company
The Minstrel Show S.S. Montrose Minstrels
The Ballad of Doctor Crippen IV – Lasher
The Dit-Dit Sing (Reprise) - Ethel and Company
The Ballad of Doctor Crippen V – Lasher
The Bravest of Men (Reprise) – Company
You Can't Beat a British Crime - Company