Jeweller Leslie becomes a composer in golden years

"WHETHER there was some divine guidance, I really don't know," says Sheffield jeweller Leslie Cass on writing the lyrics and music for a musical on the Biblical story of Ruth.

Remarkably, he can neither read nor write music and it is his first creative venture, at the age of 79, into any kind of music.

He says: "It's pretty certainly my last, although I have something else in mind, something to do with Ronnie."

Ronnie is Leslie's late brother Ronnie Cass who, with Peter Myers, wrote the screenplay and music for three Cliff Richard films, The Young Ones, Summer Holiday and less familiar Wonderful Life.

"Ronnie was a musical genius and very well-known in musical circles but he was a sort of backroom boy.

"He was a great friend to Harry Secombe. They were like brothers – literally, like brothers – and did a programme called Highway for many years." Highway was a weekly ITV religious programme that ran from 1983-93.

"Ronnie was the one who went ahead, set up all the interviews and quite often accompanied Harry when he sang.

"Tom Jones was a very good friend. He was a lovely guy and they got on very well indeed. Another great friend was Ron Moody and another was Warren Mitchell.

"The only person you wouldn't describe as his friend was Engelbert Humperdinck. He couldn't get on with Humperdinck and didn't like him."

The youngest of five brothers born in South Wales to a Llanelli jeweller (a family business still in existence), Leslie was the only one who didn't show any inclination towards music, so Ruth has come out the blue late in life.

It was prompted by seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the West End, which he had seen before, but on this occasion something clicked.

"I thought to myself there is a story which has never been done and would be nice to do. At the time I didn't think I would do it myself but when I got home I looked at the story and thought it's not too difficult to get a few songs out of it.

"We've got the subject matter: Ruth saying Naomi 'how could I leave you?' and it seemed easy to write something for Naomi along the lines of 'it seems like only yesterday my life was joy and love and then everything changed'."

Asking a friend, Stephen Swycher, what he thought about writing a short play incorporating the songs he had in mind, the writer liked the idea and it started mushrooming into a full-blown musical, which meant more numbers and tweaking the relatively simple story of Ruth, the shortest book of the Old Testament.

Primarily more is made of the unnamed relative who has first refusal to marry Ruth before Boaz. He gets a name, Ethan, and becomes the villain of the piece and two new characters are introduced to add a comedy dimension, Obadiah, a prophet, and Rebekah.

"Obviously, without introducing new characters and something of a conflict, there wouldn't be any sort of musical," says the semi-retired Surrey Street jeweller.

"To be honest, I didn't think I could do it but bit by bit, I don't know why, songs in certain situations suggested themselves to me and I didn't find it too difficult.

"As it evolved into something bigger, Stephen was there to push me on and without him, I suppose, I wouldn't have gone ahead with it. I'm the sort of person who likes to start things but never finish them!"

Tom Owen, about to embark on the final year of a composition PhD at Sheffield University, was recommended to him some 10 months ago to act as his amanuensis in getting the notes in his head down on to a laptop with Sibelius software.

"Tom came along to my home and I sang the notes in my head and he put them down. He took the notes from me and I tried to tell him exactly what was in my mind and he ended up getting it all into musical form."

Tom didn't have the time to devote to the show as music director so Leslie turned to Brian Platts and his wife Maria, with whom his family are "quite friendly."

"They told us of someone, who in turn told us about Andy Collis (Manor Operatic's current music director). I said to him I'm sure you don't want to be associated with anything that is not worthwhile so here's everything, please let me know if you want to be our music director.

"He liked it and wanted to do it. Everybody's enjoying themselves."

Approaching octogenarian status, Leslie continues to enjoy himself going into work at the jewellery shop he opened on Surrey Street in 1958 every morning for about four hours.

"The business is run by my son now and I leave him to it but obviously people know me. I say hello to them, converse with them, crack a few jokes – I crack some terrible jokes!"

Ruth has a gala first night on Tuesday, October 27 at Kingfield Hall, Brincliffe Crescent with tickets, 20, available by ringing (0114) 267 8744 or emailing

Tickets for further performances on Wednesday and Thursday, 10, are available by ringing (0114) 236 2758 or emailing

Although Ruth has never been written as a musical, the story has attracted many composers down the centuries.

Lennox Berkeley (father of Michael) penned a chamber opera in 1956 and Csar Franck was probably the last of a string of composers to set it as an oratorio in 1846, while the 'how could I leave you' section has always been a popular source of inspiration.

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