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Key Changes: A Musical Memoir: Revised and Extended 2020 Edition

The name ‘Denis King’ should be much better known than it is, seeing that not only has he composed more than 200 themes for television including Lovejoy, Black Beauty and Hannay, he also wrote (with Peter Nichols) the Ivor Novello Award prize-winning RSC musical Privates on Parade, the original production of which at London’s Piccadilly Theatre starred the indomitable Dennis Quilley.

The King Brothers in 1952
The King Brothers in 1952

However, as this very readable, fascinating and amusing book tells us, there is so much more to Denis King! Born in 1939 in Hornchurch, he played the banjolele in public when he was 6 and his father formed a group called ‘The King Brothers’ which toured Britain playing “twice-nightly” in what was left of Variety in the 1950s. Some of you may remember the group’s cover version of ‘Watching All the Girls go by’. It is these early chapters that I found the most informative, King’s easy to read style of prose bringing those days alive for the reader. Indeed, I started the book intending to stop after a couple of chapters and ‘do some work’ but continued on until I had finished the book, so well-written and enjoyable is it.

When The King Brothers felt it was time to split, Denis King went to Guildhall School of Music and Drama to study orchestration, time well spent if his work on Films is anything to go by. These include Holiday on the Buses and Sweeney! Radio work includes “Hello Cheeky”, still repeated on Radio4 Extra.

His memories of playing the piano for Maureen Lipman in the West End success ‘Re Joyce’ are hilarious, especially with regard to the made-to-measure dinner jacket, which he appears still to be wearing!

It is good to know that he is still working, having collaborated several times with Alan Ayckbourn at the Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round at Scarborough as well as the musical version of Richard Harris’ Stepping Out.

This autobiography is straightforwardly and chronologically written, with many anecdotes littering each chapter and a great sense of humour. I enjoyed it hugely and can thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in British theatre, popular music and social history of the last seventy years – it is a ‘good read’ and deserves every success. By the way, the title page informs the reader that it is an extended and revised version of a similar book published a few years ago, but it is worth getting, even if you have the first version. If you purchase KEY CHANGES, as I hope you will, I do suggest that you skip the Foreward until you have finished the whole book, and then go back! You’ll see what I mean!

A superb autobiography!

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

Key Changes is an extremely frank, personal account of the highs and lows of show business, from post-war Twice Nightly Variety to the present day. Denis King is a witty anecdotalist; the stories he tells are funny, poignant, and eye-opening.

In the 1950s and early 1960s Denis was a member of Britain’s first boy band, The King Brothers. Since then he has composed more than 200 TV themes, including ITV’s award-winning The Adventures of Black Beauty, and has collaborated with numerous theatre legends to write more than 25 stage musicals – Privates On Parade among them.


  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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1 thought on “Key Changes: A Musical Memoir: Revised and Extended 2020 Edition”

  1. I live alone, so nobody was startled when I burst out laughing – often – while reading the earlier version of Denis’ book.

    Have just ordered the new one…looking forward to the additional material!

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