Eighteen months before Bernard Herrmann’s 100th birthday I was considering what might be planned to commemorate the great composer’s centenary. Concerts, album releases and articles would surely be written; airtime on the radio and television perhaps given over to the man and his music. It then occurred to me that a more permanent ‘marker’ of Herrmann’s life and career in England might be something that could be achieved and so I looked into the possibility of having an official ‘Blue Plaque’ created and erected on one of the composer’s former homes in London.
When I saw that no plaque existed I contacted English Heritage, the organisation here in England that administers the preservation and recognition of our country’s cultural and historic heritage. They informed me that an application had once been submitted for a Herrmann plaque, but it had been denied and an application wouldn’t be considered again until 2011… June 2011 to be exact. So whether conincidence or fate I made a note and put the idea in a notebook for early 2011.
As 2011 began and projects to mark the Herrmann centenary were starting to be revealed, I once again returned to the idea. Right here in Bristol a festival of films was being planned at the Watershed Media Centre, with a concert of music at St George’s Bristol in June. I met with the cinema’s head of programme Mark Cosgrove and we discussed the festival and I offered my services as a writer to contribute some pieces for their website in support of the films and the music. I mentioned the Blue Plaque idea and Watershed agreed they would like to support it, and so I also penned an article to try and rally interest. A petition of sorts was begun and as the weeks passed support grew, from Watershed and St George’s audience members, to fans in the UK and then abroad. I drummed up support in the film music community as well, leading to interest from the likes of John Williams and Mark Isham. Norma Herrmann signed during her visit to Bristol on 17 June and even after the application deadline I received more emails, including a few from Herrmann’s surviving relatives in the United States.
With the help of composer Laurie Johnson and Guenther Koegebehn I assembled an application document, filled with the required detail about Herrmann’s life, legacy and his residence in London. The application was supported by ‘campaign’ material, letters of support, press coverage, archive material and of course the ‘peition’ of names.
I submitted the document in person at English Heritage in August 2011, knowing it would be put before the ‘Blue Plaque Panel’ sometime in the Autumn. There was nothing more to do, except pass on the additional names of supporters by email.
In December I received a letter from English Heritage confirming that the application had been successful, passing the initial stage of recommendation – which it did not before. I was of course over the moon. The facts will be re-covered, further research done and viability for the plaque’s erection looked into (after all you can’t just put a piece of metal on someone’s house without asking!). It may still be a few years before the plaque sees the light of day, particularly as the list of ‘pending’ plaques is quite large, but it’s wonderful to think that, in time, there may be an official recognition of Bernard Herrmann’s London life and legacy.
I’d like to thank everybody who supported the campaign in 2011, particularly everyone at Watershed for letting me use their Herrmann microsite to begin the campaign. Special appreciation must go to Laurie Johnson for rallying support and writing a fine introduction for the application, and Guenther Koegebehn for contributing photos and brilliantly compiled archive lists for the application.
UPDATE, MAY 2015
English Heritage have tasked an independent researcher to prepare an official proposal – and gather evidence – to be put before the ‘Blue Plaque Panel’ in June. Dr Sarah Whittingham is currently at work on this, which is great news. We are another step closer to realising the Herrmann Blue Plaque. Huge thanks to Dr. Whittingham, and also to Norma Herrmann for her continued support.