31 July 2010

Cécile Aubry, Creator of Belle And Sebastian - RIP

It was with some sadness that I heard today that the creator of some of my most cherished childhood TV memories, Cécile Aubry (left, in younger days), has died in France at the age of 81.  French television did not make many inroads in to the UK of the sixties and seventies, with perhaps the Magic Roundabout being its most famous export.

However, for me there was only ever one French TV show and that was Belle And Sebastien as it resonated with my own life so much. 

In fact, the series caught me from the very opening of its plaintive and beautiful end theme (listen to the video above) written by Aubry and sung by her son and star of the show, Mehdi El Glaoui (who was credited simply by his first name).

It is called L'oiseau and is as tender a piece of music as you can get.  Aubry wrote this theme as well as the Le Peintre des Etoiles for a succeeding series, Le Jeune Fabre which was recorded by Demis Roussos.

Aubry was a star in her own right before Belle and Sebastien.  She started her film career in the Clouzot film Manon, an adaptation of the Abbé Prévost novel Manon Lescaut.  From then on it was to Hollywood where she gained a contract with 20th Century Fox and starred with Orson Welles and Tyrone Power in The Black Rose.  She appeared in other films in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Back in France in the late 1950s Aubrey turned her hand to writing books for children, afterward adapting them for television.  Belle And Sebastien was her second and it was this serial that made it to the UK and had a profound impact on many (particularly the more sensitive) children of the nation.

It was broadcast in France from 1965 and 70 and was an immediate success.  Two years after its French release it was dubbed in to English (and Sebastien became Sebastian) and shown - again to huge acclaim from both children and parents.  I didn't see it that first time around (I was two years old) but caught it on many of its re-runs in the early 1970s.  It was repeated a huge amount of time - but nobody (including myself) cared as this was, after all before the days of video, let alone DVDs - and this was superb TV.

Why did it make so much of an impact on me?  Well, for a start it was set and filmed in the French Alps and this gave it a terribly exotic feel (wrong word perhaps!).  We were used to studio bound BBC dramas on a very low budget.  It told the story of a young boy and his dog and their many adventures in the Alps with their friends and extended family.  The acting seemed very realistic too, but what was most important for me at least was the theme.  It was that of the importance and the power of love to overcome many obstacles.  It resonated with me profoundly.  It was the start of a life long love affair with all things French for me.

So, thank you Cécile Aubry for aiding and abetting in my conversion from provincial boy to rampant francophile - and adieu.

Image Credit