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William Blezard

Composer

William Blezard, a composer who contributed scores to English films and stage productions and the longtime accompanist and arranger for such leading stage performers as Marlene Dietrich and Honor Blackman, died March 2. He was 81.

Born in Padiham, England, he won a 1938 scholarship to attend the Royal College of Music in London. His studies were interrupted by World War II in 1940, and he served in the Royal Air Forces as a Morse code operator, but he returned to the RCM in 1946 and won the prestigious Cobbett Prize.

This success earned him an invite to Denham Studios as a composer and arranger for documentaries. In 1949, he arranged and orchestrated Noel Coward’s music for the film of Coward’s play “The Astonished Heart.”

In 1954 he became the accompanist for Joyce Grenfell, and stayed with her through her final performance at Windsor Castle in 1973, a run that included several BBC broadcasts and four world tours.

He accumulated a wide range of stage credits as composer and musical director, including two 1957 Royal Shakespeare Company productions with Peter Brook, “Titus Andronicus” and “The Tempest.” He was conductor for the London bow of John Osborne’s 1957 “The Entertainer” with Laurence Olivier, was musical advisor for the 1974 revival, and was musical director for Sheridan Morley’s “Noel and Gertie,” about Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence.

In 1965, he replaced Burt Bacharach as Marlene Dietrich’s accompanist and musical director, going with her on three world tours, ending in Sydney in 1975, when Dietrich broke her leg onstage. It was her last performance.

In the ’80s he became the accompanist for Honor Blackman, working with her on one-woman shows “Yevette” and “Dishonourable Ladies.” He also played on the BBC TV kids’ show “Play School” from 1964 on.

Several of Blezard’s classical compositions were performed and recorded by major ensembles in England; Eric Parkin recorded two CDs of his piano music.

Blezard never stopped performing and made his final appearance the night before his death.

His wife, conductor and teacher Joan Kemp Potter, predeceased him in 2001. He is survived by a son and a daughter.

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