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NUS Misérables

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Due to popular demand (that is about three people asking me) I’ve posted the lyrics to the NUS version of Les Mis.

DISCLAIMER: The post will make almost no sense at all to those who don’t have some knowledge of the workings or culture of the National Union of Students.
In fact, it’ll probably only appeal to the small crossover segment of a Venn diagram showing people who have both an interest in NUS and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the musical Les Misérables – which, as I found yesterday, is a surprising number of people.

To give a bit of background for anyone still reading, there’s a nice tradition within NUS that departing officers give leaving speeches, thanking people and reminiscing about particularly important, moving, or often just ridiculous happenings during their time in office.
These are not just your typical office leaving speeches of a few thank-yous in the pub after work, but often great bursts of oratory, carefully crafted beforehand over months or even years, and taking up to 45 minutes each to deliver.

My dear friend Dannie Grufferty, leaving NUS this year after two years as their Vice President for Society and Citizenship (with a remit which essentially covers all societal and global issues), told me she worried such speeches could verge on the self-indulgent – so instead she wanted to write a stage musical. She didn’t add ‘that was a joke by the way’ but I’m sure she was being ironic..

I was initially dubious, but Dannie can be quite insistent in an imperious Elizabeth I sort of way, so eventually I gave in and we hammered something out based around everyone’s favourite nineteen century humanist masterpiece Les Misérables (Which I’ve previously raved about).
Nineteenth century novels are clearly ripe for adaptation, as one Christmas past, Dannie and I also wrote an NUS Christmas production; A JISCmas Carol.

The piece was actually performed at Sheffield City Hall yesterday (very much an off-Broadway production), and met with a rapturous raucous reception – one person tweeting that it was better than the Conference itself. (A comment which can be taken two ways..)

A lot of the lyrics are highly in-joke heavy, for example the age-old accusations in NUS that members of Labour Students are all ‘careerists’, or NUS Chief Executive Matt Hyde’s departure for The Scout Association. A lot of them might also require a good working knowledge of the original English Les Misérables lyrics for full appreciation.
Any deficiencies can of course entirely be blamed on the fact we were adapting a reworking of a translation of a French text based on a novel…

Sadly, given lack of time a few ideas fell by the wayside. I was sorry for example we didn’t do a version of the epic Act I Finale One Day More based around NUS factions – though it may be for the best given the amount of time I spent trying to rhyme FOSIS with something that wasn’t ‘halitosis’.

Left-wing firebrand Michael Chessum being unavailable also robbed Conference of the sight of him in the role of Enjolras – though luckily amiable token Tory Peter Smallwood stepped in at the last minute to sing the rabble rousing lines.
Huge thanks are also due to the rest of the ram-shackle recruited cast, who out of love or possibly fear of Dannie Grufferty had the courage to risk humiliation by taking part – including Rachel Wenstone, Vicki Baars, Jeni-Marie Pittuck, Jo Johnson, Adrianne Peltz, Stacey Devine, Pete Mercer and Liam Burns.
Also to everyone else how helped out; Seeing one member of NUS staff that afternoon I asked enthusiastically ‘Have you heard about the plans for Dannie’s leaving speech?’ ‘Yes.’ they said flatly ‘We had to move a grand piano.’

The main credit should really go to Lewis Coakley (FRSA), the pianist virtuoso who did all the work of fitting the music to Dannie and my lyrics.

Perhaps you had to be there, but I maintain that Dannie’s ‘I schemed a scheme in time gone by’ solo would have brought a tear [of laughter] to the eye of Victor Hugo himself.

[With many apologies to Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Jean Marc-Natel, and Herbert Kretzmer]

At the end of the day


At the end of conference you’re another day older
And that’s all you can say for the NUS staff.
It’s a struggle, it’s a faff
And there’s nothing that anyone’s giving
One more day counting ballots. You’re having a laugh
If you think this is living.

At the end of conference you’re another day colder
A campaign T-shirt doesn’t keep out the chill
And delegates hurry past.
They don’t hear the staff members sighing.
And the guillotine’s coming on fast, ready to kill
Well that’s what we’re relying.

At the end of debate there’s new debate dawning
Each morning there’s speakers waiting to rise.
Like the waves crash on the sand
Like a storm that rolls through the ocean.
There’s a hunger in the land
For another procedural motion.
As factions try to get their way
By the end of the day!

At the end of conference you get nothing for nothing
only chatting and profiling will get you ahead.

There are students back at home.

And the students have got to be fed.

And you’re lucky to be on a course.
Filling your head.

While we’re counting your ballots.

[RACHEL (grabbing Dannie’s phone)]
And what have we here, little innocent comrade?
Come on Dantine, let’s have all the news!

[Reading the email on her phone]

“Dear Dantine, thanks for joining New Labour…
You must have a safe seat…
There’s no time to lose…”

[They fight over the phone. Valjean (Liam) rushes on to calm things down and put them back in their box.]

What is this heckling all about?
Will DPC tear these two apart
This is a conference not a demo!
Now, come on comrades, why the stress
I run a movement of repute
I’m President of NUS,

[To Stacey]
I look to you to sort this out
Follow due process if you can-

[Liam exits]

Now someone say how this began!

At the end of the day
She’s the one who began it!
There’s a seat that she’s hiding
In some little town.
There’s an MP that she sees
You can guess what she does at the weekend.
You can bet she’s earning her keep
Knocking up…voters.
And the boss wouldn’t like it!

Yes it’s true there’s a seat,
But it isn’t a safe one.
And it isn’t affecting
My work day to day.
Would anyone turn down a seat if they gave one?
I’m not a careerist
So drop that cliché!

At the end of the day
She’ll be nothing but trouble.
And there’s trouble for all
When there’s trouble for one!
While we’re earning our daily votes
She’s the one with her eye on a safe seat.
You must send her away
Or we’re all gonna end on the doorstep!
And it’s us who’ll have to pay
At the end of the day!

I might have known there’d be some seat.
I might have known a VP plots.
You officers always have secrets.
Ah yes, the ethical Dantine,
You think yourself so pure and green.
You’d be the cause I had no doubt
Of any trouble hereabout.
You play a lefty in the light.
But you’re a Blairite on the right.

She’s been laughing at you
Though her Soc and Cit reign!

She’ll be nothing but trouble again and again!

You must Censure her today!

Censure here today!
At the end of the day!

Right you’re no-conned. On your way!

[All Exit. Dannie is left on stage]

I schemed a scheme


There was a time students were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words uniting.
At the time delegates would find
That NUS was a speech
And the speech was exciting.
There was a time
Then it all went wrong.

I schemed a scheme in time gone by
When hopes were high
And votes worth winning.
I dreamed EMA would never die
I found all demos liberating.
Then I was young and unafraid
Placards were made, and used, and wasted.
There were no high fees to be paid
No campaign song unsung, no champagne socialism, untasted.

But the Tories come at last
With spending cuts as hard as thunder.
As they tear our hopes apart
No matter how much we cry ‘Shame!’

He spent ten years by my side.
He filled my days with Blairite wonder.
(But on Iraq some say he lied)
And he was gone when Gordon came.

And still I dream he’ll come to me
That we will lead this land together.
But there are comebacks that cannot be
And some reforms we cannot weather.

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this Coalition.
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

[The revolutionary students enter]

At the ABC (NCAFC) Cafe

At ULU the feeder march is prepared!

At parliament they’re straining at the leash!

Students, workers, everyone
This demo can run and run.
Like the stage occupation we tried
ULU coming to our side!

The time is near
So near it’s stirring the blood in their veins!
And yet beware,
Don’t let the champagne go to your brains!
For the NUS leadership is a dangerous foe
With the bureaucracy that we never can match.
It is easy to sit here and condemn their lies,
But the Presidency will be harder to snatch.
We need a sign
To rally the people, to send to their phones,
To text them the line.

At ULU we’ve recruited three new members!

At SOAS someone brought a paper!

Twenty flyers good as new!

(JO, as Gavroche, rushes in shouting)


Twenty paper rounds for everyone!

Listen to me!

Double that in Freshers’ Week!

Listen everybody!
The NUS Chief Executive is leaving!
For the Scout Association!

[Everyone gasps. Peter stands transfixed in shocked silence]


Matt Hyde is dead….to us
Matt Hyde! His death is the hour of fate.
Chief Bureaucrat.
He’s gone – it is the sign we await!

At his leaving party they will honour his name.
It’s a rallying cry that will reach every ear!
In the death of Matt Hyde we will kindle the flame.
They will see that the day of salvation is near!
The time is near!
Let us welcome it gladly with courage and cheer
Let us take to the streets with no doubt in our hearts
With a jubilant shout
They will come one and all
They will come when we call!


[DANTINE to Matt]
Take my hand
And lead me to The Scout Association.
Take my votes,
For votes are everlasting.
And remember
The truth that Vic has spoken:
To organise your students is to see the face of god.

[Singing begins quietly and gradually builds as more and more people join in.]

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song sure to excite
It is the music of the students
Who are fighting for what’s right.
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There’s a demo about to start
When tomorrow comes!

[ALL louder]
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Then join in the fight
That will give you the right to be educated for free!

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song sure to excite
It is the music of the students
Who are fighting for what’s right.
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a demo about to start
When tomorrow comes!

Will you give all you can give
So that our banners may advance?

Some will slink off to the pub
Will you stand up and take your chance?

The streets of South London
Can mirror the meadows of France!

Do you hear your NEC?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!

UPDATE: To coincide with Matt Hyde’s last day at NUS, the full music video is now available, prior to its release in cinemas.


A couple of bootleg versions have already been circulating, of which the best is this one from Charles Barry (a delegate from Newcastle University Students’ Union rather than the architect of Italinate stately homes and the Palace of Westminster).



Five things to spot in Les Misérables

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I thought I’d write my second post on the new Les Misérables film directed by Tom Hopper. (Because no one else is focusing on that at the moment..)

I went to see it with some colleagues yesterday and, in common with seemingly everyone else I know posting adoring tweets and gushing Facebook statuses, I hugely enjoyed it.

Any film which takes nearly three hours to see and has the audience feeling sorry when it ends, rather than provoking mass glances at watches and clutches at bladders half-way through, must be good.
I thought the film perfectly captured the beauty and energy of the musical, combined with the grandiose epic and moral force of the novel.
It’s quite an achievement to tell a story which spans 18 years, 365 chapters, 1900 pages (or more depending on the edition), and hundreds of characters, and still make the storyline easier to follow for the audience than Love Actually.

All in all, a jolly good show.

So in a spirit of celebration, for unashamed fans of Les Misérables in whatever incarnation, here are five (spoiler-free) little things I liked, you can watch out for if you haven’t yet seen the film:

1. The Bastille Elephant

One thing I liked about the film was the way it worked in authentic 19th Century Parisian scenery, which the stage musical is understandably rather limited in doing, notably Notre Dame Cathedral (when it all got a bit Hunchback of Notre Dame with Javert clambering about on the rooftops).

The Elephant of the Bastille, suitably dilapidated, crumbling, and with a broken tusk, is also shown, with the street urchin Gavroche, who sleeps inside the elephant in the novel, seen on top of it.

The original statue stood on the site of the Bastille Prison, the storming of which in 1789 signalled the start of the French Revolution the radical students in Les Misérables hope to emulate.
It was commissioned by the Emperor Napoleon to commemorate the site of the now demolished Bastille (and his own military victories) who originally planned it to be built of bronze, melted down from captured enemy cannons.
Work began in 1810, with a full-size plaster model being completed in 1814. But with Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 – itself described wonderfully if extremely tangentially in Victor Hugo’s novel – work on the bronze version was abandoned.
Despite rather sweetly being protected by a guard who lived in one of its legs, the plaster elephant was vandalised and became infested with rats over the years that followed, finally being removed in 1846 – denying it the chance to become as iconic a part of the Paris skyline as the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe.
But we can now see it recreated in all its shabby 1830s glory in Les Misérables.

Victor Hugo himself might have shed a tear. (Actually, I’m not entirely sure if Hugo would have approved of the Les Miz industry. He left directions that none of his poems should be set to music after his death, but luckily for the makers of Notre Dame de Paris, Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Les Misérables amongst others said nothing about his novels.
In fact, given there were no less than three operas and a ballet based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame produced in his lifetime (one of which, by Louise Betin, he wrote the libretto for) we can assume he wouldn’t have minded seeing Les Misérables as a musical. Plus I’m sure he would have approved of the inevitable spike in sales of the novel bookshops across the world will be experiencing in the coming weeks.

2. Colm Wilkinson

Fans of the legendary Irish tenor Colm Wilkinson, who played created the role of John Valjean in the original 1985 London stage production of Les Misérables – for which the music was rewritten in a higher key to accommodate him – and played the part on many subsequent occasions such as the 10th Anniversary Concert, will be delighted to see him turn up in a small but crucial role.
(Harder to spot but also featured is an appearance from Frances Ruffelle who played Eponine in the original London production.)

I did wonder if, given a film version has been planned since at least 1988, this was a bit of a consolation prize as Wilkinson missed out on playing the main role of Valjean.

Valjean is not the only character musical theatre lovers owe Colm Wilkinson a debt of gratitude for helping create, as he also played Che on the original concept album of Evita, where his distinct voice, which somehow manages to be simultaneously husky and clear as a bell is instantly recognisable from the opening lines of ‘O What a Circus’. He also played the Phantom in the first performance of The Phantom of the Opera at the Sydmonton Festival.
More recently I enjoyed seeing him take part in another historical rebellion and come to a grisly end playing one of the instigators of The Pilgrimage of Grace, the sadly non-singing Lord Darcy, in The Tudors.

It seems fans of Les Misérables should also be grateful to Tim Rice. The story goes that the original London production team were having desperate trouble finding an actor suited to the part of Valjean, until Director Trevor Nunn asked his friend Tim Rice if he had any ideas; ‘The problem is we need someone who looks like a convict, and very strong as he needs to carry a man around on his back, but who also sings like an angel.’
Tim Rice instantly replied ‘That’s Colm Wilkinson’ – and so it came to pass.

3. Marius’ Grandfather

I was really pleased with how the film makers managed to translate the sprawling drama of Victor Hugo’s novel, full as it is of moving minor characters and sometimes frankly ludicrous coincidences, to the screen.

I was particularly pleased that they incorporated some aspects of the book not included in the stage musical, including the convent storyline, which explains where Valjean and Cosette conceal themselves for years. I think in the stage musical nearly a decade and hundreds of pages of the novel pass in a single subtitle reading ‘Paris, 9 years later’.
The film also includes Eponine and Cosette’s shared childhood, a nod towards Valjean’s miraculous underwater escape at one point, and also reincorporates Valjean and Cosette’s first meeting in the wood. (According to one story this was cut out of the London production, to Trevor Nunn’s disgust, after worries it might encourage children to talk to strangers.)

It also includes some truly gruesome depictions of the poverty described in the book – poor Fantine being forced to sell not just her hair, which you can see in any school production of the musical, but her teeth!

But I was particularly pleased Marius’ grandfather makes (I think) three very brief appearances – as he’s a great character in the novel. The nonagenarian Monsieur Gillenormand, an obsessive monarchist at odds with his revolutionary grandson, provides, like the Thenardiers, some much-needed comic relief after chapters of unrelenting misery. His anguish at his estrangement with Marius and subsequent delight at his return only adds to the readers’ hopes that Valjean can ‘Bring him home’.

Despite appearing in the original French concept album, where he and Marius sing a quick duet of reconciliation, he was cut out of the stage musical.
So I was pleased to see, however briefly, he can be spotted in the film, which also gives a little more of Marius backstory as a rich young man choosing, due to his ideals, to live amongst the poor.

[For all the people finding this post through searching for ‘Who plays Marius’ Grandfather’ and such like, the character is played by Patrick Godfrey.]

4. Alistair Brammer

I thought the entire enormous cast of the film were brilliant (with the possible exception of the extra who plays Corpse #37 whose acting I found a bit wooden) but I wanted to give a special mention to Alistair Brammer, whom I went to college with.

Alistair, a talented and amiable chap, plays the role of student revolutionary Jean Pouvaire, seen in the film decked in a blue jacket waving flags and shouting a lot, having previously played Marius in the West End.

I always thought I’d see Alistair getting his head smashed in one day, but assumed it’d be outside Roccocos Nightclub in Exeter, rather than by the bayonets of soldiers suppressing a revolution against the government of Louis Philippe in Les Misérables.

But it’s great to see him doing so well. Exeter College’s main claim to fame is no longer that it educated 50% of Dick and Dom.

5. The Song written to win an Oscar

I didn’t know there was a new song in the film until I saw it, but I shouldn’t have been surprised as only ‘original songs’ are eligible to win Academy Awards.
Having been performed on stage and TV millions of times none of the other songs would qualify as ‘original. Therefore, writing a new song in an attempt to bag an Oscar has become a tried and tested technique for film adaptations of musicals.

For example the song ‘You must love me‘ was added especially for the film version of Evita – when, sung by Madonna, it succeeded in winning the 1997 Oscar for ‘Best Original Song’.

Hoping to repeat the trick Andrew Lloyd-Webber also wrote a new song for the film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera, ‘Learn to be lonely‘ before sacrificing a possible Oscar by cutting it for artistic reasons, deciding it interrupted the flow too much.

I didn’t begrudge this addition at all as I thought the new song fitted the storyline and characters perfectly, and it’s always a pleasure to hear anything new from the trio of Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, and Herbert Kretzmer.
Their plan also seems to be working as they’ve received a nomination for ‘Best Original Song’. Good luck to them.

I’d urge everyone to go and see the film to enjoy a rousing musical for about the tenth the price of a West End show, which will hopefully have even the most cynical amongst us leaving the cinema humming with a spring in their step.
As the jaded Javert would say ‘My heart is stone, yet still it trembles.’

I can’t wait for the DVD to be released, when I might update this post as ‘50 things to spot in Les Misérables’. I’m very open to suggestions of moments I’ve missed.
Failing that, I’ll have to find a spare year to reread the novel for ‘500 things to spot in Les Misérables’.