Celtic, Juventus, Kennedy and Camelot

10 Feb

Good Morning,

Prior to accepting the invitation to become Vice President of the United States of America, Lyndon Baines Johnson addressed the Democratic Party Convention in support of his own candidacy for the top job in the Whitehouse.

In the course of his address, he warned the party- and the rest of America- against the sheer act of folly of electing as President  a young man who had not the merest hint of a single grey hair on his head!

The respected Senator from Texas was of the view that such a lofty and important job could not be performed by a mere youth!

The party and the rest of America did not listen.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s ultimate election was seen as the turning of a new chapter. He was the first person born in the 20th century to serve as president. He was the only Catholic president, and is the only president to have won a Pulitzer Prize.  At the Democratic Convention, he gave his well-known “New Frontier” speech, saying: “For the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won—and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier … But the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises—it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them.”

Johnson, was one of a number of big hitters in the Democratic party who all came together in an attempt to stop Kennedy- the others being Adlai Stevenson, Stuart Symington, and Hubert Humphrey. However, by the time Johnson had reluctantly entered the Presidential race, The Kennedy Campaign had gained a momentum and a self belief which meant that Kennedy’s nomination by the Democratic party was unstoppable– In short, the old guard were too slow to see the youth coming up on the blind side.

Years before,while Kennedy was gaining a name for himself in Washington DC as first a junior congressman and then as junior Senator, across the Atlantic a young man who was seven years Kennedy’s junior was making a name for himself. In the late forties he had began to garner a growing reputation without attaining stellar success, However 1951 was to see that change dramatically.

In that years season at Stratford on Avon a young actor took to the stage in Shakespeare’s Henry IV part 1 opposite Anthony Quayle as Falstaff. This young man had never had a formal acting lesson in his life and whilst his Shakespearean début was awaited with intrigue, no one was prepared for what was to take place on that début evening.

The leading Theatre Critic of the time, Kenneth Tynan, described that début performance and the reaction to it as follows:

“His playing of Prince Hal turned interested speculation to awe almost as soon as he started to speak; in the first intermission local critics stood agape in the lobbies.”

Richard Walter Jenkins– otherwise know as Richard Burton— had arrived.

Burton was born in a small village close to Port Talbot in Wales being the twelfth of thirteen children. Two years later his mother would die after giving birth to her thirteenth child and Burton was effectively raised by his sister in Port Talbot itself. However it was a former School master, Philip Burton, who would have the biggest influence on young Richard. He would later adopt the boy and it was he who helped him turn what was a Welsh Pit Pony of a voice into a deep Celtic thoroughbred of an instrument with which to make critics and public gasp and stand agog. He was in the vanguard of the new wave of theatre– full of young actors and playwrights who would bring a new energy to British Theatre.

The lives and images of Burton and Kennedy would become intermingled for a period of time— linked in time and place by a single word and the interpretation and feeling given to that word by a nation and a generation.

That word is……………. Camelot!

Camelot– the mythical and magical Kingdom of King Arthur where all sorts of magical things happen. Camelot– where there is a nobility, with knights of the round table who stand  for all that is good and right and just. Camelot– a word that has come to describe a special place with magical powers and Camelot– a term which came to describe the period of time during which Kennedy was in office— The Camelot Presidency.

Shortly after Kennedy rose to the Presidency, Richard Burton would open the Learner and Lowe musical Camelot on Broadway. It was a hugely difficult production, plagued by early  problems and would prove to be the co-authors last collaboration. In the run up, Learner was hospitalised with Ulcers, Lowe then suffered a heart attack and could not continue. The show was very long with the first production ( which was not on Broadway ) finishing at 20 minutes to one in the morning and so it had to be cut and cut again as at one time it was running for a marathon 5 hours plus per performance.

Yet at the heart of this troubled extravaganza was the magnetic but fiery Burton without whom there would undoubtedly have never been any sort of Camelot. He was not noted as a singer, although he had a good voice, but his choice as Arthur was inspired beyond all imagination– not just because the part called for a mixture of acting, dancing and singing, but because throughout all of the show’s preparation troubles, Burton’s sheer charisma, geniality and faith in the project kept Camelot on the rails.

Lerner wrote at the time: “God knows what would have happened had it not been for Richard Burton.” Accepting cuts and changes, he radiated a “faith and geniality” and calmed the fears of the cast. Eventually,the show opened to mixed reviews at best, with the famous Broadway critics being polite but not amazed.

However, the show was featured in a thirteen minute slot on the Ed Sullivan show where the American Public were treated to the sight of Burton singing and dancing with Julie Andrews as Guinevere — and delivering the highlight of Arthur’s roll—- the remembrance of Camelot towards the end of the show.

The following day, the queue for tickets went clean round the block and beyond! The show became a massive success and grew in stature with the public. That first production ended up winning 4 Tony’s. The album from the show featuring the original cast remained as America’s top selling LP  for an amazing 60 weeks!!

Accordingly, throughout the vast majority of the Kennedy Administration, the musical going public became incredibly familiar with the tones of Richard Burton telling them of ” Camelot”– a term that became synonymous with the new dawn and the new era promised by the young President.

The President and his wife had famously been taken with the show and had invited Burton to The  White House where that massive selling LP was considered favourite listening.

By the time that Kennedy was assassinated on 22nd November 1963, Camelot had closed on Broadway after 873 performances and the show was touring the country with a number of different productions and different actors in the lead role– although as I say above– the lead role had become indelibly connected with Burton because of the LP- further that role and the words spoken by Arthur were also associated with Kennedy.

These associations were so strong that a story is told about a production of Camelot which took place after the fatal events in Dallas. Towards the end of the show Arthur half sings and half talks in retrospection telling a young knight to remember the Magic that once was Camelot. It was this sequence as first performed by Burton that the Kennedy’s found so inspirational and much later Jackie Kennedy would reveal it was the President’s favourite speech beyond all others.

However, on this evening late in 1963, the lead actor got to those words already made famous by Burton when he was suddenly interrupted by a cry from the audience. It was not meant to be an interruption, but the audience member was so moved by the recent events and the words on stage that he or she literally let out all their grief for the newly dead President with a huge cry of anguish and sobbing. The effect of this outpouring of grief was instant– as one by one each and every member of the audience and cast began to cry and wail inconsolably — in the seats, on the balconies, in the aisles, on the stage and on the wings.

This lasted a full 5 minutes- after which the performance continued until the end.That evening is said to have made its way into the annals of Theatre folklore and legend— the night when the audience influenced the feeling and actions of the cast. The emotion and the feeling from the crowd had a direct baring on what was happening on stage—- as if—- by magic.


On Tueday night, the old lady of Italian football comes to visit what might be described as the European Footballing equivalent of…… Camelot.

While Arthur’s Camelot was a mythical place, the east end of Glasgow is very real indeed but on European nights is no less magical.Recently, Henrik Larsson gave an interview in which he described the effect of the crowd at Celtic Park on such a night. He said it made you run quicker, jump higher and last longer than you ever thought possible. Others have talked about the atmosphere making you feel like a player and a half.

Audience influencing the players on the stage—— Camelot!

Juventus are very much aware of the reputation of Celtic Park and have made several public comments about the special atmosphere that they expect to encounter. Pavel Nedved, their footballing director, said after his team’s recent beating of Fiorentina, that he knows all about Celtic Park as he has experienced that atmosphere personally and knows what it is like.

With the greatest respect to Nedved he is wrong. His experience at Celtic Park, whilst although undoubtedly special, was during the course of a Champion’s League group stage match– and even then, if I recall correctly, Juventus were assured in the knowledge that they would progress from the group.

That is as nothing in comparison to a night of knock out competition over two legs, where, as one Spanish magazine put it after the recent game against Barcelona, ” The Greatest Home advantage” in European Football will come into play.

When Nedved appeared at Celtic Park, he played the role of the charismatic and skilful Bull to Lobomir Moravcik’s ageing Matador.

It is a very different midfield and a very different Celtic that await the men from Turin on Tuesday.

This Celtic team are as young if not younger than any group who are left in this competition. Whilst they may not lay claim to being the best team in Europe, there is an argument that Lennon’s team are the best emergent team in the competition– with both performances and results against a number of teams from Iceland, Sweden, Russia, Portugal and Spain lending credence to that argument. If they continue to improve in this Theatre then they are a coming force.

Juventus are undoubtedly a quality team, but they are far from unbeatable, At the start of the season they had concerns about scoring goals and they have recently boosted their fire power by adding the ageing Anelka and the curious Bentdner to their forward line. Both are large men- both are experienced- both are very non Italian in their style of play.

Concerns have also been expressed at the back where a system of a back three is sometimes deployed to allow the genius that is Andrea Pirlo to conduct a five man midfield orchestra. However in at least one magazine I have read, concern has been expressed about how such a back three cope when the midfield five are pierced by speedy and quick forwards. Apparently, in Italy Pirlo is not pressed when on the ball and is not forced into quick release of the football.

In the summer they spent over 53 Million Euro on a team which so far this season has played before a maximum crowd of 40,562 when they faced Napoli.

Each and every one of Lennon’s team have grown in stature at Celtic Park on European nights and right through the spine of the time– from Foster to Hooper– that same group has added to their reputation and value in footballing terms. Their discipline and work rate as a collective unit have been as impressive as any other attribute and they have the makings of a formidable team in European terms.

If the these young men can waltz past the Old Lady of Turin and force her to sit out the remaining dances of the Champion’s League then their stature and that of the legendary ground they play in will be all the more enhanced.

Should that happen, it is not the who, but the what, that awaits them that is intriguing.

The Quarter Final Stages of the Champions League is achievable– and in that quarter final draw many formerly expected participants will be missing. There will be a few unexpected names in that draw signifying a new order perhaps when it comes to the Champions League later stages— a new frontier if you like who are making their way and creating inroads into where the old guard once stood prominent.

There is no reason whatsoever why this Celtic team cannot take their place in that company. While many clubs have relied on the old way of the chequebook, the Celtic management are in the vanguard of the new thinking where they harness and develop young talent from all across the world. As Financial fair play legislation takes effect, others who come from richer leagues will be forced to follow suit.

A young disciplined and talented Celtic, battle hardened before a very real but legendary crowd in their very own Camelot will not be overcome easily by anyone.

While Burton was at his zenith on Broadway with Camelot in the early sixties, and while Kennedy was blazing his own trail on the world political stage at the same time, other young men would make their mark in their fields of chosen expertise. One was a young Jock Stein who was in the early stages of garnering a footballing knowledge which was second to none at the time. His aura will be felt at Celtic Park on Tuesday.

However, for me, another man comes to mind. He would go on to have the magnetism of Burton and Kennedy combined. He could act, dance and play at Diplomacy and tactics with the best, overcoming seemingly impossible odds to achieve his goals at a very early age.

He is a quieter man these days and doesn’t say too much, but I believe that if he were asked to give advice to this Celtic team before facing the Old Lady in their Camelot cauldron then that advice would be short and simple.

“Impossible is nothing but an opinion—— Rumble Young men— Rumble!”


If you care to have a look on You Tube you will see a belated Burton Performance of the climatic tune from Camelot. He stands on a stage, no costume bar a dinner suit, hands in pockets and is just mesmeric even when he simply stops and looks out at his audience.

And he talks of Camelot

While Burton was obviously not present on the night when the entire theatre stopped and wept, it is said that his rendition of that particular number was instrumental in creating such an atmosphere as it was so well known.

It would not be the only time that a Burton rendition would play a part ( directly or indirectly ) in causing those who saw it or heard it to stop and gasp or do something strange there and then.

Like the time he was in Alaska filming the Ice Palace with Randolph Scott when he accepted a bet that he could get a pub full of hardened oil workers and hookers to appreciate Shakespeare. On that occasion the pub was full of people dancing to a jukebox when Burton allegedly pulled the plug from the wall, stood on a chair and started to recite ” To be or not to be” at the top of his voice. Initially, there were shouts of protests from the Dancers and others, but after a moment or two all was quiet as the entire place just stopped and stared in awe at the Welshman ….. and by the time he concluded there was a spontaneous round of applause with many whooping and hollering and shouting for more.

n 1964, on the set of Becket, whilst kneeling and reciting the final words of St Thomas a Becket, his performance was so mesmeric that some of the extras acting as alter Boys set themselves on fire by accident— they had all been holding candles and were so engrossed that they did not notice the flames burning their costumes.

In 1972 Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor would throw a party for Celtic fans in the Dunas Intercontinental Hotel in Budapest.


7 Responses to “Celtic, Juventus, Kennedy and Camelot”

  1. Martibhoy February 10, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    Just immense! Sat here and bubbled at the Camelot lost.

  2. voguepunter February 10, 2013 at 2:14 pm #


    I know you drank in the Vogue in your earlier days mate,I wish I had shaken your hand.
    Fantastic work ,again.

  3. Vinny Martin February 10, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    Thanks again BRT&H
    Bring on the LL’s book.

  4. SFTB February 10, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

    BRT & H

    You were correct in your recollection that Juve had already qualified before our 4:3 game. The points tally before the final 2 matches was Juve-11, Porto 7, Celtic 6 and Rosenborg 4. I think all 3 teams could have qualified in 2nd place behind Juve but the final scores were Porto 1 Rosenborg 0 alongside our 4:3 win.

    We produced a good performance that night but Juve showed a lot of pride too and, in my recollection, were unlucky to be defeated, coming close to an equaliser at the end.

    I love Richard Burton’s voice too but feel JFKs background and legacy is more questionable.


    P.S. When you publish these pieces, remember to correct your initial spelling of Alan Jay Lerner’s surname. you got it right on its second appearance

    • Brogan Rogan Trevino and Hogan February 10, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

      Ah Sure you know I am rubbish at the spell checking and after a while I suffer complete word blindness and just can’t see the errors at all!!

      Re JFK— Had it not been the case that reporting on a politician’s private life was considered taboo— then Kennedy would never have been President.

      Further, virtually none of Kennedy’s domestic bills and reforms made it past Congress or the Senate. Effectively he was a powerless President at home and all attempts at reform re Civil Rights were nullified.

      There is no doubt that Kennedy’s legacy has been romanticised– the question is whether or not that Romantic Legacy had any material effect on America after his death.

      As for Burton……. Oh what a Rogue and Peasant slave am I ? ……..

  5. Des Dougan February 10, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

    Can you clarify who the “Impossible” quote refers to? It doesn’t jump out at me and Googling didn’t help.

    Thanks – and thanks for another fine piece of writing.

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