Sitting in a dim arena, waiting for the show to start, I leafed through the sleeve of the CD my friend had just bought at the merchandise stall. I’d got tickets for this show for my friend’s birthday, knowing he was a huge fan of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, but I had no idea what to expect from this, the stage version of the original 1978 concept album.

War of the Worlds was a massive success on its release in 1978, achieving international hits with the singles ‘Forever Autumn’ and ‘The Eve of the War’ sung by Justin Hayward. The album won two Ivor Novello awards and featured the voice of David Essex and Richard Burton, who narrated the tale throughout. An ex boyfriend of mine also loved this album and I, as I would soon prove while watching the musical, know the words to all the songs.

What I didn’t know though, but found out as I read the inside sleeve of the CD, was that this musical was scripted by the little known writer and Jeff Wayne’s step mother, Doreen Wayne. I’d never heard of Doreen Wayne before, but as I read the small biography in the CD I became more and more interested in this woman.

Born in Hull, Yorkshire, the same part of the country I myself was born and live in, Doreen Wayne moved to London in 1964 and opened a printing business where she met Jerry Wayne, Jeff Wayne’s father. They married and Doreen went on to write novels and plays before scripting War of the Worlds.

Her first novel, The Love Strike, is set in her native Hull, while her second book, Love is a Well Raped Word, tells the story of Liz Clayton who escapes the dreariness of her life in Oldham and travels to London where she indulges in all it has to offer, and suffers the consequences. Liz Clayton is a naive and innocent girl from the north who is seemingly sucked into the way of life of her fellow London office girls. It does seem a bit dated now in some ways, suggesting that northern girls like myself and Doreen are stuck in our grim lives in our grim industrial northern towns and have no idea of the dangers and pitfalls of the big glamorous city… although perhaps there is still some truth in that. If there is, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

For Doreen, at least, moving to London certainly did open up a whole new world. Unfortunately there is very little heard about this writer today. She died ‘after a long illness’ in 1981. Her books are out of print. Her play ‘Two Cities’ which was based on the Charles Dickens novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and won its leading man, Edward Woodward, an Evening Standard Award, is not staged anymore. Google her and you won’t find much. Her voice seems to have been lost in time somewhere. It only appears to remain in one long-lasting form.

Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War of the Worlds played out to a packed arena that night. A giant 3D projection of a young Richard Burton’s head hung over the show and narrated the story. Jeff Wayne himself conducted the musicians and lingered on the stage at the end to bow to his audience and take in their applause. But I was already seduced by the idea of the woman who penned the script. This little known northern woman whose writing, acted out by Richard Burton and David Essex, became known the world over in this science fiction giant. Doreen Wayne wrote, arguably, the most important part of this musical. The words. The sentences and phrases the actors speak when the music dies down. Without that, we would have a far less powerful production today.

My friend looked a little unsure as we left the arena. Maybe, for him at least, Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds is best left in its original form. The audio version still unsurpassed by this larger than life stage version. For me… I discovered something in that semi lit arena as I waited for the show to start that night that I never expected to find. The words of a woman long gone. Her play left to history. Her books only available on second hand websites. At least in War of the Worlds her writing lives on.

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