From left: Elton John, Sylvester Stallone (presenter), Tim Rice at Academy Awards, 1995 © Getty Images
From left: Elton John, Sylvester Stallone (presenter), Tim Rice at Academy Awards, 1995 © Getty Images

Tim Rice had left the Academy Awards audience dumbfounded during his acceptance speech on March 27, 1995. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the words that left a frantic employee of Walt Disney Studios groping for an answer.

Remember The Lion King? Remember “Can you feel the love tonight”? Remember how your eyes had moistened you had cried your heart out during this song? It was, of course, not the only song from The Lion King to be nominated for the award: they also had “The Circle of Life” (the one that gives you goosebumps) and “Hakuna Matata” (the catchiest of the lot) as nominations, dominating the Best Music, Original Song category with three out of five nominations.

Elton John (for music) and Tim Rice (for lyrics) shared the award. In the acceptance speech, Elton John thanked “the Members of the Academy for this incredible honour”, Hans Zimmer, “everybody at Disney”, his parents, David, John Reid (no cricket connection there!), his friends in Utah, and “everyone who worked on this most enjoyable project”. He also dedicated the award to his grandmother (who had made Elton play piano when he was three) and had unfortunately passed away the previous week.

The audience had responded with a tumultuous applause. Somewhere, though, a certain employee of Walt Disney Studios was probably headed for confusion. Just before Elton’s acceptance speech, Sir Timothy Miles Bindon “Tim” Rice had his: “Many thanks to everyone at Disney, in particular, as it’s a musical thing, Mr Hans Zimmer. I’d also like to thank Denis Compton, a childhood hero of mine.”

Let us delve a bit deep into Rice’s childhood: born at Shardeloes in 1944, Rice was deeply influenced by cricket; he owns the amateur Heartaches Cricket Club in 1973 (which, after 500 matches, had the amazing record of 166 wins, 166 draws, and 166 defeats, along with two tied matches); he was also named President of MCC in 2002. Rice’s finest tribute to the sport, of course, remains Cricket (Hearts and Wickets) the short musical he co-wrote with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The musical, considered a classic, takes off with a match of the Headingley Cricket Club; the protagonist, a Headingley player, goes by the name of Donald Hobbs. In a performance in November 1986 at Lord’s Taverners Ball, Rice played Wittering (one of the cricketers in the movie) in his Heartaches Cricket Club attire.

It was hence not surprising that he would name Compton in his acceptance speech. The name, however, was somewhat alien to the continent that lay to the West of the Atlantic. In fact, Rice’s acceptance speech had prompted a confused employee at Walt Disney Studios to confess: “We don’t know who Denis Compton is. He doesn’t appear to be at Disney Studios or have anything to do with them.”

Maybe he should have mentioned a baseball player instead.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)