Wednesday, June 5, 2024

“A Taste of Honey” Was For the American Version of a British Play Before Herb Alpert’s Cover

A groundbreaking British play came to America and spawned a film adaptation and a hit song, covered by a jazz trumpeter when his career launched.
by Rich Watson 

This post is for the Broadway Bound Blogathon, a blog event looking at films and stars with Broadway ties. At the end I’ll tell you where you can find more posts like this.

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass recorded “A Taste of Honey” for their 1965 album Whipped Cream and Other Delights. You’re probably familiar with the cover. The song won four Grammys, including Record of the Year.

American audiences first heard it in 1960, for a Broadway adaptation of a British play by a teenage writer.

Shelagh Delaney and A Taste of Honey the play

Sheila Mary Delaney was born in Lancashire in 1938, the daughter of an Irishman. In time, she’d change the spelling of her name to sound more Irish.

She wrote A Taste of Honey at age nineteen, in ten days. The play hit on all the hot-button topics: women’s rights, race and sexuality. A white working-class girl has a one-night stand with a black sailor at fifteen, gets pregnant, and raises the baby with the help of a gay man. 

A 1959 review said it was “the first English play I’ve seen in which a colored man and a queer boy are presented as natural characters, factually, without a nudge or shudder.”

Delaney went on to a moderate writing career before dying in 2011. Honey just completed a revival in Manchester.

The Broadway version and the movie

The Broadway adaptation in 1960 starred Angela Lansbury and Joan Plowright, plus a young Billy Dee Williams. 

It won Best Foreign Play from the New York Drama Critics Circle and the Tony for Best Actress in a Play (Plowright).

The 1961 film version was co-written by Delaney and director Tony Richardson. You can see her in the opening scene, in the background of a basketball game. It was the first major British film shot on location, in this case, Salford and Blackpool.

Honey, the film, was the debut of actress Rita Tushingham. She won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival (her co-star Murray Melvin won Best Actor) and the BAFTA, the British Oscar, for Most Promising Newcomer. It was one of four BAFTA wins for the film. This 2020 interview reflects on her career following the movie.

Director Richardson would go on to make, among other films, the Best Picture Oscar winner Tom Jones.

“A Taste of Honey” the song

Bobby Scott and Ric Marlow wrote “A Taste of Honey,” the song, for the Broadway version of Delaney’s play. Scott, a pianist, had performed with Louis Prima and Gene Krupa, among others, while Marlow, a singer and actor, appeared in various films and TV shows of the fifties and sixties. According to Marlow, he and Scott wrote it in five minutes. 

There was also a vocal version, performed by, among others, the Beatles (not to mention Williams himself, in 1961) but its greatest success was as an instrumental. 

At the 1963 Grammys, it won Best Instrumental Theme.

Herb Alpert’s version

Herb Alpert, a trumpeter from Los Angeles, formed the Tijuana Brass in 1962, the same year he co-founded A&M Records (now called Interscope). 

TTB acquired its name when Alpert became inspired by the atmosphere of a bullfight in Tijuana, Mexico while recording a song. They began as studio musicians before the success of Whipped Cream, their fourth album, turned them into a touring band. 

The album was produced by Alpert and Jerry Moss. The story behind that famous cover is known.

In addition to Alpert, TTB consisted of:
  • John Pisano, guitar
  • Bob Edmondson, trombone
  • Hal Blaine, drums 
  • Carol Kaye, electric bass
  • Chuck Berghofer, double bass, and
  • Russell Bridges, AKA Leon Russell, piano.
Many of them were also part of the famous studio band known as the Wrecking Crew.

Additional musicians included Nick Ceroli (drums), Pat Senators (bass), Tonni Kalash (trumpet), Lou Pagani (piano) and Julius Wechter (marimba/vibes).

Engineer Larry Levine suggested recording “Honey” to Alpert when he learned the songs on Whipped Cream would have a food theme. This article goes into more detail on the recording process.

Alpert’s “Honey” spent five weeks at number one on Billboard’s easy listening chart and number seven on the Hot 100. The Whipped Cream album sold over six million copies in the US.

The seventies disco group A Taste of Honey took their name from Alpert’s version of the song.



More posts in the Broadway Bound Blogathon can be found at Taking Up Room, from June 14-16.


  1. This is a thorough and fascinating exploration of the history of a work of theater and music that evolved into a pop song. By "pop," I mean it in the best possible way. Popular and revolutionary, not "Four corporations churning out shite that all sound the same." Oh, and in case you're wondering, this was not written by AI. I'm just that damn good with vocabulary and expressing myself beyond, "Duhr. This am good."

  2. Thanks for sharing the story about Herb Albert's famous song (and album), and for the introduction to the film...which probably raised a lot of eyebrows back in the day. I'll be humming the song all evening, which is not at all a bad thing.

  3. Learning about the play and movie behind the song was fortuitous. I was gonna write about the song no matter what, but all that backstory was a big bonus.

  4. I was binging a bunch of British New Wave films last year and A TASTE OF HONEY stood out as one of the most exemplary titles in that movement. The direction is beautiful and the presentation of all these characters is so compassionate and non-judgmental considering the milieu in which it was made. I enjoyed reading about the background of the film and the song! Wonderful work!

  5. Many thanks. Turning a play like this into a movie was a daring act in itself.