AS Australia's longest-serving motorbike writer, Lester Morris has seen many twists and turns in his remarkable life. But even he is astounded at the latest.
The 90-year-old is about to have his children's stories Willy the Wombat and If People Had Tails set to music and performed by a 60-piece orchestra.
Both are being developed by conductor and composer Dr Steven Stanke, from Symphony Central Coast in Gosford, NSW, who expects to see them performed within the next 12 months. Willy will be staged first.
Lester said Steven jumped at the idea when he told him about the books.
"I directed an opera for Rockdale Opera Company and Steven was the musical director," he said.
"I told him about Willy the Wombat and after having a look at it he said it was better than Peter and the Wolf!
"Even better, he said he would set it to music with my narration. I couldn't believe. I still can't."
The book is a gentle tale about a wombat and his exasperation as a parade of bush creatures literally drop in on his burrow.
Steven said each character will be represented by an instrument.
Willy, being a such a busy bush bulldozer, is played by violin. Katie the Kangaroo, his breezy friend, is played by flutes, while a visiting goanna is performed by oboe, of course.
Accompanying the music, delightful pictures from the books will be displayed on a screen overhead.
Steven said each work will be about 20 minutes long. He said there is a great tradition of children's classical music, to which he's keen to add. "I'm always looking for short works by new artists to perform."
He described Lester's enthusiasm at 90 as remarkable and fuelled by "a respect and love for old-fashioned theatre".
Lester, who lives in Winston Hills in Sydney's west, marvels that he has managed two "totally separate, individual careers that don't go within a bull's roar of each other".
A trained opera singer, actor and stage director, he also formed the Piccadilly Music Hall in 1975. It toured the country for more than 30 years, playing at theatre restaurants, clubs, town halls and theatres.
He played the King in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Live On Stage from 1985 to 2007 present, and directed own production of Snow White, which played in Sydney and toured Australia several times.
"I also make the most attractive panto dame you've ever seen, mate," he said.
Lester's screen credits include appearances in Mission: Impossible II, Danny Deckchair and Police Rescue.
He has appeared in many ads, most memorably as the diminutive older man who cheekily uses a tall technician's height to his advantage in an Energy Australia commercial.
Throughout it all, Lester has maintained his passion for motorbikes, which started when he bought his first machine, a 1929 Norton, as a 14-year-old schoolboy.
This led to 20 years in the motorcycle business before he gave it up to enter the entertainment business.
But motorbikes had grip on him and never let him go.
His first articles appeared in REVS Motorcycle News in 1968 and covered simple maintenance and safety, followed for the next 50 years by road tests, race reports and stories about motorcycles classic and new.
He also wrote a series of humorous columns published in 18 top-selling motorcycle magazines, later anthologised in the two-volume book Vintage Morris: Tall Tales but True from a Lifetime in Motorcycling.
His first book, Motorcycling in Australia came out in 1976 and is still highly regarded. His most recent, Classic Motorcycles, a compilation of 32 great bikes he has ridden and road tested over the years.
For many years Lester was a commentator at race meetings, including events at Mount Panorama, and often appeared as a motorcycle expert on the ABC's motoring show Torque.
The son of a Gallipoli veteran, he's also president of the Cumberland National Serviceman in Sydney and took part in the singing at Vietnam Veterans Day in August.
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