Post memories: Extracts from Dudley Moore letters to Dagenham teacher

Dudley Moore visits his former school Dagenham County High in 1966

Dudley Moore visits his former school Dagenham County High in 1966 - Credit: Archant

Letters from the Dagenham-born movie star Dudley Moore have revealed the late actor’s thoughts on everything from Hollywood to his comedy double-act partner Peter Cook.

Dudley Moore (second from right) in a school production of She Stoops to Conquer

Dudley Moore (second from right) in a school production of She Stoops to Conquer - Credit: Archant

Last week, the revealing letters from Dudley to his former music teacher Peter Cork were given to the school where they met.

Peter Cork

Peter Cork - Credit: Archant

The letters to Peter, who taught Dudley at Dagenham County High School (now Sydney Russell) in the 1950s and later became his friend, were penned between 1980 and 1994 when the star was living in Hollywood.

Dudley Moore in his later years

Dudley Moore in his later years - Credit: Archant

Not long before he died last year, Peter gave the letters to his friend Piers Plowright, who decided they should be handed to the school. They will be kept at the borough’s Archive and Local Studies centre at Valence House in Dagenham, where they can be enjoyed by the borough’s residents.

Below are some extracts from the letters:


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About British actor and comedian Peter Cook and singer Frank Sinatra

March 4 1983

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“I haven’t seen Peter Cook for some time. I’m obviously aware of him looking a little bit older having caught up with him probably more in these last years than you have.

He became heavily grey, quite prematurely and has certainly put on a lot of weight over the last few years. I’m sort of fascinated to see his new film Yellow Beard, which I have a feeling will be a bit of hodge-podge of styles.

I can’t say that I miss our time together. I know in many ways that I’m an isolated person and enjoy this isolation, so that friends drift in and out of my life and I’m not always aware of their coming and going. It sounds callous but it’s not meant to be. It’s just the fact that I learnt this particular way of life in my early years.”

June 23 1983

“The other night I met Frank Sinatra and his wife Barbara, which for me was quite an awesome event. He does seem to be an amazing person and a terrific singer and I did find myself more than a mite nervous when I spoke to him. When I finally was able to say how much I’ve loved him over the years he surprised me by saying that he had been disappointed not to get to my Carnegie Hall concert or the one in LA that I did recently with the LA Chamber Orchestra, when I played the Beethoven Triple Concerto. He thought that was a terrific idea and was expressing great admiration, so it is all very bizarre isn’t it?”

About Dagenham County High School, in Parsloes Avenue

December 8 1983

“Yes I certainly remember playing Tony Lumpkin in She Stoops to Conquer. This was an excellent school production. One of my main impressions too was with my leg up on a table with a tankard of ale. Although I can’t for the life of me remember leading a chorus at the time.

I also remember Robert Williams dying a few years later. He was the staff producer who tragically died at a young age. Oh my god and then you remind me of Miss Williams the head mistress saying I could either be choir accompanist or take the acting part but not both.

I certainly remember the year before, I had to go up to Magdalen [Oxford] which was a great luxury. I think I did absolutely nothing in that time except have fun. I think I probably needed it. It was supposed to be one of those years where I did wise things like read newspapers and catch up on literature but the temptations were very great to saunter around and look as if one was working very hard instead of actually doing anything too much.”

January 19 1984

“I remember Sheila Middleton and Jean Jenkinson. I think Jean had a lot freckles and a bun, as far as I remember. I remember a lot of other names from that period, people who really got into my gut one way or another. Stella and Shirley – people I think from a teacher’s point of view could almost have been viewed as reprobates but maybe I enjoyed that side of them. Their rebelliousness was something I could really emulate. After all, my main theme was merging colourlessly into the crowd and yet at the same time standing out from it. A strangely difficult but enormously urgent ambition of mine at the time.”

May 27 1987

“I too wanted to attend the 50th anniversary of Dagenham County High School but for one reason or another, I have a feeling due to filming, I was unable to come. Certainly your description of Dagenham’s mythological drabness was interesting too me since I too have found I rather underestimated the beautiful greenery that hits one when one enters the area, certainly at Parsloes Avenue.

You may certainly be right that it is the contrast with the rest of London that perhaps made Dagenham look rather more desirable. I don’t think I noticed the greenery in those days. I was more interested in the eyes of the young girls or in the eyes of London in the shape of twinkling lights in inviting rooms of restaurants and clubs.”

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