Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rare TV film reveals early life of the comic and composer Maxwell Davies

By Ben Dowell
From The Guardian - Sunday June 17, 2007

One is a painfully short Essex boy who went to Oxford, became one of the foremost satirists of his generation and had four marriages and numerous glamorous girlfriends before his untimely death in 2002.
The other is one of Britain's most respected composers who now lives in quiet isolation on the remote Orkney island of Sanday and is the Master of the Queen's Music.
Dudley Moore and Peter Maxwell Davies were brought together in a television documentary, made before Moore appeared in Beyond the Fringe and shown in 1961. Called Two Composers, it tips them both for musical greatness. The programme has just been unearthed by chance in the BBC archives.

The half-hour segment from the arts show Monitor was made by the programme's groundbreaking editor Huw Wheldon, who later became the BBC's managing director. Both musicians were only 25 at the time, and the episode has not been seen for 46 years.
In the film, which will be shown on BBC4 on 29 June, Moore is very well spoken, unlike the voice we are used to in his often acerbic and profane comedy work with Peter Cook. His accent also appears to fly in the face of his upbringing as the son of a shorthand typist and railway engineer on a council estate in Dagenham, east London.

The film shows Moore leading a life of domestic chaos, sharing a flat on the Kilburn High Road in north-west London with jazz singer Cleo Laine and her bandleader husband Johnny Dankworth. At the flat, Moore's bed is a fold-up sofa with an old coat for a blanket.
The film also includes scenes of him performing with the Dankworths in cabaret and pictures of him stumbling round Soho in a long coat and sporting what appears to be a colossal hangover.
The film praises Moore's brilliance as an improviser with an enormous range of music at his disposal, whether composing jazz, more formal pieces or jingles for television adverts. The performer, who had a club foot and was only 5ft 2in, also provides a revealing insight into his personal demons before he found fame in Not Only...But Also
'I started fooling around at school really when I was 15 or so,' says the performer who went on to earn the nickname the 'sex thimble'. 'I wasn't popular at school when I was young, being a very serious boy. It wasn't easy to be popular but I wanted to be less unpopular which is why I started to fool around. That is why I started to cash in on this [his music].'
Nick Awde, co-author of the West End play Pete and Dud: Come Again, about Moore's collaboration with Cook, welcomed the discovery. 'As the film suggests, Dudley was often crashing at people's flats - often because he just liked the company,' said Awde. 'But the music is very important to stress with Dudley - it grounded him all his life and gave him such impeccable comic timing.'

In Beyond the Fringe in which Moore starred alongside Cook, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller, he once memorably sang the words to 'Little Miss Muffet' to a pastiche of Benjamin Britten's music and in the manner of Britten's partner, the tenor Peter Pears.
According to Francesca Kemp, the BBC producer who found the film, the discovery indicates what an 'amazing musician he was and could have become had fate not held something else in store for him'.
The footage of Moore contrasts with that of Maxwell Davies who, in 1961, is shown living a life of almost monastic dedication, refusing to cook for himself and preferring to spend the time he is not teaching at Cirencester Grammar School on composing music.
Perhaps the only thing the two men have in common is their humble backgrounds: Maxwell Davies, now a knight, is the Salford-born son of a factory worker.

Kemp, who came upon the video in the BBC archives when working on an upcoming episode of the BBC4 music series Classic Britannia which will use some of the footage, said that she was 'thrilled' by the discovery.
'It is quite astonishing really that these two people were used in the film because there must have been dozens of young composers in Britain at the time they could have used,' she said.
'They were in no way dead certs for fame - they were both very young and in many ways undiscovered at the time and could have slipped off the radar at any time. And yet something, maybe instinct, made [Monitor's producers] go for these two very different people and profile them.
'The devotion Maxwell Davies shows to musical education impressed me a lot and it is something we could learn from today.
'What we also have is a picture of Moore just before he was whisked off to fame as a comedy performer but at an amazing time.
'There is also something quite shocking in the way he louchely stumbles around Soho with a hangover and lives in such squalor. I think my grandmother would have been shocked.'

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