Collecting Cooke (I)

Spine of Deryck Cooke, The language of music, London, 1959 (UL classmark: M824.c.95.6).

One of the most exciting consequences of placing information about an archival collection on the internet is the way it encourages private individuals with no academic affiliations to come forward and donate related materials that they have in their possession. In the case of the UL’s Deryck Cooke Archive, the publication of various details in old and new media has already prompted several people to present items they have preserved – most often fascinating tape recordings of Cooke’s broadcasts and lectures from the 1960s and ‘70s.

Not all donated items are of such recent date, however. A gift of another kind takes us back as far as the dark days of 1940 – the period in which the so-called ‘Phoney war’ turned into the Dunkirk evacuation and then the Battle of Britain. At that time, Deryck Cooke (1919-76) was a 20-year-old who had returned home to Leicester after two years at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He would shortly begin the war service in the Royal Artillery that would take him to Italy, Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Greece and Austria. (see the UL’s ‘Deryck Cooke Timeline’). But for those few fleeting and uncertain weeks, there was time for music.

Including, among other things, madrigals – which Cooke could hear by visiting the informal vocal group run by Harold Dexter (1920-2000). Cooke would have known Dexter – the future organist of Southwark (Anglican) Cathedral – from his school days (they had both been pupils at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys); but it was through attending the madrigal group that he met the young singer Wendy Wright and the budding composer Terry Dwyer (b. 1922).

Dwyer remembers Cooke as a ‘very fine’ pianist and musician – but stresses that he went to the madrigal group to listen, and not to sing. Wendy Wright, on the other hand, was an enthusiastic and gifted singer, though she remained an amateur. Terry Dwyer recalls that, at the time, people seemed to feel a genuine need for music. ‘Perhaps it was to do with the war. We all thought that music was a wonderful thing – an important part of our lives’.

Deryck Cooke and Wendy Wright, 1940. (used by kind permission of Terry Dwyer).

Harold Dexter’s madrigal group, undated (used by kind permission of Terry Dwyer).

Cooke and Dwyer remained in friendly contact for many years, meeting occasionally and exchanging letters. And it is thanks to the generosity of Terry Dwyer that the Deryck Cooke Archive now possesses a splendid photograph of the young Cooke at the piano, accompanying Wendy Wright – as well as another picture showing Harold Dexter’s madrigal group.

This was not all that Terry Dwyer wished to donate, however. His other gift takes us forward 20 years – and to the time when Cooke’s controversial book The Language of Music (O.U.P., 1959) was becoming known around the world.

Dwyer bought his copy of the book in January 1960 (hardback, priced at 30s; the paperback appeared in 1963, selling at 7s 6d). Along with many other readers (the present writer included!), he only finished it after noting many comments, questions and objections in the margins – but, unlike most other people, he then posted the copy and its marginalia off to Cooke. Cooke pencilled in his responses and returned the book to Dwyer – with the result that we now possess a copy with Cooke’s own annotations on 35 of its pages….

And about that… more in my next blog post!

About Mark Doran

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3 Responses to Collecting Cooke (I)

  1. Mark Doran says:

    Readers might wish to know that, after further conversations with Terry Dwyer, and having succeeded in making contact with Wendy Payne (née Wright; b. 1920), I can now add some further information about these photographs.

    The first photo was taken in the front room of Wendy Wright’s family home, at 42 Regent Rd, Leicester. Wendy continued with her musical and dramatic interests until she moved to Suffolk in the late 1950s.

    The second photo, showing the madrigal group, was taken at the home of Rupert Clague, one of its members. The group is not represented in its entirety, as perhaps two other members are missing. Terry Dwyer is seated at the front; Wendy Wright is behind him, leaning forward. Rupert Clague (spelling not confirmed) is on the right of the photo; he was killed not many years later, being lost with his ship in WWII.


  2. Mark Doran says:

    (Note: the spelling of ‘Clague’ has now been confirmed.)


  3. Mark Doran says:

    Just a note to say that in a free moment I looked up Rupert Clague: he was indeed killed when his ship was lost…


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