|Peter T. Cork
|teacher, composer, author, walker, friend ...
Dagenham County High School, 1953-1959 by Colin Heaviside
I very much regret losing touch with Peter. I think I felt that he might not wish to be troubled with past pupils, or perhaps I didn't feel confident he would remember me after a long interval. A while back, my year group had a reunion at the Dagenham school. I met up again with Chris How who had emigrated to Australia. He was a keen pilot, initially encouraged by the school ATC squadron. Peter Cork was taken flying by him during his period in Oz and they had kept in touch.
Peter's style was unique and because us budding musicians spent many out-of-school hours at choir, orchestra, instrument tuition etc we got to know him in a more relaxed environment than would have been possible with other members of staff.
Although Dagenham County high school took its pupils from a very working class area, expectations were high and the quality of teaching was first class across the board. This had been a tradition of the school from its early beginnings. My 89-year old cousin met her husband at the school and I met many of their friends at a party they held in 1974. All had been taught at County High, and the guest list read like a page from Who's Who. Maggie Thatcher's PPS sat next to the UK MD of Access credit card (predecessor to Mastercard), and we met others including high ranking Civil Servants and Consular staff.
Peter Cork shared a staff room with bright teachers who knew their subjects, could teach their subjects, and cared about their pupils. During my time at DCHS, my Religious Education master, Mr Dakin, was BBC radio 'Brain of Britain' for several years in succession.
Peter Cork was selected to join this illustrious group as a young music teacher and I feel he must have interviewed well and satisfactorily demonstrated his capability to have been offered this appointment at the age of just 23. Certainly, he inspired many of us who joined his music classes and groups. Music lessons were looked forward to and there was always a full complement in his choirs and orchestras. I also knew Dudley Moore in his last years at the school, and on one occasion shared a piano with him as we played a duet version of Summertime from Porgy and Bess.
I am still a very active musician at the age of 72 (just contributed to my first CD!)**, and many is the time I pull up short, 55 years on, as I hear myself using one of Peter's phrases as I tell a choir to breathe at a certain point, or a pupil to scribble notes over new music in pencil and to rub them out again when the piece is mastered.
Dagenham County High School hall in about 1957, yours truly seated at the piano, Alan Cramp on guitar, Keith Porter on Double Bass, t'other fellow's name escapes me.
Groups like this, playing very 'with it' music were encouraged and their practice facilitated by Peter Cork, even though he 'admired the skill rather than the content'.
New CD with Colin Heaviside on piano.
Peter Cork, seated at the piano in the hall of Dagenham County High School, probably taken in 1957.
Photograph kindly supplied by Colin Heaviside.
North Sydney Girls High School by Jennifer Williams
I'm not sure whether Peter worked elsewhere in Australia, or how long he lived here, but he taught at North Sydney Girls High School in 1968, a selective state girls' school, probably similar to your English grammar schools.
In one way it would have been quite a coveted position, there being only eight selective high schools in Sydney at the time, though presenting nothing like the magnificent challenge of Clapham County. It was – and still is – intensely academic, and music was a very small part of its activities, the performing and visual arts not particularly encouraged by its principal.
A musician of Peter's ilk would have found it suffocating, I venture to suggest. He would have been one (I think) of two male teachers on the staff at the time; the school catered for years 7-12, roughly ages 12-17, with about 600-700 students in attendance.
Peter taught my class of Elective Music when I was in Year 8. No doubt he taught some other elective classes as well; they were small – about 8 or so in each. Music was also a mandatory subject to all other students up to, and including, year 10. So there were two streams Peter would have catered for – the generalist music stream for all, and then the smaller elective groups. Usually, one studied these electives through to the externally assessed School Certificate (Year 10), and then on to the Higher School Certificate (Year 12).
I recall doing weekly assignments where I took extra pride in designing the formats as well as their content, which Peter loved and encouraged! I can certainly pinpoint my interest in design (such as it was) from this period of encouragement. After a music degree from the NSW Conservatorium of Music, I went on to study design in New Zealand, working as an exhibition designer there (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa), and now lecture in design at university in Australia.
Original building when North Sydney Girls High School opened for 194 students in 1914 on the corner of Hazelbank Road and Pacific Highway. The school remained on this site until December 1993.
How the front entrance of North Sydney Girls High School looked in the 1960's when Peter taught there:
Photograph supplied by Jennifer Williams
Clapham County School, 1969 - 1977 by Peter Cork
My first taste of South London came when I went for an interview, hoping to obtain the music post at Clapham County. I remember emerging from the unfamiliar environs of Clapham South tube station, surprised by the greeness of the Common and a feeling in Broomwood Road that I had been there before, later to find out that the genteel but slightly faded Edwardian mansions and between-the-wars housing had been the background for one of my favourite British films, 'This Happy Breed.' The tall pepper-pot towers of the building were an equal surprise and the academic but humane quality of the school made an immediate impact. And so I first met Miss Viner who was to play such an important part in my life as she undoubtably did for so many hundreds of folk. I will swear that the one thing that tipped my candidacy for the post was a book about the area I had quite fortuitously been reading, Richard Church's, 'Over The Bridge.' Miss Viner had a similar enthusiasm, we chatted happily about its depiction of the area I would come to love and before I knew it, I became the Director of Music.
I had recently returned from teaching in Australia and there was just one problem, I had already accepted another post but not yet signed the contract. I instinctively knew that Clapham was the place I wanted to be and wickedly abandoned the other school. There was also another problem, I was the first male to join the staff, in fact apart from the caretaker the only male in the building, something that did not bother me even if it might concern some of my future pupils. I taught co-educationally for many years in Dagenham, another inner city Grammar School and in a Girl's High School in Sydney, although I will admit the elegant Sixth Form young ladies from Clapham were at first a bit daunting.
And so in 1969 I started my new role, teaching music in a high eyrie, an old science lecture room with tiered desks which surprisingly suited a music class and all the many choirs, orchestras and instrumental ensembles that would eventually use it. I soon became aware of the special quality of the school, the inner city Grammar School that opened so many doors and showed a special way of life, doors that might so easily have remained closed and probably do now that such schools no longer exist. The staff had been there for many years, a close knit and caring community who would foster each other through all troubles and joys and seemed like an extended family. The intake of pupils was delightfully small, some five hundred girls so that you had the inestimable advantage of knowing everybody and understanding all their potential strengths, needs and creative possibilities. I had always worked in small schools and was convinced this was the best environment in which the human spirit could thrive. But above all, presiding over Clapham County was a remarkable lady who symbolised what the place was all about, Miss Beryl Viner. I grew to know and appreciate her great strength of personality and dedication to the school she had created. Nothing was ever too much trouble for her. You would sit outside her door waiting for the summons to interview, then relax in a chair in that room which seemed to possess a regal whiteness, usually complemented by an enourmous vase of flowers and your troubles would be resolved. Miss Viner would listen and with that mixture of wisdom, authority, compassion and identification, show you the way through your problems and very gently suggest all sorts of ideas you might try to follow in the future. You would always leave her room in a cloud of hope and with a fount of new ventures to put into practice.
I had inherited a thriving music department from the indomitable Margaret Stamps and tried to build on the great foundation she had left, with every scheme given absolute encouragement from Miss Viner. We had a suite of practice rooms and already had six piano teachers under the doyen of them all, the admirable Jean Anderson, professor at the Royal Academy of Music and Janet Simpson for violin and Beryl Parkinson for 'cello. But I.L.E.A. were amazingly generous in supplying all the orchestral instruments we needed and it was not long before we were teaching flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, french horn and percussion, in fact it soon seemed as if we were running a little music academy on the side. If guitars were also included some 250 girls were playing instruments at one stage and remarkable progress was made. One exceptional class contained a Grade VIII Associated Board flute, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon and violin. We eventually had twenty perepatetic instrument staff and could hire them on our own authority, obtaining many music students from colleges who went on to great things in the music world.
Every other year we would have a Festival of Music. Miss Viner gave it her complete blessing and many of the practical details were assisted by that other lady of such wisdom and discernment whose early death was such a terrible loss, her Deputy Miss Marjorie Alford. The Festival would run for four days, four evening concerts which could contain over a hundred items, the Senior Choir prominent in Brahms, Handel or Vaughan Williams, not forgetting songs from the occasional Musical, the Junior Choir would flourish with one of those jolly pop Cantatas so popular at the time, under the assured leadership of my second-in-command and right-hand lady, Sally Winter, the Senior Orchestra with movements from Haydn's London or Dvorak's New World Symphony, the Junior Orchestra under the baton of Dorothy Wassell, an excellent violin teacher who had succeeded Janet Simpson, the Madrigal Society and much ensemble and solo playing from all the talented youngsters to complete the programme. It was quite a feast.
But in the interim years we also produced an Operetta or Musical and here I must comment on the personal way that Miss Viner changed the course of my life. We had given a performance of Iolanthe which I had rewritten to set it in the nineteen twenties, a period that fascinated me, finding all sorts of opportunities in the music of Sullivan for cloche hats and charlestones, the former, created by Barbara Caroll, remaining a sartorial delight in the theatrical box for years. When it was over I was having one of the talks with Miss Viner about the future and said how much I regretted the fact that in a girl's school one had to adapt all the male roles to be taken by the girls which I found inevitable but unnatural. "Well then", said Miss Viner, dropping a profound idea into the conversation in that way she has, "why don't you write your own?" I went away with the idea fermenting in my mind and had little sleep that night. The result just over a year later was a full length, three hour Musical, 'The Bells of Craxminster' set in another favourite period, the heyday of the Edwardian era. There were no men in the story but they were germane to the plot although not appearing, so all the roles went to the girls. It was a strange concoction, a tale of a small Edwardian village where by a fusion of a 13th chime from the church clock tower and a flash of lightning, visitors appeared from another planet, the exact converse of our own and turned every one's lives literally upside down. It was quite a hotch but the tunes flowed, it was lovingly costumed in rich Edwardian style by Elizabeth Knowles, vast numbers were involved and it became quite a success. Chappells the music publishers said it was the most interesting school musical seen for a long while.
After this I wrote a Musical for performance every other year. 'The White Bird' was set in a Cornish fishing village in the Second War and 'Half-way up the Mountain' in the Silver Jubilee year of 1935, the first to have a full orchestral accompaniment. The costumes for these were designed with great artistry by Mrs Pinder and the Art Department created glowing scenic effects, none more so than in the former, the legend of the white bird being told three ways, through a film pastiche, a pageant and in the lives of the wartime characters, the whole evoked by the nostalgic film posters of 1942. From all of this I became so interested in writing period music, exploring the past and trying to recreate it in musical and dramatic terms, that at the age of fifty I made the decision to give up full time teaching and see if I could develop a similar work in the commercial music world, a thing which for the last sixteen years has proved surprisingly successful. But none of this would probably have materialised if Miss Viner had not put the idea into my head in the first place and then given me every possible encouragement to develop it to the fullest capacity. And if she could do this for me, a quite elderly member of her staff, how much more was she doing it for all the girls in her care, fostering them in their troubles, setting them on a path to the future, always giving herself in infinite patience and concern which lovingly continues to this very day.
My last years at Clapham were a time of great uncertainty as we did not know what the future would hold and how it would affect all that we did and all that we were. I vividly recall seeing Miss Viner on the morning the fateful letter came and the decision made, we were to become a huge comprehensive school. It seemed like the end of an era as indeed it was and one of the songs from 'Halfway up the Mountain' appeared to symbolise it, a song called 'Silver Jubilee', Elgarian but with deep nostagia as George Vth lay dying after his festive year. It seemed to sum up our feelings as well for the girls that knew it, I remember playing it in Assembly that morning, a great age had come to an end. The future would become a new path but the old could never exist again except in our memory and imagination. And that is how I see it now, a very happy, fulfilled, creative time that changed the course of my life as I am sure it must have done for hundreds of others and towering over it a great, wise figure in the headship of Miss Beryl Viner.
|The Clapham County School building is still standing in 2013
Clapham County School 1970 - 1977 by Jan Goodair
Peter Cork was such an enormous part of my life at Clapham County. I arrived at the school as a recorder player, a nervous singer and a poor violinist. I was part of that year group which Peter refers to in his own account of life at Clapham who by the time that we left had been so encouraged and supported that we had notched up a fair collection of Grade 8’s between us.
My (still) close friend Katharine Gould (who coped SO well with having her name misspelled on every single concert programme …) achieved Grade 8 on the oboe; Naomi Dixon (still very much in touch with her too) was one of the clarinet players referred to, along with another girl called Karen (forgotten her surname) who went on to join the army and play in a military band; I think the flautist was called Susan Gregory. For myself, I (literally) scraped a Grade 8 on the violin and did rather better in Grade 8 bassoon.
My bassoon playing came about in the most bizarre manner. Peter, had, I believe, been pestering the I.L.E.A. for some time for a wider range of instruments in school. He gave out a notice in assembly one day saying that there were now two bassoons available for people who might like to learn the instrument. I was in the 2nd Form at the time and had absolutely no idea what a bassoon was, apart from the fact that it was a double reed instrument, somewhat larger than an oboe. My best friend, Kath, was already established learning the oboe and I wanted the chance to make some more music with her so I expressed an interest and Peter really encouraged me.
The technical hitch was that my family was not at all well off – we moved into a Council Flat during the course of my 2nd year at Clapham and that was an enormous step up in the world – and so could not afford to pay the termly fees for the lessons ‘up front’. Peter stepped in, approaching Beryl Viner on my behalf and she was very happy to arrange for my family to pay for the lessons in weekly instalments. I delivered £1 a week personally to Beryl Viner! My bassoon teacher, encouraged by Peter, got me very quickly to Grade 3 standard after which I became entitled to free lessons from the I.L.E.A. (Oh, if only such opportunities still existed for young people from challenging backgrounds.)
I was ‘bassoonless’ for a number of years, but acquired one again about 15 years ago and still play intermittently.
Jan also tells of how she has kept a copy of the score of each of the Operettas with a special addition to one of them,
On the back of 'The Bells of Craxminster' I have written the words that we sang as an encore, taking Peter completely by surprise, and to the tune of 'Theodore':
Peter Cork, Peter Cork,
We couldn’t possibly love you more.
You are the fellow that we adore,
This is the moment you’re waiting for.
Peter Cork, Peter Cork,
We’ve sung your opera without a squawk,
Our tears are flowing because we are going
From Peter Cork,
For it’s Peter Cork.
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Peter Cosker (Editor)
|editor: Peter J. Cosker
|Peter T. Cork