Show People 80: Small but perfectly formed: Dudley Moore

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The Independent Culture
DUDLEY MOORE recalls going to the bat mitzvah of his agent's daughter with Malcolm McDowell. As soon as a woman started playing a religious tune on the guitar, the two actors got the giggles - uncontrollably. The more people tut-tutted and the more they tried to suppress the laughter, the more freely it flowed. 'It was the most awful experience,' Moore remembers, 'yet it was quite delicious. The worst times I've ever had have been like that, where you're trying to avoid being glanced at by authoritarian figures.'

Both on and off the screen, Dudley Moore is a naughty schoolboy. All his comedy has traded on that appeal: cheeking those in authority. The highlights from 'Dudley Moore - Times Remembered', a South Bank Show to be broadcast next Sunday, bear this out. He plays the nave one- legged man auditioning for the part of Tarzan in a sketch from Beyond the Fringe. He corpses in to his pint as Peter Cook tells him about having to fight the film stars back from his bedroom in a 'Pete and Dud' routine. He is the spoilt kid with a giant electric train-set in Arthur. And he spoofs Britten and Beethoven in numerous musical skits. Moore himself says his humour is 'all to do with sniggering behind your hand'.

Perched on and dwarfed by an expansive sofa at the production offices of Antelope Films, makers of Times Remembered, he intersperses his conversation with enough funny voices and faces for an entire series of Not Only . . . But Also. He delights in telling me that he has now entered the Dictionary of Cockney Rhyming Slang; breaking into that well-loved Dagenham drawl, he says: 'I've got a nasty Dudley Moore on my lip. Dudley Moore, sore. You see, I've made it now. I'm reduced to a cold blister.' Like a breathless fan, he runs through a Greatest Hits selection of his sketches, some of which are unprintably rude (it is still illegal to send a tape of Derek and Clive by post, as it is deemed obscene). 'What's the worst job you've ever 'ad? . . . It was a million to one chance that bit of gauze landed in the right place'n that . . . Oh, Wiggins, Wiggins.'

It would be easy to theorise about the weedy boy (club foot, 5ft 2in tall) who wanted to win friends by playing the fool. But maybe it is safer just to say he loves performing. His interview with me was a Command Performance.

His face cracks in two when he smiles, and despite greying temples and an unprepossessing brown tweed jacket, it is not hard to see why he has been dubbed 'Cuddly Dudley' and 'the Sex Thimble'. In the documentary, Jonathan Miller describes Moore's 'almost pagan, Pan-like capacity to enchant ladies'. And Blake Edwards, the director who cast Moore in 10 after they met in group therapy, laughs that 'he had to some degree irked me week after week

because of his obvious appeal to the women in the group'. Moore's neat self-deprecations - 'I don't think people take me seriously; I quite understand that, I wouldn't' - only serve to enhance his attractiveness. Women are said to want to mother him.

Cinema-goers, however, have not found him so alluring of late. Since his Arthur / 10 heyday in the early Eighties, when the tabloids used to say he was paid pounds 16,000 an inch, Moore has featured in a veritable broiler-houseful of turkeys. His name above the title has almost become a guarantee of no quality; the pilot for his latest vehicle, a CBS sitcom called Dudley, was dubbed by critics a 'dud'. It joins a CV which latterly has included Santa Claus, Best Defence and Arthur 2, for which the American critics awarded him a Golden Turkey. He attributes the mobbing he received from pupils at his old school in the documentary to a series of adverts he did for Tesco, his most successful recent screen appearance.

Times Remembered is something of a sombre affair - if not exactly the clown who wants to play Hamlet, then certainly the clown who feels guilty about his three failed marriages and not seeing enough of his only son, Patrick, now 16. With an unfamiliar straight face, he discusses his 20 years in therapy. His first musical composition was entitled Anxiety.

The title of the documentary has the feel of an epitaph, as though his career is over at the age of 57. But, to be fair, it has merely taken a turn away from the mainstream of TV and cinema up the bywater of music. Moore claims to be 'quite content to have done a 10 and an Arthur'; he now has more time to spend with his music. And he can still indulge his passion for performing.

Miller reckons Moore's greatest gift is his 'extravagant, promiscuous endowment . . . musically'. The one-time organ scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford, practises piano every morning at his beachside mansion in Marina Del Rey, California. He gives regular recitals (still featuring mocking parodies), has made a successful series with Sir Georg Solti for Channel 4, and is making another with Michael Tilson Thomas later this year. As Dudley Moore, star of cinema, has waned, so Dudley Moore, star of concert-hall, has waxed.

His most celebrated professional marriage also seems to have ended - although the divorce has been amicable. It may dismay the comedy train-spotters who recite hours of Pete and Dud routines, but Moore feels that 'both Peter and I have moved on. I adore being around him, but Derek and Clive could not be re-born.' Dud has gone Californian, Pete has remained quintessentially British - all Private Eye and pubs.

Things change. Moore feels lucky to have crammed three or four different careers into one and is perfectly happy now to swap the cloth cap and dirty mac for a white tie and tails - but still with a naughty schoolboy look on his face.

'Dudley Moore - Times Remembered', ITV, Sunday 13 June, 11.35pm.

(Photograph omitted)