Peter Cork: Music teacher to Dudley Moore and composer for television and radio

Cork and his Baptist minister father went to matinees to listen to the magnificent movie scores

Peter Cork taught Dudley Moore piano and helped Norma Winstone sing; he wrote music for films, television and radio; and, in the last decade of his life, he began a new career as a solo pianist, playing and improvising around the tunes from old musicals that he so loved. Cork, who has died aged 85, had an extraordinary career.

Cork was born in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, where his father was the Baptist minister, a man of strong character who had returned, still afflicted by the effects of mustard gas, from the trenches of the First World War: he brought back the cornet that he had played in a military band. So there was at least a little music in the family and the cornet, with an aunt's wind-up gramophone and collection of records, possibly got Cork junior into music. The family moved back to Ashford in Kent, and Cork's parents bought him an upright piano when he was eight, and found a local teacher who spotted and developed his talent. He raced through the grades very quickly, and scored the highest exam marks in the county.

He also became obsessed with the sounds of the cinema, especially the magnificent orchestral film scores that the German exile Eric Korngold was writing in Hollywood. Cork, with his father (who, because of his profession was not expected to visit such temples of temptation as the cinema), had to go to to matinees beyond the beady eyes of parishioners, and there they sat enthralled through The Adventures of Robin Hood, which had a rousing Korngold score, as well as many screen musicals. Young Cork soon knew exactly what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, which was to write music for movies.

While studying to be a music teacher at Goldsmiths College during the Second World War, he wrote a dissertation on film music that he sent to Roy Webb, another Hollywood hero, who had composed the scores for Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, among other major films. Webb wrote back approving of Cork's thesis, and they stayed in touch when Cork went on to study under Gordon Jacob at the Royal College of Music. Jacob was a melodist and a brilliant arranger, and he confirmed his student's love of traditional musical structure and good, sweeping tunes.

Cork's long teaching career began at Dagenham County High School in 1950, where he later met the precociously talented Dudley Moore, helping him towards an Oxford music scholarship. Moore had greatly valued his support (and criticism), and they continued to write to each other even after Moore eventually moved to California. Moore's wise and witty letters sent from Hollywood to his old teacher were published in 2006. Cork was a gifted teacher happy to help all levels of pupil.

The jazz singer, Norma Winstone, another Dagenham student, remembered his personal enthusiasm and encouragement, which had inspired instrumentalists and singers wherever he taught. He lived and worked in Australia during the 1960s, where his school choirs won all the available prizes. When he returned to Britain, he became head of music at London's Clapham County girls' school, where he wrote full-scale musicals for the pupils to perform, and produced them, long before it became usual for every secondary school to put on a show.

All the while, he had continued composing song-cycles, piano and orchestral suites, returning at last full time to composition when, in 1976, at the age of 50, he gave up teaching forever and began to work for the BBC on special commissions, as well as composing many hours-worth of library music. using every possible style from Victorian pastiche to big band jazz.

Through-written scores were not common on British television then, except in the most prestigious productions, and TV drama used a lot of library music, especially under the credits, so one of Cork's numbers became the signature tune for a Channel 4 series, The Years Ahead. However, radio producers were still then able to commission original music, and Cork worked with the poets Patrick Howarth and James Sutherland Smith, blending their verse with his music for Radio 3; he also composed for Radio 4 literary programmes.

In 1994, he wrote the script and music for a much-praised dramatised documentary, The Road from Marriage Farm, telling the story of his grandparents. Throughout the 1990s, Cork released a series of well-reviewed CDs of his own music, including a chamber suite inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass. His orchestral suite, A Man of Kent, recorded by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Gavin Sutherland, was featured in Brian Kay's Light Music Programme and in the 2011 Light Fantastic season, both for Radio 3.

Cork's music went on being performed in the Folkestone/Dover corner of Kent, his home area, to which he was much attached, thanks to the energetic championship of the local music director, Michael Foad. It was for Foad that Cork began to give his sell-out solo piano recitals, mixing his own music with favourites from musicals dating back to his childhood and years in the cinema stalls.

He gave the last of these in December 2011, and his final appearance at the keyboard was to accompany his own song-cycle celebrating the seasons, in January this year. All proceeds from his concerts went to the Cambodia Trust, which raises money to supply and fit artificial limbs to those maimed by the mines left behind by war. Cork had fallen in love with the country when he visited it in the late 1960s on his way back from Australia.

Cork never married, but he maintained a close family of friends, and some of them would often accompany him on the long walks through the Kentish countryside that he managed up to his 80th birthday. Many grateful ex-pupils also kept in touch.

Peter Thorrington Cork, composer, pianist and music teacher: born Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, 14 December 1926; died Folkestone, Kent 24 September 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015