PETER DAVALLE JUNE 6 1925 - OCTOBER 25 2013
The Friends of Honeywood Museum sorrowfully report the passing of an old friend and champion, Peter Davalle. Peter was a famed journalist whose art and media coverage for The Times is legendary.
I first met Peter in 2003 at the fine thatched house in Woodmansterne Road where he and his wife Joan had their home. Seeds of revolution were afoot. The council was proposing to turn Oaks Farm into a crematorium, a cemetery and even a cemetery for pets. The proposals contained very serious environmental and traffic implications. Fortunately common sense prevailed but not until the action group this meeting spawned had its say in a report to the Deputy Prime Minister and an appearance on ITV’s ‘Your Shout’.
Peter and Joan were great supporters of the community and Peter’s love of the works of Charles Dickens and the arts was put to excellent use in the shows that this talented couple devised and performed over many years; touring far and wide to raise money for good causes. Peter and Joan raised thousands of pounds for charities including The Friends of Honeywood. But as he often told me it was Honeywood performances that gave him the most pleasure. He also remarked, somewhat wistfully, that we could do even better with more space, if only Jane, the Museum's curator, would get rid of that wretched billiard table!
Peter was extremely knowledgeable, generous and kind. He always saw the best in people and was never angry when let down, just disappointed. Occasionally he would reminisce about his career and it is such a shame that he never wrote his memoirs. He never boasted about his interaction with the great stars of the silver screen but he was proud of what he had achieved.
He had interviewed Laurel and Hardy in 1953 at the New Theatre, Cardiff, when a general reporter with the Western Mail. He also fondly recalled meeting Bella Lugosi the seminal Dracula. Peter put on the actor’s cloak, to which Lugosi replied in Transylvanian tones that “I’m supposed to frighten you, not you frighten me!” He had also had a brush with a feisty Lauren Bacall when they lunched together during the filming of North West Frontier at Shepperton Studios. Bacall was happy enough with being co-star to Kenneth More but she had been upstaged several times during shooting by Herbert Lom. She would not be consoled by Peter’s attempts to assuage her anger, he reminisced.
Peter chuckled at what he recalled was one of his greatest blunders. Sophia Lauren, pressed for interviews by the British press, granted one interview – to Peter. The Times syndicated Peter’s scoop to other newspapers and their journalists gathered at his hotel to hear the results of his endeavours. As he rewound the tape he failed to realise that he had pressed the erase button!
Before Joan was too ill to continue, their house was often full of music and laughter. Peter was an accomplished pianist and was never happier than when seated at his baby grand piano, with Joan in full voice. On birthdays the phone would ring and the strains of Happy Birthday would clear any blocked ear! On one occasion when Peter and Joan were on holiday in Turkey he caught the tones of a goat herder playing his pipes and rushed back to the hotel to practise and memorise the melody that he composed. He couldn’t write musical notation. It’s a haunting tune that was played at Honeywood during a musical tribute to Joan after her death two years ago.
Honeywood will long recall Good Evening Mr Dickens, Peter and Joan’s signature show (picture on the right). Also, their Christmas show which packed the billiard room every year and other shows too, such as Tchaikovsky, Dylan and Dickens. Nostalgia, and his version of The Maid of The Oaks featuring a Honeywood cast (Peter called this one off event his ‘World Premiere!’).
Peter has left his mark on the Internet which lists many of his play reviews. One other gem is a BBC recording of Peter’s interview with Veronica Lake, broadcast in 1969, when Ms Lake talked about old-school Hollywood glamour.
Joan’s final illness drained Peter’s stamina to dangerous levels and he was only just beginning to sound really well again in the last few weeks. He had harboured a desire to live out his life in his beloved Venice (he had chosen a spot near the Opera House). He frightened his family with this desire but it was not to be and he recognised that, sadly, it wasn’t a practical option for him. Initially Peter was intent on resuming his shows but that was also not to be. His last appearance at Honeywood was on the 24th July 2011when we put on the tribute show to Joan ‘A Voice to Remember’ which featured recordings made by Peter of Joan’s fine singing and reading skills. He had decided by then to move away and set up home in a cottage a few miles from his family of whom he was so proud and who have forged a great charitable tradition of their own. At the end of the evening The Friends presented Peter with a signed edition of ‘Charles Dickens’ written by his friend, Simon Callow.
Peter passed away peacefully in his chair with a glass of sherry by his side. As with life he did it with dignity and style. We send our deepest sympathies to Chris and Jane and their family. Their immense loss is shared by all who knew Peter and whose lives he touched.