Tuesday 27 January 2015

Judy Mackerras

As regular readers will know, we at Where's Runnicles are great admirers of Charles Mackerras. We were saddened to learn of the death of his wife Judy Mackerras on 13 December 2014. She was a remarkable person and I have very fond memories of the occasions when I met her.

Our father, Garth Pollard, a friend of the family for many years, delivered one of the tributes at Judy's memorial service on 17 January 2015. The following post is drawn from that and is published with the permission of the Mackerras family.

Readers may also be interested to know about the forthcoming book about Charles Mackerras edited by Nigel Simeone and John Tyrrell, due to be published later in 2015.

Judy Mackerras, by Garth Pollard

On the 24 October 1946 the 20 year old Princess Elizabeth was at the Royal College of Music attending a special concert as President of the College. The third piece in the programme was Weber’s Concertino for Clarinet and Orchestra. The soloist was Judy Wilkins (WRNS 1943 -1945).

The critic of “The Times” picked out Judy, writing that she “had the best sense of performance……. Miss Wilkins caught its romantic quality and lightly threw off her brilliant passages without forcing her tone”.

Judy was born on 5 July 1922 in Assam, India, to Ruby and Bruce Wilkins. She was christened Helena Judith although she was always to be known as Judy. Her younger sister, Josephine, was born 4 years later. Her father was an Inspector of Schools for the Province: a role that he only occupied for a further two years before retiring. The family returned to this country, moving around the south west throughout Judy’s childhood.

Judy’s father was an exceedingly clever man – he had gained a double first at Oxford - but was very reserved. On the other hand her mother was very adventurous and lively. In the First World War she had been a dispatch rider and had also proved adept at fixing her motorbike. Clearly in terms of personality Judy was to take after her mother.

Judy was sent to boarding school at the age of eight. Later, she won a scholarship to Cheltenham Ladies College and from there went, in 1940, to the Royal College of Music.

Judy’s studies were interrupted by service in the WRNS from 1943 to 1945. She then returned to the College to complete them: gaining her ARCM in the summer of 1946.

She was offered the position of first clarinet in the Sadler’s Wells Orchestra but because she was refused, at that time, membership of the Musician’s Union she was only able to take up the post the following year in April 1947 when she embarked on a summer tour with the company, which included a certain 21 year old Australian oboist.

Judy wrote two months later to her dear friend, the violinist, Winnie Roberts:
“It is a shattering thing but I’m really falling badly –seriously –in love. Don’t be alarmed if I suddenly write to you and tell you I’m going to get married! No – its OK it won’t be quite as sudden as that.”

Within two months Judy had married Charles. Judy recorded in her diary “Noon. Bishops Cleeve. Married great success.” Charles’s mother, Catherine, was unable to be at the wedding but some friends reported to her that Judy’s mother had told them that Judy “although musical, was very practical and a good cook”. Catherine was to announce later, having met Judy, that “she could not have chosen a more suitable wife for Charles”.

A month after the marriage Charles and Judy arrived in Prague where Charles was taking up a British Council Scholarship. Judy took clarinet classes at the Conservatoire and Charles had lessons with Talich. They returned in 1948 to this country to live in an unfurnished flat in Notting Hill Gate with literally no money: it had run out in Holland on their way back. Judy returned to the Sadler’s Wells Orchestra and gave clarinet lessons while Charles was employed by the company as a conductor.

A year later in the summer of 1949 Judy left the orchestra as she was pregnant with Fiona who was born in the August. Catherine was to be born just over 15 months later on the 17 November which was also Charles’s birthday. Judy had wanted a family and although Charles liked the idea he was concerned that it might affect his work and told her that while he would provide for them, she would have to bring them up herself. Which she was to do: very successfully.

As Charles’s career progressed, the family were to move to Finchley and then to Essex House in Southgate and, after 4 years in Hamburg, they moved, in 1969, to Hamilton Terrace which was to be their home for 40 years.

Throughout their married life, Judy did everything to ensure that Charles could single-mindedly fulfil his vocation as an outstanding musician and conductor. The range of what she did is incredible. In the early days, while having two very young children, she taught and continued to play in recitals in order to augment the family finances which were tight. She would stain floors, do maintenance, cook, garden, act as chauffeur, secretary and, while coping with the needs of her daughters, support and encourage Charles.

As Charles’s income increased, help became possible with a succession of ‘au pairs’ but, at the same time, the complexity of managing an increasingly successful musically hyperactive husband created more work for her. In the Hamilton Terrace years she was to be supported by a number of excellent secretaries.

Judy initially kept the books of press cuttings, she bound Charles’s Conductors scores and taped his radio broadcasts. She oversaw the family’s finances and tax affairs, keeping meticulous accounts. She was conservative in financial matters, never forgetting the tougher times, and retained a dislike of waste. She organised their very generous charitable donations. She was an early supporter of Friends of the Earth. She maintained family friendships and provided hospitality for family and friends. Without her support Charles could not have accomplished so much.

I advised Charles and Judy on legal and financial matters from 1970 onwards and, because I loved music and was an enormous admirer of Charles’s work, became a close family friend. Judy would come and see me to discuss legal and financial matters. She would give me instructions and after any documents had been prepared (and with her meticulous attention to detail had spotted any typing errors or ambiguities) she would tell me that we needed a meeting with Charles. I would explain, Charles would smile benignly, and then, before signing, he would look to Judy for assurance. He, rightly, trusted her implicitly.

Charles would discuss all aspects of his work with her and valued her advice. When they were apart he would ring her every day, often three or four times.

Judy loved to travel and, of course, did so often accompanying Charles. She also went without him, for example going on treks in Nepal with her dear friend, Inge Henderson. She later fulfilled a long held ambition to go to the Galapagos Islands.

The holiday house in Elba, with its stunning position looking over the Mediterranean, was built in 1966-7 and was a place to which she and Charles, often with family or friends, could go and relax. There would be one or two visits most years and Judy went for the last time in 2011.

Family was very important. Despite all the calls on her time she was a loving mother and grandmother. Ever practical but sympathetic. She was also an important figure in the large and extended Mackerras family. She was open minded and tolerant.

Descriptions of Judy from those who knew her well, which I am sure we all will recognise, refer to her humour, intelligence, broadmindedness, directness, warmth, kindness, practicality and good sense. She was a dear friend to so many, a loving mother, grandmother and wife and partner to Charles, to whom she gave herself and who completely adored her. As she wrote, presciently, to her friend in 1947, “he is very attractive and attracted to me and altogether it is developing into quite a big thing”.

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