Obituary: Sir Peter Moores, CBE DL, philanthropist

Philanthropist with a strong connection to Scotland through the arts. Picture: Getty
Philanthropist with a strong connection to Scotland through the arts. Picture: Getty
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Born: 9 April, 1932 in Lancashire. Died: 23 March. 2016 in Oxfordshire, aged 83.

Sir Peter Moores inherited a half-share in the family business – the Littlewoods pools and stores empire – and proceeded to channel much of his wealth and energy by creating the Peter Moores Foundation (PMF). That was to become one of the principal benefactors in the arts, scholarships for the young and many good causes. Moores was passionate about his sponsorship and displayed a very personal interest and it was always affected with style, much benevolence and minimum attention.

His generosity was witnessed in Scotland and was personal and hands-on. This was demonstrated when the PMF sponsored Scottish Opera’s new production in 2013 of Richard Wagner’s epic The Flying Dutchman. As the programme said: “Sir Peter Moore’s philanthropy has been crucial to the development of so much of what has always been considered important at Scottish Opera: commissioning and performing new work, investment in young talent and the staging of lesser-known works.”

In 2012, Moores supported the exhibition Tidal Series by the Boyle family at the National Gallery of Modern Art. The Foundation was much involved in the National Galleries of Scotland’s Peter Moores Projects which supported educational forums.

Peter Moores attended Eton College and then read foreign languages at Christ Church Oxford, concentrating on Italian and German. While a student he did summer jobs backstage at Glyndebourne, then studied at the Vienna Academy of Music, where he produced the Austrian premiere of Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia. For three years he worked as an assistant at the Vienna State Opera House.

In 1957 he joined the family firm, becoming vice-chairman in 1976 and chairman of Littlewoods in 1977 on his father’s retirement. But his father continued to be involved in the business and in 1980 after a family confrontation his father usurped the post of chairman and Peter was side-lined. However, he remained a director of the parent board until 1993 and retained a directorship of the City merchant bank Singer & Friedlander.

In 1964, he established the Foundation and devoted his life to helping the arts. His interest in the arts was long founded. He recalled once, “I grew up with my dad’s cupboard full of operas on 78 rpm recordings, and I had no idea what they were all about. I just started at one end of the cupboard and worked my way through to the other end. I was fascinated by it, and I got used to opera.”

In fact, Moores had helped young singers from the Fifties: he paid for the young Joan Sutherland’s lessons in bel canto singing which started her international career at Covent Garden in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermuir. And in the 1960s Moores financed and then persuaded a reluctant EMI to record Reginald Goodall’s famous Ring Cycle live from London’s Coliseum. He financed numerous recordings of operas in English on Chandos. Both projects are now considered hugely influential.

As well as accumulating a substantial private art collection he also established the biennial contemporary art exhibitions at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and in 1993 bought and restored the glorious 18th century Warwickshire ­villa, Compton Verney, where he had exhibited Tudor portraits and Chinese bronzes. Moores enjoyed the eclectic and contrary.

On PMF’s 50th anniversary, Moores announced it was to be wound down and the assets were to be distributed. More than £231 million had been disbursed during the 50 years. Moores said: “I’m very glad not to have to do quite a lot of these things. This evening, I’m going to London, getting an early train to Scotland and celebrating something at the Scottish National Gallery – I’m 81.”

His renown as a musician was such that he served on the board of Scottish Opera (1988-93) which saw such memorable productions as Richard Jones’ Ring Cycle and Tim Albery’s The Trojans. The Flying Dutchman gave him a special pleasure, as in their preparation SO discovered a copy of Wagner’s original score which set the opera on a remote Scottish island.

In 1992, Moores set up the Scottish Beef Project in Barbados to encourage agricultural land conservation through a co-operative cattle breeding programme in the Scottish district of the island.

Moores, a tall, bearded and distinguishably handsome man, was always constructive in his philanthropy. He seldom gave one-off gifts but preferred longer-scale projects that could become well established.

The former artistic director of the Edinburgh International Festival, Sir Brian McMaster said: “What Sir Peter has achieved through his Foundation is quite phenomenal.”

Moores was made CBE in 1991 and knighted in 2003. He was a governor of the BBC and a trustee of the Tate Gallery.

Moores’s 1960 marriage to Luciana Pinto was dissolved. He is survived by their son and daughter.