Author Lotte Moore has had an extraordinary life – mingling with the likes of Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and Margot Fonteyn; being selected to dance for the Royal Ballet School; and starring on screen in The Avengers series and alongside Richard Burton in the film Anne of the Thousand Days. Starting her writing career at the age of 70 and following in the footsteps of her renowned grandfather, A. P. Herbert, Moore has now released her 22nd book, School Scooter Fun, at the age of 81.
School Scooter Fun – which is “dedicated to all of the children who look so wonderful on scooters” – is about how, for one-day only, parents ride on scooters and go to school, instead of the children. The parents must make bread in class, but chaos ensues, and they get covered in flour. “It is a very funny, tipsy-turvy world for the parents,” Lotte chuckles. She is a spirited, vibrant lady, who recites a montage of fascinating stories about her life, all in the space of thirty minutes. “I just love the sight of children rushing-by on their scooters because it is a great energy. When they walk to school they look terribly grumpy. On scooters, they look absolutely wonderful.”
Lotte spends her spare time going to schools to read her books and School Scooter Fun has been well-received by the children. “[The children] just love what the book is about. They love the mums on scooters and them falling over. I would love to see it happen… I mustn’t laugh! I would love to read the book to parents. I go and visit old people’s homes, but I haven’t got the courage to read it to them.”
This is Lotte’s 16th children’s book. Some of her other titles include Marvellous Mavis, The Flying Granny and The Dinosaur Who Ate a Piano. Her best-selling book, Lotte’s War, which depicts her experiences as a five-year-old living in Britain during the Second World War, is being adapted for the theatre (Tabard Theatre, London, 20 – 24 March 2018), but Lotte seemed sceptical to how she will react to the production. “When you have written something, it is very different to what you feel on stage. The air-raid siren is very powerful,” Lotte then whirls an impersonation of the siren down the phone, “I won’t do any more of that. My ‘all clear’ noise is slightly better. When I do that, the children laugh and say it sounds like a tummy-ache.”
Before she was a writer, Lotte was desperate to become a ballet dancer when she was younger. Her hard work and persistence paid off as she was selected by the Royal Ballet School to star in the Opera Ballet. “I got too tall, so I had to become an actress,” Lotte said, “One of the first things I did was being a witch in a pantomime in Richmond. I had to fly across the stage, but one day I fell onto the stage. The producer came up to me and said, ‘You cannot do that again otherwise you will be sacked.’ I had to cackle all the time. It was an extraordinary experience. Being a dancer, I didn’t know how to talk properly – but being a witch was alright.”
Her acting career took off – the peak of it starring alongside Richard Burton. “That was in a film called Anne of the Thousand Days. I was Anne Boylen’s lady-in-waiting. I had to wait three hours one morning to cry while she was executed… My husband met me during that time. He couldn’t believe it when he came down to the set and saw all the men in wigs and tights. He said, ‘Is this what you do all day?'” Richard Burton was married to Elizabeth Taylor and was one of the highest-paid actors in the world at the time of filming in 1969. “[Richard] was a bit precarious,” Lotte recalls, “If he felt like not being there, he would say, ‘Right, I’m not working today.'” Lotte expressed bitterness for three-time Oscar winner Elizabeth Taylor during filming: “She took a little part I was going to have. I had a little scene in a church and she said, ‘I want to do that part’, so she took my lines.” Lotte also starred alongside Honor Blackman in The Avengers series but quit being an actress and dancer when she had children.
Lotte had written stories ever since she was young – it wasn’t until she turned 70 that she began to publish her work. “I started writing when my children left home. I thought I must do something.” But even at 70, Lotte has a vigorous imagination. “My next story is going to be about those funny balloons, a marvellous story about the hot air balloons. I had a birthday party, and I brought home some helium balloons. I went upstairs to the music room and they followed me upstairs. I thought: ‘This is strange’. Then I went to the loo, and they came in a sat in front of me. When I went to bed, they were hovering above my bed. I thought, this would be a wonderful story. One day, they sat at our table and sank down and just died. I am going to write a story about these two helium balloons. They were so human.”
Lotte is the third generation of authors in her family. Her father, John Putney, was a published author and poet. Her grandfather, A. P. Herbert, was an author, playwright, poet and Member of Parliament for Oxford University, who helped to reform divorce laws in the UK. “Grandpa was quite amazing. He would suddenly jump upstairs and say, ‘come on’ and start playing the piano. We had all sorts of people round, like Bernard Montgomery and the Boat Race Party, but he never acted like he was famous. He was a very quiet man but suddenly he would come out with these phrases and had the most marvellous conversations. One day he was sitting in the garden with his secretary. A boat went by and someone said, ‘Sir Alan Patrick Herbert – he is dead now’, and he got up, his trousers dropped down, and he said, ‘I am Allan Herbert and I am still alive.’ The boat people all hooted and said, ‘So sorry, we didn’t realise you were still alive.’ He was furious that they said he was dead. He stood up for himself very well.”
As a child, Lotte got to socialise with many famous people as her grandparents held extravagant parties and invited VIP guests to their home, including Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Margot Fonteyn, Dylan Thomas and WH Auden. “When I was a child, I swam with Churchill. I was very little. The Churchill’s lived near-by and my mother knew them very well. Churchill was in the swimming pool, lying on his back, with a great fat belly. My brother was swimming and he went underwater, came up, and Churchill went into the water. My mother came out, and shouted: ‘Don’t drown the Prime Minister!’ My brother said: ‘Who is that?’ My mother was livid that he didn’t know this important man. I have just seen Darkest Hour, and Gary Oldman was exactly like how the man was when I was a little girl, with a bottom lip which is always dipped a bit.”
Lotte had the opportunity to meet Charlie Chaplin, but she was somewhat disappointed by the encounter. “One day we were told Charlie Chaplin was coming to see us. We had seen his silent films. But when this man arrived, he didn’t have open feet, a stick or a hat. He said: ‘Hello guys, how are you?”‘ We were disgusted that he spoke. We hadn’t seen Chaplin speak in any film. So we walked away. My mum said, ‘Don’t be rude, you must talk to him.”‘ We couldn’t bear to see Charlie Chaplin talking.”
But as a child, the high-society lifestyle made Lotte feel quite lonely. “One day, two men arrived and dad said, ‘You must be quiet.’ These two men went into the other room with my father. He was writing a spy thriller and these two men turned out to be Burgess and Maclean.” Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean were members of the Cambridge Spy Ring who sent information to the former Soviet Union during the Second World War. “The next day, these funny looking men disappeared to Russia. I said ‘Dad, who were those funny guys?’ My dad said, ‘You mustn’t ask that question.’ I did feel isolated, which is probably why I took up dancing I think.”
Despite being 81, Lotte Moore shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. She offers me some advice in the last few minutes of our phone call: “Great imagination is one of the best things anyone can have because when you are feeling sad, you think of something and you laugh.” Or, you could pick up one of Lotte’s children’s books, relax, and be five-years-young again.
School Scooter Fun by Lotte Moore is available to purchase online.