toby philpott last updated: 03 January, 2007
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My mother was an actress and, later, a voice teacher. Though she had many 'legal' names (she was married twice) she favoured, and chose for her professional name, Sheila Moriarty, which is the name most people knew her by. (It was her mother's maiden name - we are all proud of our Irish blood).
She was much respected in the business, a demanding but excellent teacher. When she wasn't teaching she liked nothing better than a drink, a cigarette (blame the war!) and good conversation.
As she privately coached a lot of people - particularly for Shakespearean verse speaking, you would never know who you might bump into at her apartment: Patrick Stewart (when he was still at the RSC), Anthony Sher, etc. At her memorial service Leslie Grantham did a wonderful and touching tribute, and Susan Penhaligon and many other of her successful ex-Webber Douglas students attended. Thanks to everyone, and particularly Caroline Noh (who worked closely with her for many years) for organising it. The Stage published this obituary (written by my sister). I intend to put her unpublished essays online when I get around to scanning them - meanwhile, you can find a Synopsis here.
Even now, I still hear from students of hers. Just recently I received this charming tale from Tom Lee, now working as a story-teller in the USA:
I want to tell you a story. After graduating "Webber D." in 1984 I went to see Sheila for some help with work on a long narrative poem I was getting ready to perform - "Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude," it was. I wasn't sure if Sheila was going to expect to be paid for her time (ah, youth!!) - and I was completely broke, but I spent my last few pounds on a box of cakes from Fortnum's which I brought along. to that odd little apartment, crammed with beautiful, out-of-place furniture that told a long tale of layers of earlier lives.
Anyway - when the awkward moment came and Sheila oh-so-casually-why-must-we-taint-ourselves-with-filthy-lucre asked for whatever it was, I humbly offered up my box of cakes instead. It was as if I had given her the perfumes of Arabia. "Oh! Darling! Oh! Anything in a Fortnum's box, you know? Anything, darling!" It was a beautiful moment I'll never forget.