Wednesday December 11 2019

Last week we were delighted to receive for addition to our archive collections letters sent to Rita Thomson from many friends including Britten and Pears.

Rita met Britten in 1973 when he had an operation at London’s National Heart Hospital where she worked as a senior ward sister. Amongst the letters deposited with us are those which Britten sent to her at the Hospital following his discharge. These report on his slow and difficult progress, often repeating his invitations to her to come to Aldeburgh and sending his love. They are warm and friendly notes although short as writing was ‘still horribly difficult’ for him – but handwritten nonetheless. In a letter Pears sent to Rita at the Heart Hospital in June 1973 he wrote ‘I shall never be able to tell you how grateful I am for your loving care of Ben. Nor will he! Much love to you and thanks’.

Amongst the correspondence is a file of sympathy letters sent to Rita on Britten’s death. Her friends send kind thoughts, all expressing thanks to Rita for Britten’s life during his last difficult years, and admiration for her devoted and skilled care of him. One gains from these letters a sense of the strong friendship and mutual respect that Britten and Rita shared.

Friend and composer, Colin Matthew’s words of sympathy are typical of the sentiments sent to Rita at this time: ‘It has been wonderful to watch him with you making life bearable for him when the frustration of such an existence could so easily have crushed him. Because of you he was not just able to work again, but to complete a whole series of works which, though he may sometimes have disparaged them, are just as vivid and powerful as everything before. Thank you Rita, for keeping Ben alive.’

Photograph of Rita with her dog Jackie sent to her from friend Richard Vogt when Jackie died in 1983.

The file of letters and postcards sent from Pears to Rita is particularly thick. He wrote to his friend whenever he travelled away from home for recitals, performances or pleasure. They shared a love of dogs – Rita’s dogs Jackie and then Boysie lived at The Red House with her. Pears addressed this postcard from Stockholm to ‘Rita and Boysie Thomson’ with a message to them both.

Pears’ letter from Bad Ragaz, Switzerland, addressed affectionately to ‘Dearest Ritzi’, reports on news he has received from The Red House about Jackie whilst Rita was also away in her home town of Dingwall, Rossshire. Typically he signs the letter with ‘much much love’. Pears’ letters are consistently warm and friendly and report on his travels and performances.

There are many more sympathy cards and letters sent to Rita on Pears’ death, illustrating how Rita in the ten years since Britten’s death, had become part of the Aldeburgh community, made many friends and in particular been a close and caring friend of Pears himself.

We have also received letters to Rita from friends such as Princess Margaret (‘Peg’) Hesse and Imogen Holst, amongst many others. From reading Holst’s letters one gets a feeling of the good and caring friend Rita was to her – there are many affectionate letters of thanks, always addressed to ‘Dearest Rita’, thanking her for lifts, Christmas presents, invitations to the Red House and for help given when she was ill.

Evidently Holst was a regular guest at Red House Christmasses in the early 1980s – there are letters to Rita thanking her for ‘the MARVELLOUS Christmas present of the best company there could possibly be’ and ‘a superb Christmas dinner’.

We are sure Holst spoke for many Aldeburgh residents when in December 1983 she gave Rita a present of a Mary Potter sketch writing in the covering letter ‘I want to give it to you as a thank you for all the marvellous help that you give to so many of us all the time’

Rita’s letters are in the process of being catalogued – details will be available on our online archive catalogue very soon.