Spending bonanza predicted as Moores closes £215m arts fund

Sir Peter Moores, heir to the Littlewoods fortune and patron of the arts, is closing the Peter Moores Foundation. The art world is braced for a spending bonanza.

You can't take it with you, but then neither can you really influence how it's spent when you're gone particularly if you "can't trust" your successors. That's the thinking of Littlewoods heir, Sir Peter Moores, 80, who has rocked the arts world by "calling time" on his charitable foundation after 50 years, says The Guardian.

After one last hurrah next year centering on Sir Peter's beloved opera projects the fund, which has dished out some £215m over the years, will close. Cue widespread luvvy lamentations.

Moores, whose family fortune once outstripped that of the Queen, has dedicated most of his life to the arts. An early beneficiary, says The Daily Telegraph, was the young Australian soprano, Dame Joan Sutherland, whose "coloratura" training he financed in 1957. That set the stage for the establishment of the Peter Moores Foundation in 1964.

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"I could see that I had more money than I knew what to do with," he recalls. "So I thought, why not put shares of the company [Littlewoods] into the Foundation and see what happens. The shares didn't have so much value then, but they grew."

Sir Peter, who once ran Littlewoods' department stores, "could hardly be more self-effacing or humorous", says The Wall Street Journal. "I used to work in women's clothes," he offers by way of employment history. "Very tight under the arms!"

The contrast with his gritty father, Sir John Moores, who founded the family empire with his brother Cecil in 1923, selling football pools outside Manchester United's Old Trafford ground (see below), could not be greater. But "Mr Peter", as he was known in the company, was renowned for being more interested in arias than balance sheets. Legend had it that he knew the scores of 400 operas.

Moores dates his interest to his childhood in wartime Liverpool. "There wasn't much to do. So I started listening to my father's records, and it grew from there." It was always curiosity that drove him on. "Oh yes, I'm a nosy bastard," he says. "When I was 18, I started getting in my little car, driving around England, France, Italy and Germany... discovering churches, museums, little towns."

At first he resisted joining the family business. After Eton, he dropped out of Oxford and moved to Vienna to pursue his love of opera. But he was drawn back, starting out on the shop floor and becoming chairman in 1977.

Moores' most lasting legacy is likely to be Compton Verney, the 18th-century house in Warwickshire that he bought in 1993 and opened to the public as a museum. It houses an art collection that spans everything from Tudor portraits to Chinese Archaic bronzes.

We're in for some treats next year as he clears the foundation's coffers, says The Guardian. "We want our swan song to encourage other younger, would-be... philanthropists... to take up the baton."

How the pools became big business

When John and Cecil Moores the sons of an Eccles builder who left school at 14 paid their first £2.60 winning football pools dividend in 1923, they little guessed the riches it would spawn.

At the time, observed Jim White in a 1992 family profile in The Independent, they were vilified by some. The Labour Party leader, Ramsay MacDonald, attacked their idea as "a disease which spread downwards to the industrious poor from the idle rich". But, "like many of his pronouncements", it had little effect.

By 1932, the year of Sir Peter's birth, the brothers were millionaires, "and such was the government's largesse towards them that no-one considered taxing pools revenue until 1948".

The pools deserve their own chapter in any social history of 20th-century working class Britain: cheap to enter, with the potential to win huge money, filling in the coupon was a weekly ritual for women as much as men, well into the 1990s. The pools can still be played on the internet.

The other big names in the business were Vernons and Zetters, but neither had quite the clout or pizzazz of Littlewoods. When one winner, Viv Nicholson, won the then huge sum of £152,319 in 1961 and vowed to "spend, spend, spend", the story of her extravagances, divorces, remarriages, and eventual bankruptcy became tabloid legend, says The Mail on Sunday.

At the end of World War II, Sir Peter's father, John Moores, left the pools business to his brother to focus on the Littlewoods shop and mail-order business, says The Guardian. An obsessive businessman, who in old age found it hard to relinquish control, he quarrelled frequently with both his sons.

When Sir Peter took over as chairman in 1977, and profits subsequently fell, the old man was swift to eject him and get back in the driving seat. The group was eventually sold to the Barclay brothers for £750m in 2002.