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Published: 18 December 2008

Fireball pensioner was ‘forgotten hero of the music world’

A PENSIONER who died in a fireball at his Holborn flat hours after learning of his partner’s death had a secret past as one of the forgotten heroes of the classical music world, the New Journal can reveal.

Fred Turner, 70, was a recognised face around his home in Leather Lane, but his neighbours were unaware they had a prize-winning musician and composer living among them.
Mr Turner never bragged about a prize-winning career in which he played piano alongside Hollywood actress Dorothea Phillips, world famous cellist Jacqueline du Pré and violinist Rodney Friend.
Friends who had lost touch with Mr Turner had no idea of his whereabouts or whether he was still alive.
His collection of awards, valuable scores and manuscripts are thought to have been destroyed in the fire.
It was only after the New Journal reported the fire tragedy last week that old acquaintances contacted the newspaper, worried that he would not get the send-off his illustrious career merited.
Lifelong friend Robin Keeley said: “During the 1960s and 1970s he was ?one of the leading young composers. He was on a par with the likes of [composer] Peter Maxwell Davis. Fred held concerts at the Purcell Room and at Queen Elizabeth Hall. His music was played regularly on Radio 3.”
Mr Turner was commended with a prestigious silver medal from the Guildhall School of Music before becoming a teacher and composer in later life.
“Locally, he worked with the Salvation Army in Holborn and played the piano at the Great Ormond Street Hospital Christmas concerts every year,” said Mr Keeley, who lives in Bermondsey and is married to Mr Turner’s cousin.
He added: “Fred was a cheery, kind and non-violent man. But the drink got to him and it was all very sad. I was astonished to hear about this because none of us knew he was still alive because none of us had seen him for 10 years or so.”
The revelations about his former life were in complete contrast to the scant recollections neighbours could provide when the New Journal visited the area in the aftermath of the blaze.
To neighbours, Mr Turner was just a shuffling old man who popped out to buy tobacco.
Mr Turner – whose work was inspired by Handel, Beethoven and Shostakovitch – died in a flat in the sixth floor of Vesage Court.
His partner, Robert Coe, 43, had died of natural causes the day before.
The deaths were linked at the opening of an inquest into his death in St Pancras Coroner’s Court.
Mr Turner was born in Somerset, the son of a railway worker. He won a scholarship to the Guildhall where he learnt his trade in an exceptional year – his colleagues included Jacqueline du Pré and baritone Benjamin Luxon.
Friends said Mr Turner moved away from his flat in Orde Hall Street, Bloomsbury, around 12 years ago. He had lived in Guilford Place with an earlier partner, until they separated. He was a regular at The Lamb Inn in Lamb’s Conduit Street.
Joy Nelson, a family friend of Mr Turner’s, said: “Fred was a popular teacher at a school in Dulwich. He was surrounded by students. He played the organ at my granddaughter’s 21st birthday. He is a real forgotten hero of the music world.”
Ms Nelson said a memorial event for Mr Turner will be held in the spring.

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