Dr Lucy Hughes, the College’s Modern Archivist writes:
The Modern Archive recently received an exciting donation of personal correspondence which casts light on the day-to-day life of a Corpus undergraduate in the 1930s. The letters by Eric Cooper (written on letterheaded College notepaper and in envelopes bearing the College crest) came with some photographs and also some embroidery from a sporting blazer, and were given by Cooper’s niece, who has been transcribing and studying the letters as part of a family history project. This donation is very good news for the College.
Writing to his fiancée, Patience, Cooper gives a vivid picture of the academic, cultural and social environment in which he lived and worked. It is interesting to note the many references to attending the cinema (called ‘flicking’) in the letters, with comments on the films seen. Eric had something of a background in the world of cinema as his father, Frederick Holmes Cooper, had set up a chain of the earliest cinemas in East Anglia in the days of silent film, and built a fortune in this way. There is a chapter about him and his achievement in a book called The Picture House in East Anglia by Stephen Peart (1980).
Eric attended Norwich School and thus followed in a tradition of Corpus men from that background. Until the nineteenth century, there was a rule that four of the College Fellowship elected were to be from Norfolk, and although this rule had been abandoned by the twentieth century, the Norfolk and Norwich connection lingered. Eric’s letters refer to meetings of ‘old boys’ of Norwich School, who considered themselves something of an élite club. Two of the current Fellowship – the eminent ecologist and landscape historian Oliver Rackham and the official historian of MI5 Christopher Andrew – were pupils of Norwich School, and so the tradition continues.
Eric went on to serve in the Royal Army Service Corps and, after the War, built a career with Telephone Rentals, eventually becoming Managing Director. He and Patience had a long and happy marriage. His letters from 1935-36 are full of youthful optimism and joie de vivre and thus make enjoyable, as well as interesting, reading. A sample quotation from 30 May 1935 will give a flavour:
I thought I deserved some recreation so decided to flick with Nigel. We went to the Rendez-Vous to see The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. I got out my bike and put Nigel on the back and went there like greased lightning – it’s some distance away – 2 miles. Six policemen yelled at us, but we took no notice (it’s illegal to take anyone on a step now, you know) and arrived there with a flourish. Well, we both fingered our old school ties, wept profusely, stood to attention for ‘God Save the King’ and decided to join up at the earliest possible moment!! We really did enjoy it, though, for it is an excellent film, the sort of film that affects one in a marked manner. To discuss the ethics of it now would be impossible and rather controversial, but this I will say ,the spirit which activated those officers is fine and right because they believed that what they were doing was right. We had an exhilarating ride back here along the backs. We made some tea and talked till 12 when we went to bed.