Harry Beckhough at the 2013 Town Hall Christmas lunchIn my career as a journalist covering five decades I was privileged to meet many remarkable men and women from all realms of life, but one character stands out as the man who did most in his life, Harry Beckhough who has died at the age of 101.
Dr Beckhough – he had a PhD in languages although he rarely used his title – kept working for 30 years beyond his allotted three score years and ten. In other words this diminutive man, who was a giant in so many ways, never retired.
While most pensioners occupied themselves with R&R (rest and recreation), Harry kept busy with W&W (work and more work).
When he was not working in the High Street offices of his beloved Devizes Constituency Conservative Association, he was researching for the books he wrote on a number of subjects ranging from the Old Testament to what he called the Fourth Reich, German’s domination of the Western world economically after its attempts to use brute force led to two world wars.
This cheery centenarian could well have written his own epitaph in the title of his autobiography Thinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - a play on the words of the children’s pudding game with cherry or prune stones!
He was a thinker, a lifelong philosopher; a tailor who started his own clothing companies including the famous Double 2 shirt brand; a soldier who fought through World War Two with the Eighth Army achieving the rank of colonel; and a spy because he was invited to join Britain’s code-cracking team at Bletchley Park whose work in breaking enemy codes was credited with ending the 1939-45 war years earlier than it might have dragged on.
Harry was fascinated with the German psyche and that nation’s unrequited bid for domination of Europe, and probably the rest of the world, initially by military might but since peace broke out in 1945 through its economic supremacy.
In some notes I have written by Harry before giving a public talk, his dislike of the European Union is obvious and he refers to “the treachery of our Leaders selling Britain to unelected ill-intentioned strangers”, “the European Union under Germany’s running lies” and “Has England a future free from EU dictatorship”.
Born in Bristol where he attended the same grammar school as actor Cary Grant, he had a natural aptitude for languages and his studies at the University of Bristol involved stays in France and Germany developing his understanding of not only the German language, but also the Teutonic desire for domination.
His wartime service as a soldier and code breaker – which also involved helping develop the world’s first computers – was the sort of thing that should inspire authors and film-makers, let alone the myriad other things he crammed into his 101 years.
He was possibly the oldest and longest-serving member of the Conservative Party and became a friend and confidante to top Tories over the past 30 years.
While living in Yorkshire developing his clothing industries Harry was not enamoured with the preparatory schools available to his son Nigel and daughter Jennifer, so in true Beckhough style he started his own, Cundall Manor, which still flourishes 55 years on.
Following the death of his wife Joan in 1996 Harry decided to return from Yorkshire where he had lived for much of his adult life to his beloved West Country to be near his barrister daughter – who is the wife of the President of the Family Division of the High Court – who lives near the Manningfords.
He moved into the Castle Court retirement complex in 1997 where he stayed the rest of his days, handily close to the Conservative office where he could be found working most mornings.
Tirelessly he used his business acumen and life’s experiences to help the Tories gain domination of the local government scene in Wiltshire, at parish and town councils, the former Kennet District Council and Wiltshire's unitary council.
The only really fitting obituary to this man of multi-talents would fill volumes but I sincerely hope my precis of this remarkable man’s life will open the eyes of readers to what he did.
Harry was a small man but he was like the proverbial terrier who would never let go of whatever he seized on if he believed it was for the better for his beloved Great Britain.
He epitomised the old West Country saying that “the best things come wrapped in small parcels”.
For a man who did not move to Wiltshire until he was well over 80 Harry has left a huge indelible mark on the town, district and county.
In 1998 Harry was awarded an MBE for his services to politics, a lowly award considering all he did for the Conservatives at local and national level. In his typically pragmatic style Harry’s comment when the award was made was: “What took them so long!”
Alfie and Annie JohnsonMarlborough Town Crier Alfie Johnson said he had lost his soul mate and his former teenage sweetheart after his wife Anne died on Saturday at Great Western Hospital.
Mrs Johnson, 68, died about 18 hours after being admitted to the Swindon hospital last Friday after her health began to deteriorate rapidly at Coombe End Court nursing home where she had been cared for over the past 16 months.
Her husband and their daughter Diane were at her bedside when she passed away.
Mrs Johnson, nee Fraser, who was born and brought up in Ogbourne St Andrew, had been confined to her bed by failing health in the months before her death.
She was educated at the former Ogbourne St Andrew village school before attending Marlborough Secondary Modern School which was on The Common at the time.
After leaving school she went to work for the former Pelhams Puppet factory in Marlborough which during the Sixties and Seventies was one of the town’s largest employers.
She was still in her teens when mutual friends arranged a blind date with Mr Johnson who was at that time as employed as a shoe repairer after completing his National Service in the Army where he was a bandsman.
Mrs Johnson, who outlived her two brothers, was married in 1967 in St Andrew’s Church at Ogbourne and the couple honeymooned in Southsea before moving into the London Road cottage that was home for the rest of her life.
Their wedding invitations invited guests to the marriage of Bubbles and Yop. She was nicknamed Bubbles by her workmates because of her smiling personality and Mr Johnson had been called Yop by army mates.
Mrs Johnson continued to work for Pelhams after the birth of their daughter and her pastimes were knitting and sewing.
She was a great supporter of the town’s former carnival, made costumes for some of the entries and acted as chaperone for carnival queens for many years.
Most of all Mrs Johnson was known for her support for her husband’s role as town crier and he rarely turned out without her.
Mr Johnson, 15 years her senior and town crier for 21 years, said: “She looked after me 150 per cent as town crier. Anne would always make sure my costume was smart and that my bell was polished.
“Not only did she accompany me everywhere, she also acted as my official photographer.”
After leaving Pelhams Mrs Johnson became a volunteer helper at the Jubilee Centre for some years until a debilitating condition left her virtually housebound.
Daughter Diane said: “Anything to do with animals or babies then Mum was in her element.”
At the time of publication details of the funeral arrangements have still not been finalised.
At the start of the Town Council meeting on Monday evening (December 15), Mayor Marian Hannaford-Dobson invited councillors, officers and members of the public to stand for two minutes silence in memory and in honour of Annie Johnson.
Robert HillRobert Hill who was involved with the Hills Group for more than four decades and was a leading figure in Marlborough Golf Club for many years has died at the age of 74 years.
Mr Hill died on Thursday afternoon after suffering a long and debilitating illness and today the club flag was at half-mast out of respect for the man who was a past captain, chairman and president.
Mr Hill, who is survived by his wife Rosie and four sons, Michael, William, David and Jamie, was a dynamic man both in the business world and in his sporting life.
He was at the helm at Marlborough Golf Club from the mid-Eighties until advancing ill health forced him to stand down as president recently.
The golf club issued a statement to its members today saying: “We are very saddened to announce the death of Robert Hill.
“Robert was 74 years old. He and his family business have been constant and generous supporters of Marlborough Golf club for many years.”
Mr Hill joined the committee of the club in 1984 and chaired its development committee which oversaw the modern clubhouse on The Common. His company continues to sponsor the Wiltshire Professional Championship which continues to be played at Marlborough.
He was also a keen bowls player and represented the county.
Ernie Newell, who was the Gazette and Swindon Advertiser’s golf columnist for many years said today: “Robert was a lovely chap and made a great contribution to the club.”
Mr Hill was a grandson of Edward Hill who founded Hills of Swindon, then a brick-making business, in 1900 and which under the leadership of successive generations of the family moved into the construction and recycling business.
Robert and Rosie Hill with John Cleese and Mike HillToday the Hills Group, chaired by Robert Hill’s oldest son Michael, is one of the leading recycling groups in Britain and is responsible for refuse and recycling in Wiltshire. Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Dorset.
Born in Swindon Robert Hill was educated at Clifton College and Bristol University where one of his cohort was John Cleese. Mr Hill was credited with introducing Cleese to comedy.
Mr and Mrs Hill have lived for many years at Eagle House on The Green in Marlborough.
Anne HarleyMother of three Ann Harley, who has died suddenly while undergoing treatment for cancer in the Churchill Hospital, Oxford, was Marlborough’s Citizen of the Year in 2010.
Tributes have poured in for the community minded mother and grandmother, who died last Friday March with members of her family at her bedside.
Ann Harley, who was born in Marlborough, was one of those people who could never say 'No' when asked to do something for her community.
Her community work, fundraising and generosity was legend said former Marlborough mayor Stewart Dobson. His mayoral ball was one of many at which Mrs Harley volunteered to run the tombola in aid of charities, usually local.
Councillor Dobson said: “She did so much for the town for many, many years. Whatever function you put on you could ask Ann Harley to help and many mayors like myself relied on her to organise the tombola at their mayoral balls.
“She was able to combine a very busy working life while doing so much for the community.”
Another former mayor, Councillor Peggy Dow, said: “She raised so much money for me at my two mayors’ balls…she couldn’t do enough for Marlborough.
“She was a workaholic but she loved Marlborough. She thought so much of our town and cared so much for Marlborough.”
Mrs Harley had helped organise the annual Christmas Day lunch for the town’s senior citizens over the last 10 years raising money towards them and helping run them in Marlborough Town Hall.
She ran the town’s oldest taxi business Marlborough Taxis, formerly called Harley Travel, along with her husband Ray.
Town councillor Justin Cook who also runs a taxi business said: “Ann was a pillar of the community.
“Ann was tough but also very sweet at the same time. We had our ups and downs but if I ever needed a job covering Ann would always oblige and vice versa.”
Ann Harley was born in Marlborough, daughter of the late Dick and Hilda Milsom and her childhood home was in Chiminage Close.
She attended St Mary’s girls school and Marlborough Grammar School leaving at 16. From the age of 19-22 she was a telephonist in the town’s telephone exchange behind the old Post Office in High Street.
At the age of 16 she joined the Territorial Army where she learned to drive, leaving shortly before her marriage.
Mr and Mrs Harley made their home at 117 London Road where their three children, Joanne, Susan and Jonathon came along. Eventually the couple had six grandchildren, Christopher, Elizabeth, Thomas, Catherine, Harrison and Fraser.
Mrs Harley always supported the town’s carnivals and at the age of 17 was a carnival queen attendant.
Carnival stalwart Ian Philpott said of her death: “This is a sad day for Marlborough…she did so much for the town.”
It is expected that St Mary’s Church will be packed for a service of celebration of her life next Friday (April 11) at 11.30am. C remation attended by members of her family only will have already taken place at Kingsdown Crematorium at Swindon.
Her sons in law Steven and Simon and two of her grandchildren, Christopher and Thomas will be pall bearers.