In 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!”