Long-time Marlborough resident Judy Miles has died aged 95. She was known to many in the town as ‘the lady with the bright red hair’. The photo above shows her in more recent years – happy with her white hair.
These are the opening lines of the poem Warning by Jenny Joseph, often referred to as an ode to non-conformity. It was one of Judy Miles’ favourites.
If you lived in Marlborough and didn’t know her personally, you would only need to be told that she was ‘the lady with the bright red hair’.
Judy didn’t need to wear a red hat. The henna-inspired hair was enough – a human kingfisher among the grey Volvos and black Range Rovers clouding the High Street. Beneath that coiffure was one of the most intelligent, stimulating and cultured of brains.
Judy was born in Elsenham near Bishops Stortford on 1 May 1924. Her father was a retired lieutenant-colonel who had served with the Royal Engineers in the first world war. Judy’s mother was a concert pianist who had accompanied the famous contralto Dame Clara Butt on tours to America and Australia.
When Judy was eight the family moved to Bedford because her mother wanted her to go to the High School – where Judy excelled. In 1939 Judy went to stay in France to improve her French but was forced to return home prematurely when war loomed.
She went to Cambridge and took a degree in modern languages, specialising in French and Spanish. After graduation she joined the Foreign Office and worked for the code-breaking team at Bletchley Park decoding messages between the Nazi and Franco regimes.
Judy’s parents had bought a holiday home in Frinton. It was there that Judy met her future husband, Gerald. They were married in 1947.
Gerald had joined the army straight from school and after the war went up to Oxford to complete a university degree. Judy joined him there and got a job as a journalist on the Oxford Mail.
The marriage eventually broke down leaving Judy with five children to look after – Zach, Dominic, Simon, Oenone and Quintin – then aged between two and fourteen.
She started selling baby clothes to supplement her income, but later landed her dream job working for the Richmond Herald, which included writing a trenchant column under the pseudonym E.B. Tide. There she made new lifelong friends, including Baz Bamigboye and the award-winning Times journalist, musician and playwright Alan Franks, who later made regular pilgrimages to Marlborough to visit her.
Her editor described Judy as morally trustworthy, yet feisty and fantastically lively, never pulling generational rank and had great empathy with people. She was not afraid to risk her job when she supported colleagues who were on strike.
When she retired from journalism, she moved to Marlborough to be closer to her sister Fraye. She stayed in Marlborough for almost 30 years in a delightful cottage near the centre of the town, with a garden running down to the River Kennet.
She loved walking in Savernake Forest and in West Woods. She made good friends with several neighbours, notably Theresa and John Nash, Pam Waite, and John and Freda Coles, all of whom kept an eye on Judy and helped her in later life when she became frail. She joined the local branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England and made regular donations to charities.
The former Guardian cartoonist and journalist Bryan McAllister was another close friend. When asked about his eclectic career he would reply that, unlike the majority of his colleagues, he had not been to university, but was a friend of Judy Miles which was the next best thing.
Although physically frail and suffering from arthritis in her back, Judy remained mentally alert and lively to the end. She had recently moved to Bedfordshire to be closer to her family. She died peacefully in her sleep early in the morning of 10 October 2019. She leaves ten grandchildren who remember her fondly – as will all those who had the privilege of knowing her.
FOOTNOTE: Judy Miles did not approve very much of the major expansion of Marlborough’s Waitrose supermarket – she thought it was out of scale with the High Street’s independent shops. So she wrote a ‘cautionary tale’ about it:
Judith Katharine Torrens Miles (née Kirke) (1924 – 2019)