Obituary: THE REVD LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY

by
16 April 2008

“Church-press tycoonlet”: the Revd Tim Beaumont in 1965 CAMERA PRESS

“Church-press tycoonlet”: the Revd Tim Beaumont in 1965 CAMERA PRESS

THE Revd Lord Beaumont of Whitley, who died on Tuesday last week, aged 79, had a varied life in Church, state, and Fourth Estate. He ended his days as a bearded Green sage in Clapham, south London, his contribution as the benefactor of Christian intellectual ferment in the 1960s almost forgotten.

As he put it in a guest Diary for the Church Times in 1991: “Fox-hunting undergraduate, colonial clergyman, church-press tycoonlet, Liberal apparatchik, card-carrying NUJ freelance, parish priest, and now backbencher in the House of Lords, I have myself hardly noticed the transitions, but apparently others respond differently.”

Timothy Wentworth Beaumont was educated at Eton, Gordonstoun, Christ Church, Oxford, and Westcott House, Cambridge. He read agriculture at Oxford, and then decided he would rather be a priest than a farmer. The C of E body then known as CACTM suggested that he might do some club work; so as a layman he went to help at the Eton Mission in Hackney Wick.

He married just before he left Westcott, was ordained in Hong Kong, served for two years as assistant chaplain at the Cathedral, and then became Vicar of Christ Church, Kowloon Tong. He returned to the UK in November 1959, with Christian journalism on his mind. Then someone rang him up and said: “Did you see Time and Tide is going out?”

This political review, founded by Lady Rhondda with an all-female staff (its title’s significance did not occur to him until later), famous for the calibre of its contributors but with a correspondingly exclusive readership, had never made money, and was on the brink of perishing.

His spiritual director agreed to Beaumont’s running it as a non-religious paper with Christian motivation, and told him he could do five years in publishing; so he became the majority shareholder. He had no previous journalistic experience. This decision was made possible by a fortune inherited from his father, Major Michael Beaumont. Never afraid to back a loser, he proceeded to spend his inheritance in newsworthy fashion — including £30,000 on a theatrical experiment at the Lyric, Hammersmith.

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At a time when many clergymen were worse-paid than they are now, and vicarage lifestyles could still have a post-war character, his style was flamboyant, and the press liked to portray him as a playboy priest. In 1963, he moved from Mayfair to Hampstead. The Express reported that his new house had cost him £100,000 (a suggestion he rebutted).

But it was his growing publishing empire that accounted for a great deal of the money: Prism, National Christian News, New Outlook, Wonderland, Outlook (a “breezy and direct” parish-magazine inset), Aspect, Small Car, Studio, and Studio Vista Books, a fine-art publisher.

Some titles were short-lived: Aspect, a news-background journal, had only 3000 readers, and died after 12 issues. In scarlet jersey by John Michael, “trousers tapering away to etenity”, and gold tie, its clerical proprietor told the Daily Mail: “I just like to give offbeat ideas a chance. I am prepared to take a risk, to invest money in something if it’s worth while.”

Wonderland, an educational comic for four-to-seven-year-olds, did better for a time, reaching a weekly circulation of 120,000; and from 1960 to 1963, while serving as an hon. curate of St Stephen’s, Rochester Row, in Westminster, Beaumont, assisted by Michael-De-la-Noy, edited Prism.

Prism had been launched in 1957, edited by Christopher Martin and Robin Minney. A rival to Theology, it was the monthly of the angry young Anglicans: characteristic of it was an indignant or bemused compilation of quotations from the month, headed “Religion!”

Under Beaumont’s editorship, it reflected the priorities of Parish and People, gave a sympathetic hearing to John Robinson’s Honest to God — an article by Ruth Robinson discussed “religionless Christianity for children” — and was at odds with the Church Times over a supposed vendetta against Alec Vidler. Its style was fresh and vigorous, perhaps superior, but it never had more than a few thousand readers.

Then, in March 1963, deciding that it needed a layman as editor again, Beaumont became editor-in-chief. He subsequently developed Prism into a fortnightly magazine, the New Christian, modelled on the New Statesman and Spectator, with an ecumenical advisory board, and edited by Trevor Beeson. This continued for five years before being amalgamated with the American Christian Century.

New Outlook was designed to reflect Beaumont’s Liberal politics. At one time, he was reported to be giving the party £1000 a month. As the 1960s went on, he became a key figure: joint hon. treasurer, 1962-63; chairman of the Liberal Publications Department, 1963-64; Head of Organisation, 1965-66; chairman of the organising committee, 1966; party chairman, 1967-68; and party president, 1969-70. From 1967, as a life peer, he was able to press his convictions in the House of Lords, where he was Liberal spokesman on education and the arts.

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He was devoting increasing time to politics, but his financial position had changed. In 1975, he put the house in Hampstead, with its three-acre garden, up for sale. The Mail Diary (“on a peer in a pickle”) reported him saying: “Now I am very poor: I am having to sell my paintings, and my house is on the market. I have also resigned my orders, because they seemed inappropriate to the work I am doing.” He exchanged his Rolls-Royce for a Mini Clubman, moved to a more modest house in Clapham, wrote about food for the Illustrated London News, and edited the diaries of the critic James Agate.

In 1984, however, he resumed his orders; and, after a brief hon. curacy at the Ascension, Balham Hill, near his home, was appointed Priest-in-Charge of St Philip and All Saints and of St Luke, Kew, two parishes that were joined when he became the Vicar the next year. He gave up attending the House of Lords, and devoted himself to parish work. Before the 1987 election, however, he wrote a book on Christian responsibility in politics, Where Shall I Place My Cross?, arguing that each main party had something to offer.

His Liberal allegiance had been suspended during a brief flirtation with the Green Alliance, and, after a period on the Liberal Democrats’ policy committee in the 1990s, he moved back to the Greens in 1999, and was their agriculture spokeman. In 2002, he initiated the party’s first parliamentary debate by proposing that Railtrack should be nationalised. But he had a great many other interests and causes, mainly of a liberal or ecological character, ranging from voluntary euthanasia to the Albany Trust and Church Action on Poverty.

For many years he also assisted at Holy Spirit, Clapham, and in the former Clapham Team Ministry, where he was widely regarded with affection, and known for thoughtful and challenging sermons.

His widow, Mary Rose, and three of their four children survive him.

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