I am in an Eliot mood, not a Keatsian one. ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ is a surprisingly… mellow poem. There must have been a brief ceasefire between poor Keats and the advancing forces of premature mortality. But I have just heard of the appallingly premature death — by today’s standards — of a fascinating fellow. So it is more a matter of ‘Under the brown fog of a winter dawn… I had not thought death had undone so many’.
At 69, Tim Beardson died of the ultimate effect of a tick bite, which compounds the sadness. At the beginning of the 1970s, he read history at the House. Although it was one of the few Tory redoubts in either university, the influence of Tariq Ali, Paul Foot and Christopher Hitchens cast a long shadow even there. Academe was also vulnerable because many dons’ intellectual honesty had undermined their self-confidence. They felt guilty because they had read hardly any Marx, and were obviously neglecting an important intellectual movement. So they did not feel able to contradict the young lefties, most of whom had read even less Marx, though that did not impair their confidence.
But Tim was never one to shy away from intellectual combat. While at Oxford, he evolved into a High Tory and High Churchman, ready to contest every left-wing claim to a monopoly over economic and social policy.
Tim had no respect for any conventional wisdom and was drawn to originality. In his first term, this had an amusing manifestation. Wanting to give himself plenty of time for argument, alcohol and other undergraduate dissipations, he economised on work. This was achieved by drawing heavily on Arnold Toynbee’s Study of History, which had always been ignored by most professional historians. So Tim would wrest the nearest piece of Toynbee to the subject of the week’s essay, secure in the knowledge that this glorious plagiarism would go undetected. It did. At the end of term, his tutor congratulated him on his originality but counselled him not to take it to excess. To attain the success he clearly deserved, Tim should occasionally condescend to more conventional forms of historical analysis.
Tim never took that advice, though as the years passed, the originality had deeper roots. He read widely and thought hard, despite the demands of his increasingly successful career. It might seem curious that an English right-winger so wholly out of sympathy with the left should be drawn to China. But he understood the economic opportunities. He also saw the continuities in Chinese history. Even though Mao had committed terrible crimes against Chinese culture and civilisation, he had not succeeded in effacing Confucianism.
So Tim Beardson took an almighty gamble and started a bank. In later years, when his courage had duly been rewarded with riches, he would still evoke the perils of his early voyage into the unknown. There would be sleepless nights, knowing that tomorrow morning would require a session with his bankers to make sure that they would cover this month’s salary cheques. They always did. Gradually, the ship moved away from the rocks to the high seas of commercial triumph. He enjoyed the deserved fruits. There was an Arts and Crafts manor house in Oxfordshire, an apartment in the Ile de la Cité — and a wine cellar.
He specialised in claret and claimed to have no interest in Burgundy: a strange omission. But the claret was superb. Gruaud-Larose and Talbot were his house wines, not necessarily from the finest vintages, but delicious for everyday drinking. He wanted his friends to enjoy themselves. They will miss him, and their hearts go out to Clair and Peregrine. Yet even in his curtailed lifespan, Tim achieved so much. The memories will endure.
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