Obituary: Lord Marks of Broughton

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FAR FROM achieving nothing, Lord Marks of Broughton was a philanthropist, artist and poet, writes Dr Derry Macdiarmid [further to the obituary by Anthony Blond, 25 September].

He developed a passion for painting, poetry and children's books, which he kept almost a secret throughout his life. A painter himself, he became a great collector of art, recognising the importance of Bonnard long before he became popular and was a follower, friend and collector of Cecil Collins. As a poet he became a friend of Miron Grindea and regularly published in his magazine Adam International Review. He was also a collector of books and his collection of children's first editions is unique.

Marks was close to Robert Graves, to whom he introduced himself as "a fugitive from a chain store". It was, indeed, a long struggle to break away from Marks & Spencer's and his father's powerful image. It manifested itself in his constant search for love and encouragement (five wives) and in the foundation of the Michael Marks Charitable Trust. Created in 1966, the trust was dedicated to the arts and the preservation of the environment, two areas he felt were underfunded in Britain. Through the years, in his quiet way, Michael Marks gave millions of pounds to those two causes.

Happiness came late with his fifth wife, Marina. He blossomed. She helped him overcome his shyness and integrate fully into society. She organised the first exhibition of his paintings in 1994. He subsequently exhibited in Marks & Spencer's, which helped him come to terms with the "chain store".

It was a tragedy when he was struck down in 1996 by Alzheimer's disease; Marina had to change her love from enabling him to live to enabling him to die, which she did with a devotion beyond words.

I knew Michael Marks in the war years, in 1941 when he served in the RAF 80 (Signals) Wing, writes George F. Morley. He arrived at our outstation, Beacon Hill, in April 1941 and enlarged our rota to six wireless operators, working a 24-hour watch on the German Luftwaffe. His knowledge of the German language was very useful.

We all lived in civilian billets in the surrounding area of Wiltshire. Rationing and rural life weren't to his liking, so he had a caravan sent down, as well as better food. He surprised the staff of the Salisbury Marks & Spencer store by demanding they get his laundry done.

Our pay as aircraftmen class 1 was four shillings a day (20p) but needless to say his personal allowance was much greater. He asked if he could survive on pounds 4 a week, while we all accepted a rate of pounds 1.8s.

Our work was very secret, involving radio countermeasures against the enemy, who were using radio beams to bomb the UK. The story of the "Battle of the Beams" was told by the boffin R.V. Jones in his book Most Secret War (1978) and, more recently, in Laurie Brettingham's Beam Benders (1997).

Michael was also with me in London at our outstation on Parliament Hill, Hampstead, where we used the BBC transmitter Alexandra Palace to do the same operation.

He went sick in 1944 with jaundice and later went on to the RAF School of Oriental Languages.

Michael was very aware of the secret nature of the work of RAF 80 Wing and it is doubtful that his years in the service are recorded.

Due to a library captioning confusion, the photograph illustrating Lord Marks's obituary was not of him but of his father. We apologise for the error.