Obituary: Alan Roger

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The Independent Online
Alan Roger was one of a small group of enthusiasts for Japanese culture who created the Bonsai Kai over 35 years ago, exhibiting regularly at the Chelsea Flower Show ever since. There are now over 100 Bonsai Societies. He also served as a judge on Floral Committee B of the Royal Horticultural Society, and wrote the RHS's booklet on bonsai, one of its best-sellers.

As a dedicated plantsman, he took delight in improving the garden which he found at the family home Dundonnell, at the head of Little Loch Broom in Wester Ross. He also took a close interest in the cultural life of Scotland, serving as a Trustee of the National Galleries of Scotland, and chairman of their Modern Art Advisory Committee at an important time in the development of the collection. He was devoted to the work of the National Trust for Scotland, and, although he was never an assertive member of any committee on which he sat, his advice was always sound. He worked best supporting others out of committee, offering his extensive knowledge quietly and unobtrusively, as he had so successfully in his earlier career in Intelligence.

Roger became a Vice- President of the National Trust for Scotland, having been in turn a member of Council and the Executive Committee, employing his expertise on its Curatorial and Scottish Gardens Committees, as well as serving as a Trustee of the Crarae Garden Trust.

His father was Sir Alexander Roger, a self-made man from west Aberdeenshire, and a towering figure in the business life of the first half of this century. His wife, Helen Stuart Clark from Argyllshire, renowned for her style and good taste, created the comfortable and affluent home in Radlett, Hertfordshire, in which their three sons, Alan, Bunny and Sandy, were to grow up.

The entrepreneurial Sir Alexander had invested in the Kansas Automatic Telephone Company. The Wall Street crash of 1929 put an apparent end to that, but, to the amazement of the family, the company resurfaced with considerable profit in the 1950s. This enabled the three brothers to fulfil a long-held wish to return to their roots by owning a property in Scotland. They eventually found Dundonnell. A four-square Highland house of 1769 which had formerly been owned by the Mackenzies, who had succeeded the Macdonnells of Glengarry, it came with an estate of 33,000 acres in an area of considerable scenic beauty.

The acquisition of Dundonnell was a watershed in Alan Roger's life. Born in 1909, he had been to Elstree, going on to Loretto in 1922 and then to read History at Trinity College, Oxford. There he was joined in succession by his brothers, Bunny going to Balliol and Sandy to Christ Church. Alan and Bunny were closer in age and enjoyed the somewhat louche atomosphere of Oxford at that time.

Alan became a partner in the stockbroking firm of Norris and Oakley and was a family company director. At the outbreak of the Second World War, already very much involved in the work of the British Red Cross Society, he served with the Red Cross in France, escaping at Dunkirk in June 1940. He was then engaged on a Ministry of Supply mission to India, and subsequently joined the Indian Army (Bunny, always funny, referred to it as the "Afghan Hounds"). Ending the war as a Lieutenant-Colonel, he continued in the War Office from 1945 to 1952, with postings in India, Persia, Iraq and Hong Kong. Later, he would deflect any dinner-table quizzing as to what he had been up to there with, "Oh, just this and that."

He was sent to Hong Kong shortly after the defeat of the Japanese in order to deal with the re-settlement problems. Returning to London in 1952, he brought with him his Chinese manservant, To Kamwing, who subsequently chose a wife from Hong Kong, and they together with a growing family of three children lived with Alan Roger, the children being educated as members of his extended family.

From 1953 to 1979 he was once again a director of various public companies. He lived first in Walton Street, later moving to a grander house in Egerton Crescent as the To family increased in equal proportion to Roger's remarkable collection of contemporary art, Chinese treasures and Regency furniture. Together with his brother Bunny, he collected the work of Edward Burra, relishing its sardonic humour mixed with a surrealistic intensity.

He also encouraged William Gear and Keith Grant, whose visits to Dundonnell certainly influenced his later work. He owned an important sculpture by Germaine Richier, but his patronage of the work of the ceramicists Lucie Rie and Hans Coper was the most significant. He commissioned from Rie a unique porcelain dinner service for his Chinese banquets. He also inspired Coper and Rie to produce special containers to house his bonsai collection, which was displayed in the gardens at Dundonnell.

In 1982 he moved from Egerton Crescent to Clapham, telling his friends that he was "a refugee from SW3". This move enabled him to help the nearby Trinity Hospice to develop its water garden, introducing a kinetic sculpture by George Rickey, a favourite perch of the ornamental ducks. At the same time, he was an influential Council member of the Contemporary Arts Society, from 1980 to 1990.

He was devoted to his homes both in London and Dundonnell, moving regularly between them throughout the year. Accompanying him in his Rolls-Royce on the narrow Highland roads "with passing places" was not an experience for the faint-hearted. He took a particular interest in the changes introduced at the neighbouring Inverewe Garden, where he was influential in replenishing its collection of old-fashioned roses, previously established by Mrs Sawyer, the daughter of its creator, Osgood Mackenzie.

Many will recall the pleasure he took in being the perfect host at Dundonnell. Roger was never happier than when blending friends from London and the West Coast, from all walks of life and of all ages. He had no prejudices about people. He and his brother Bunny gave an annual New Year's Eve party. On one memorable occasion all power failed but the Scottish dancing continued into the small hours by the light of candles reflected in the mirrored Gothick dance-hall which they had built specially for the purpose.

The excellent food prepared by Kathy MacSporran, especially those incredible schoolboy puddings and custard which he adored, and which were the despair of his tailor, sustained the momentum of conversation at his round table. If there was any sign of a lull, Roger would say "Did I ever tell you about the time . . .?" and off we would all go again. He supported the cultural life of the area based on the Ceilidh Place in Ullapool, and also patronised the concerts given in its village hall by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on its annual Highland Tour.

Dundonnell became a social focus for the widely scattered but close-knit community of Wester Ross. The welcome which Alan Roger extended to all in the best traditions of Highland hospitality was sustained by the devotion of Kathy and Johnny MacSporran, especially in his last declining years.

Alan Stuart Roger, gardener: born London 27 April 1909; died Reading 15 July 1997.

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