Bertie Hope-Davies was elegant, funny, debonair, a much-loved party man, latterly by profession a purveyor of pads to the nobility and gentry in the London postal districts of SW1, SW3, SW7 SW10, W2 and W11. He was a Harrovian, perhaps a little too well dressed, and had about him that whiff of caddishness which attaches itself to some alumni of that establishment. Any room he entered became lighter and brighter with his presence. He knew everybody.
About 50 years ago Hope-Davies, then an officer in the Welsh Guards, woke up in a hotel bed, he knew not where. He was in fact in Paris but had no idea how or why. Then and there he decided to give up drinking and had not a drop since. Unlike many who take this step he did not lose a scintilla of his wit nor did he join any of the support groups frequented by, as they call themselves, "non-drinking alcoholics", disdaining their damp religiosity.
His mother, who lived to 104, was widow of a Welsh judge and lived in Salisbury Close attended by a butler, called Dayborn, and enjoyed a game of bridge with her son, her only child, as partner. Their mutual understanding did not extend to co-operation over the table and Mrs Hope-Davies played a very individual game; I remember Bertie saying darkly on one such occasion, "Some mothers return their partner's leads."
Although professing to "hate abroad" (he actually bought a house in the Lot et Garonne), he could never resist an invite to foreign parts, perhaps because his favourite food was that served on plastic plates in economy. Bertie was no gourmet but adhered to the principle of "cutlet for cutlet": guests learnt to bring their own cutlets when invited by him.
He once acquired a bunch of marijuana in seedling form which he referred to as "bedding plants" and asked his mother to take care of them while he was away. After matins in the cathedral one Sunday Mrs Hope-Davies asked her next- door neighbour, the Bishop of Sherborne, in for a glass of sherry before luncheon. The bishop much admired Hubert's "bedding plants" and asked if he might take some for his own herbaceous border on the other side of the wall, where they might do well. They did. When Bertie returned they were six foot high. The bishop's garden was pullulating with pot. Bertie decided that they had to be rescued for all sorts of reasons. It was his harvest and he had to protect the bishop. He found a ladder, climbed over the red-brick wall and recovered them.
Though not religious Bertie Hope-Davies was most observant of the Church's policy towards Parsons' Freehold and in Salisbury Close was well placed to buy the rectories and vicarages of Wiltshire and convert them into homes for gentlefolk. His conversions simply consisted of adding a Queen Anne-style portico, a few dusty ancestral portraits, a huge vase containing a paper sunflower, and his mother. When potential purchasers expressed their sympathy for their having to sell the family home Bertie did not contradict. Once, offering to escort those who had come to view out by the back door, he opened a broom cupboard with a flourish.
He was so agreeable, so spirited, so easy on the eye - he was once a Tatler model, a sort of male Mrs Exeter - that he was asked everywhere and always asked back. I took him for the weekend to my step-aunt, a champion dairy farmer with whom he quickly discovered a shared aversion to the dehorning of cattle - "Oh, I do so agree with you, Mrs Sacher, they did it to mine and I said, put them back on!"
Bertie Hope-Davies died, as obituarists say, "unmarried" and never disguised, or obtruded, his inclinations but bubbled rather than seethed with indignation at the expression "gay". "Queer", he told Christopher (Lord) Thynne, was a bit rude - he wished he knew the right word. Thynne reported a conversation he had had with David (Duke of) Beaufort. Beaufort: "I did so like meeting your friend Hope-Davies and one would never have thought" - long pause - "that he was a bugger." "That's the word!" cried Hope-Davies, delighted: "Bugger."