Lady Tess Swann: Organist, viola player and wife of Lord Swann

Many readers in Edinburgh will recollect the lovely lady who added to university occasions at which her husband, then Sir Michael Swann FRS, the vice-chancellor, (1965-1973) presided. Even more readers in London and throughout Britain will remember the charming hostess wife of Lord Swann, as he became when he was a hugely respected chairman of the board of governors of the BBC, 1973-1980. But Lady Tess Swann was far from being in her distinguished husband's slipstream. She was a talented musician: a sought-after viola player, and perhaps above all a superb organist, an associate of the Royal College of Organists.

Born Tess Gleadowe, she was the daughter of Reginald Gleadowe, a famous master among the generations he taught at Winchester College; from 1928-1933 he was Slade Professor of Fine Art in Oxford. At Winchester he was an inspiration, among others, to Hugh Gaitskill, Douglas Jay, Christopher Longuet-Higgins and Dick Crossman, with whom he was to go on boating and sailing trips when Crossman was a fellow at New College, Oxford. When we took Crossman, then a cabinet minister, in 1965 to Orms Acre, the Swann home in Barton, Edinburgh, Crossman's first words to his slightly embarrassed hostess and amazed fellow guests was a booming, "You are the beautiful schoolgirl whom I used to know when you were a 15-year-old at St Swithun's School for Girls in Winchester. You were the apple, my friend, your father's eye."

Eric James, a colleague of Gleadowe's on the Winchester staff, later High Master of Manchester Grammar School and vice-chancellor of York University, commented to me with a twinkle that the two luckiest vice-chancellors of the mid-1960s were himself, to have his Cordelia, a first class honours in Greats, and Swann, to have his musical Tess.

From St Swithun's, Gleadowe went to the Royal College of Music and Drama from September 1941 to July 1942, under Kendall Taylor for piano and under Wilson Harris for the organ (for 30 years the organist of St Georges, Windsor, he was one of the great teachers of the organ). Before going off to War work she won the Kenneth Bruce Stuart prize for organ, at that time the princely sum of three guineas. Her War work done, in April 1944 she became an associate of the Royal College of Music and an associate of the Royal College of Organists.

At the age of 20 she married the 22-year-old Michael Swann, whom she had known at Winchester as a schoolboy and who was then immersed in science-related War work. As soon as the War ended, her husband was made a fellow of Caius College and a university demonstrator in zoology. This gave Tess an entrée to Cambridge's vibrant musical life, and she played in concerts organised by Boris Ord, the legendary choirmaster of King's College, and the young David Willcocks, whose wife, Lady Rachel Willcocks, was associated in later years in fund-raising for the Royal College.

On her husband's appointment to the prestigious chair of Natural History in Edinburgh in 1952, the family moved north. Professor Aubrey Manning, Emeritus Professor of Zoology in Edinburgh and well known for his much-watched television programmes on the BBC, recollected, "When I was 26, just out of national service, and newly appointed assistant lecturer in zoology, Michael, as professor, asked me to dinner at Orms Acre. Tess was so relaxing and welcoming to a young and rather shy new member of staff. She was a great encourager."

Swann's period as vice-chancellor, 1965-1973, coincided with world-wide student troubles. He encountered many difficult students, led by a 20-year-old by the name of Gordon Brown, who had got himself elected Rector of Edinburgh University and insisted on his right to chair the University Court, the governing body. Prominent Court members such as the distinguished Judge Lord Cameron went apoplectic at the cheek of this young man. Swann was perplexed and impatient, and truth to tell unsuited to handling revolting students. To my first-hand knowledge, it was Tess Swann who calmed him down and made him rational.

As chairman of the Board of Governors of the BBC Swann, appointed by Ted Heath, was in his element. The late Charles Wheeler, the veteran Washington correspondent, told me that Lady Swann was highly regarded by the senior journalists of the BBC, over whom the Swann's took a lot of trouble and to whom they gave hospitality.

Swann's last significant job was as chairman of the Committee on the Education of Ethnic Minority Children. He told me when he came to lunch with me at the House of Commons that Tess had accompanied him on fact-finding visits and had been absolutely invaluable, as she was greatly helpful to the enquiry by being able to talk to the then often rather shy ethnic-minority ladies and mothers in a way that he couldn't.

The militant Felicity Gowling, for a short time chairman of the City of Liverpool Education Committee, told me that contrary to her expectations the Swanns had greatly impressed her. One of the few men in England who tried to patronise Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, Swann was asked to go to Downing Street to discuss the progress of his report. He took Lady Swann with him. Mark (later Lord) Carlisle, the Education Secretary, told me that it was she who saved the day with a Prime Minister who would otherwise have bristled.

After Michael Swann died, she led a quiet life in Gloucestershire, where she played the organ at the medieval churches of Bibury and Coln St Denys.

Tam Dalyell



Teresa Ann Gleadowe, organist and viola player: born Winchester 9 September 1922; married 1942 Michael Swann (died 1990; two sons, two daughters); died London 25 September 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas