Leonard Ingrams

Banker and founder of Garsington Opera
Click to follow

Though he had a colourful and unusual career as a merchant banker and was even styled "Greatest of All Advisers" to the Saudi Arabian government, Leonard Ingrams will be remembered as the founder, with his wife Rosalind, of the Garsington Opera festival that takes place every summer at their Oxfordshire house. Ingrams was a man of many parts - a successful banker, an accomplished classicist, and someone with a keen sense of the comic possibilities of life.

Like his brother Richard, long-time editor of Private Eye and founding editor of The Oldie, he was intensely musical. At the age of six he started violin lessons with his mother, whose circle included Vaughan Williams, Britten, Imogen Holst and Charles Munch, and he went on to play in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain under Sir Malcolm Sargent during the holidays while he was at school at Stonyhurst. "We all played in the family," he said:

All four brothers - Richard played the cello really well. My mother was our constant inspiration . . . As a child I played in a quartet with Britten playing the viola. We accompanied Peter Pears.

Before taking up his scholarship at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Ingrams continued his violin studies in Munich. At Oxford he took a double First in Greats in 1963. In reference-book entries, Ingrams mentioned under his publications his contributions to The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, once telling an interviewer that oxyrhynchus was "Greek for sharp nose", as though that explained everything (in fact, Oxyrhynchus is a place name). A new fragment of a text by Sappho was among his discoveries.

His mother, Victoria Ingrams, was the daughter of Queen Victoria's doctor, Sir James Reid. After the death of John Brown in 1883, he was the man closest to the Queen, who made him a baronet in 1897, but was angry when, two years later, he married (when he was nearly 50) Susan Baring, daughter of the first Lord Revelstoke and great-granddaughter of the prime minister Earl Grey. Their daughter studied the violin at the Leipzig Conservatory, but became a nurse at St Thomas's Hospital in London, where she was impressed by the stoicism of her Roman Catholic patients, and followed her uncle Maurice Baring and converted in 1932. The Presbyterian Sir James had died nine years earlier. Lady Reid, however, allowed her daughter to construct a chapel in the garage, telling her that she thought motor cars worse than popery.

In 1935 Victoria Reid married the obviously dashing Leonard Ingrams, a financier who flew around pre-war Europe in a private plane, and worked for the Ministry of Economic Warfare during the Second World War. (Ingrams père was the recent subject of some forged documents purporting to show that he was ordered after the war, with Churchill's permission, to assassinate Himmler.)

Victoria Ingrams was left to bring up their four boys mostly by herself at their house on Cheyne Row, in London, with holidays at her family's house at Ellon, Aberdeenshire. As her husband was as staunchly Anglican as she was Roman Catholic, it was decided to bring up as Catholics the first and third boys, Peter John ("PJ") and Rupert, and the second and fourth, Richard and Leonard, as Anglicans. Even so, their mother had Leonard baptised as a Catholic, and later is said to have persuaded all four of her daughters-in-law to convert. When her husband died in 1953, two days before his youngest son's 12th birthday, Leonard was sent to the Jesuits at Stonyhurst.

Ingrams met Rosalind Moore, the daughter of a diplomat, in 1961, the summer before she went up to Lady Margaret Hall. In 1964, just after his 23rd birthday, they married, and a year later they began their family with the birth of their first daughter, followed by a son and two more daughters.

Having gained a BLitt for his dissertation on Greek epigrams and taught for two years at Queen Mary College, London, Ingrams followed his great-uncle Maurice Baring, who was also a linguist and a musician, and joined Barings in 1967. Barings followed the common City practice of giving a job to any member of the family who was willing to start at the bottom. Shortly after taking up his position on a high stool, sorting the post in the mail-room, Ingrams took the unheard-of step of asking several of his cousin directors if he might not be invited to lunch. He proved good at the job, though, and rose rapidly, with postings to Paris, Cologne, Hamburg, Munich and Vienna. Then, when the increase in oil prices caused money to pour into Saudi Arabia, he went there to advise the central bank on how to invest it. He explained his superlative Arabic title by saying he'd been in the right place at the right time:

I happened to be working for the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, and their oil reserves rocketed from nothing to billions and billions. It just took some taking care of.

He found time to make music while in Saudi Arabia, and took up the viola to complete a string quartet. In Jeddah he joined a circle of music-making that met on Monday evenings at the residence of the Dutch ambassador, conducted the Hejaz Choral Society and formed the Jeddah Concert Committee. While still abroad, he became Barings' managing director (he served from 1975 to 1981), and managed to fit in a sabbatical in Italy, where he studied the viola with Bruno Giuranna and Piero Farulli of the Quartetto Italiano. He and Rosalind bought a house near Siena. They were briefly, in 1979-81, back in England, where Ingrams expected, but did not get, a senior position in the international capital markets department of Barings.

In 1980 he was appointed OBE for services to British interests and the British community abroad. The next year he left the bank, many years before its dramatic collapse, to return to Riyadh as an adviser to the Saudi government. In all he had stayed 10 years in the Middle East, when in 1984 he returned permanently to England to become a director at a rival bank, Robert Flemings, where he remained until 1995. For the last several years he was based in London, where he ran a financial consultancy, L.V. Ingrams & Co, specialising in the Middle East.

Music now came to the fore. In 1982, he and his wife had bought one of Oxfordshire's architectural gems, Garsington Manor, from Lady Wheeler-Bennett (whose late husband, Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, oddly enough, was the "author" of one of the forged letters implicating Leonard's father's involvement in the "Himmler assassination"). The beautiful small Tudor manor house, with its gardens and ornamental lake, had belonged to Philip and Lady Ottoline Morrell. Ottoline's Bloomsbury connections, especially her friendships with Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey and the painter Carrington, and her relations with D.H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Bertrand Russell and Katherine Mansfield, have made this one of the best-known houses in 20th-century literary history.

The house has a loggia that can be reached by a door from the hall. It is a natural stage, and the slope leading to it a natural auditorium. In 1989 the Ingrams staged a performance for their friends of Le nozze di Figaro by English Touring Opera, in aid of the Oxford Playhouse. The next year they produced Così fan tutte and the British premiere of Haydn's Orlando paladino. Soon they were to specialise in presenting Haydn operas, including the first British professional production of La vera costanza in 1992. The first of 10 Strauss operas was performed in 1993, with a memorable Ariadne auf Naxos, and Ingrams went on to give the British premiere of Die ägyptische Helena in 1997 and the first British production of Die Liebe der Danae in 1999. In 2000 Garsington Opera boasted the first British professional production of Schumann's Genoveva.

This would be astonishing by any measure. But under Leonard Ingrams's artistic direction the quality of the productions, high even at the start, reached world-class standards, not just musically, but theatrically. Directors and designers seem to relish the limitations imposed upon them. It is now usual for the staging to incorporate the adjacent Italian garden, with characters making their entrances along its avenues, as the sound of birdsong competes with the orchestra. The English summer obligingly provides natural light for the first half of the opera, and twilight and darkness for the dénouement. A sound barrier at the back of the stage protects the non-opera lovers of the village. Ingrams's deft hand showed in everything. As he once said, "Music is the real magic. And music in a garden is sheer heaven."

He was driving back on the motorway from a performance of Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne last week, when he had a massive heart attack. Rosalind was able to steer the car from the passenger seat, until a passing motorist saw her plight, drove alongside her, and heroically helped her to stop the car.

Paul Levy