Lives Remembered: John Sidgwick
Friday 31 July 2009
John Sidgwick, who died on 13 May aged 80, was a man whose career spanned teaching, music, the army and the diplomatic service. As a man he was modest and unassuming with a delightful sense of humour.
John Utrick Sidgwick was born in Darlington in 1928, and showed early talent for the violin. In 1938 he won a scholarship to Durham Cathedral Choir School and in 1942 went on to Durham School. After his military service, he went up to St John's College, Cambridge and took Tripos Part I in French and Latin, and Tripos Part II in law. In 1952-53 he went on to attain a Diploma in Education.
In 1953 he and his first wife, Hilda Walker, left for Paris where he taught English at a variety of establishments and supplemented his income by playing the violin in restaurants. A gifted watercolour artist, he also did painting for the tourists in Montmartre.
In 1962 he joined the British Embassy in Paris, where he was to spend the next 22 years, and was assigned to help the agricultural attaché. When the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food withdrew its attaché after General de Gaulle's "non" to the UK's initial bid to join the Common Market, Sidgwick began working in the French farming scene which he found fascinating. He set about cultivating the farming organisations and unions and was soon able to count many of their leaders and agricultural journalists as personal friends. This experience was to prove invaluable when the UK renewed its attempt to join the EEC. By 1969 he had become full-time agricultural attaché.
In the uncomfortable period following the UK's entry to the Common Market in 1972, Sidgwick had a delicate role to play. The CAP gave the UK many difficulties; there were bilateral "wars" to defuse, e.g. over lamb and other similar issues. His links with French farm leaders enabled him to get a hearing, even if he could not always persuade them on a particular issue. In 1981 he was awarded an OBE.
On his retirement in 1984, he returned to London and started a new career as a translator, mainly of sleeve-notes of classical CDs. His beautifully honed French and musical knowledge produced exemplary translations.
But Sidgwick's greatest love was for music. While in Paris he had studied violin at the Paris Conservatoire with Leon Pascal. His friend Roy Howat recalled that once when he went to pick him up at the Embassy, he walked down a corridor following the sound of a violin and found Sidgwick sitting cross-legged on the floor of his office playing unaccompanied Bach.
Sidgwick had many other creative talents; he was a fine calligrapher and a gifted writer: together with his third wife, Hildburg, he wrote a novel, poems and short stories, usually with a Roald Dahl-like twist at the end.
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