Neil Macvicar: Soldier, lawyer, public servant and writer with a passion for Greece and its history

Up to Oxford in Michaelmas term 1938 came a golden youth, a Scot, a scholar from Loretto, a classical scholar of Oriel College, to read Mods (Latin and Greek) and Greats (Ancient History and Philosophy), destined undoubtedly for a double first and, maybe, Secretary of State for Scotland.

But then came the War. Neil Macvicar was was called up to train with 25-pounders at the 125 Officer Cadet Training Unit RA at Ilkley, Yorkshire, and endure gun drill on the frozen heights of Blubberhouses Moor in that bitter winter of 1940-41. He was posted to the 30th Field Regiment, RA, and within that to the 112th/117th Battery, crack regular units which had distinguished themselves in defending the retreating infantry at Dunkirk. He was destined to be with that regiment and that battery for four and a half years. They became a real family, with friendships that lasted for life.

In 1941 the Regiment was deployed near Chichester, equipped with First World War 75mm guns, and pikes in place of rifles. "With these it was hoped that the might of the Wehrmacht might be repelled," Macvicar wrote in his excellent account of his war, A Mixed Bag. However, new 25-pounders came through and Hitler's invasion of England was diverted to Russia. The regiment was moved to Macvicar's native Scotland (much to his pleasure) and then in 1943 shipped as part of the 1st Army to Tunisia. There, 112/117 Battery were engaged in heavy fighting until the Germans were driven out of North Africa. Later the 30th Field Regiment, now part of the 4th Division, sailed for Italy. There, they were involved in the battle for Monte Cassino and the long push up Italy. Macvicar came through unscathed.

Then Fourth Division was shipped to Greece to aid General Plastiras' government ("General Plasterarse" as Churchill rejoiced in calling him on the BBC). Churchill was determined that the ELAS Communist freedom fighters should not win the civil war and allow Greece to fall to the Soviets. He came to Athens, and by chance to Macvicar's observation post in the Athens Observatory, from which most of Athens can be seen. Having puffed his way up over 100 steps, the Prime Minister, who was supposed to be incognito, went out on to the balcony, against all the rules, enquiring "where are all the enemy?" This was rather a facer as in that labyrinth of houses Macvicar had no idea where the ELAS fighters were. The great man grunted and was off, having satisfied himself no doubt with what he termed "the martial sound of musketry".

British units, including 112/117 Battery, had been received in Athens with rapture, with much throwing of flowers over guns and dancing in the streets. Macvicar was hauled out of his jeep to dance with a group of girls. Little did he know what would come of it. What did come of it was a friendship with the Bulgari family of Corfu. The grandfather, Count Spiridon, had massive properties in Corfu and her mother a house in Athens, whence her daughter, Marily, had gone to school. She had also taken the risk of hiding copies of BBC transcripts tucked in her knickers round the neighbourhood – an activity punishable by death under the Germans – and acted as an interpreter for the incoming British troops. This was not Marily's only flirtation with death; as a government supporter she was on the ELAS blacklist.

Shortly after the war, when Macvicar had resumed his studies at Oxford – in law, not the classics – the Countess Bulgari and Marily came to London and the Macvicar family invited them to come to the first Edinburgh Festival in 1947. It was the year of Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, the Sitwells, Kathleen Ferrier and the Vienna Philharmonic under Bruno Walter. Neil and Marily were married in 1949 in St Spiridon church in Corfu in midsummer, Neil sweating in his kilt, with full rig of dress jacket and lace jabot and sporran. As the heat mounted, as he put it in another of his delightful books, Heart's Odyssey, "I began to think that the desire to create a romantic Scottish-Hellenic effect had been too much of a good thing".

This was the beginning of a Scots-Hellenic love affair. Macvicar was climbing up the legal ladder in Edinburgh: advocate, then QC, then Sheriff of Lothian and the Borders. But they found time to go to Corfu, and built two houses there. With Marily's background they were well known in the community and among expatriate society – the Leigh-Fermors, the Durrells and so on. This is all chronicled in Macvicar's third book, Grace Notes. In this and in Heart's Odyssey he displayed his masterly scholarship of ancient Greece and its sites. He and Marily travelled widely to visit them – just as in Scotland they loved walking and climbing in the Cairngorms, the Grampians and the Trossacks.

He was the son of another Neil Macvicar, a Writer to the Signet, rather austere, and his wife Winifred, warm and motherly. He was educated first at an esoteric prep school "on the muddy shores of the Forth estuary". He learnt Greek from the age of 10 and fell in love with Homer: he was reading Homer, Thucydides and Demosthenes until shortly before his death.

Highly regarded, reliable and astute, he was in demand for public and charity appointments before and after his service as Sheriff of Lothian and the Borders. He was also a man of wide interests. Apart from his three delightful books, he was a gifted pianist and a knowledgeable bird-watcher and naturalist. He hosted a fancy dress party every February with himself as a variety of characters ranging from the Mad Hatter to Rudolph Nureyev.

His religion was deeply ingrained – whether in his Scottish puritanical upbringing or in his prayers in the Greek Orthodox churches of Corfu. As the Bishop of Edinburgh said at his funeral "There was a lightness and joy in Neil's faith that purged it of the strain that is often a characteristic of northern religions. His was a very southern, Mediterranean piety".

Neil Macvicar, lawyer, soldier and writer: born Edinburgh 16 May 1920; Chairman, Scottish Medical Appeals Tribunal 1961-67, 1987-94; Chancellor, Diocese of Edinburgh 1962-74; Sheriff of Lothian and the Borders 1968-85; married Maria Bulgari (one son, one daughter, and one daughter deceased); died Edinburgh 3 May 2011.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future