Obituary: Churton Fairman

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The Independent Online
When Radio 1 celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1992 one of the launch disc jockeys could not be found.

The once well-known voice of Mike Raven had been included among the Sixties' Sounds available on headphones at the Royal Academy's Pop Art exhibition but there were rumours that he was dead. Someone making a personal appearance as Mike Raven was exposed as a fraud. Eventually a Radio 1 appeal for his real whereabouts was heard by a butcher in Cornwall who revealed that Raven had become an artist living under the name Churton Fairman on Bodmin Moor.

This was his real name. He was the son of the actress Hilda Moore, Gerald Du Maurier's tall leading lady, who died in America when Fairman was a child. He claimed that his father sold him for pounds 500 to his three maiden aunts, who sent him to Aldenham School. Later he ran away from Magdalen College, Oxford, to join the Ballet Rambert and became Angela Rambert's partner.

After war service with the Royal Ulster Rifles he turned to photography, specialising in ballet shots. In 1949 he married Aurelia, a refugee from the Spanish Civil War, and took her back to her home. This inspired him to write a book, Another Spain (1952), about Spain's undiscovered countryside. Later in London he moonlighted from a theatrical job by playing flamenco guitar music in a Spanish restaurant.

A meeting with the director Peter Brook whilst in Spain to experience Seville's Holy Week led to Fairman's becoming a stage manager and actor. He appeared in Moscow with John Gielgud and for almost a decade he was a production manager for early ITV drama programmes. When ITV's Stars on Sunday religious series suddenly ended Fairman presented both the acclaimed Ten Commandments programme and its successor Songs That Matter. He also contributed to ATV's weekday Epilogue slots.

In 1964 he called himself "Mike Raven" for pirate radio broadcasts on Atlanta, Radio King and 390. He achieved nationwide fame in 1967 as one of the first disc jockeys to broadcast on Radio 1's launch day and his 30-minute Sunday night The Mike Raven Blues Show soon became a two-hour slot.

As Mike Raven he went on to appear in several horror films including Crucible of Terror (1971) and Discipline of Death (1972).

It was Fairman's own decision to leave radio in 1971 and two years later he and his second wife, Mandy, moved to Cornwall, where they converted a 17th-century pigsty into a cottage. In 1974, at the age of 50, he began to produce carvings in wood and stone. In 1980, without any farming experience, he and his large family moved to a remote and run-down farm near Blisland on Bodmin Moor, where the sculpting continued.

Looking back after 10 years at the farm he saw his whole life as having been conditioned by what he believed to be his unsuccessful struggle to come to terms with his sexuality and consequently equally unsuccessful attempts to live up to his Christian beliefs. Having abandoned his celebrity name he had a long and frustrating search for recognition in his new life. Before putting his interpretations of Old and New Testament passages into sculptural form there were the horses, sheep and cows to look after.

Two incidents drove him on. First he suffered a heart condition and was ordered to stop his farm work. This he took as a signal from God to get on with the art. Second, a former art-school principal who saw his work told him to do nothing but carve for the rest of his life.

He determined not to sell a single piece until he had enough for an exhibition but there followed a series of misfortunes. The distinguished art critic Peter Fuller had his interest aroused but before he could put pen to paper he was killed in the car accident which shook the art world. Then the artist Lady Christina Hoare discovered his work whilst promoting her proposed Christian Arts Centre. Praising him for his honesty and freedom from other artists' influence, she wrote: "A soul being led by the Holy Spirit, surely." Hoare invited him to exhibit with her in London but she too died unexpectedly.

Fairman's first show was eventually arranged in Cornwall but within hours of the advertised opening the sponsors pulled out on the grounds that some of the religious works were in bad taste.

Those controversial pieces in local wood and Cornish granite were at last displayed in London, in the crypt of St George's Church, Bloomsbury (1990 and 1992), where the priest-in-charge was chaplain to the visual arts. Fairman was delighted to discover that the many visitors scrutinising his work included Brian Sewell.

In the capital there was less objection to Fairman's unorthodox interpretations, such as Peniel, where Jacob's maleness is highlighted as he wrestles with the angel. Fairman anyway believed that today the sexes were as close as they had ever been and was concerned about the place of women in the Church being recognised. In Mater Dolorosa Mary shares Christ's agony with the nails passing through both their hands. A Crucifix for Today? has a man and a woman back to back on a natural cross formed by a tree.

The Deposition from the Cross, which attempts to solve the physical problems faced by Joseph of Arimathea in detaching and lowering the dead body from a standing cross, was shown alongside work by Henry Moore in the 1993 "Images of Christ" exhibition, a survey of 20th-century religious iconography, at Northampton and St Paul's Cathedral, London.

Recently Fairman saw his sculpture go on permanent display at the Penzance Gallery in Penzance. He was reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church and had even dug his own grave on the moor.

Leigh Hatts

Austin Churton Fairman (Mike Raven), actor, broadcaster and artist: born London 15 November 1924; married 1949 Aurelia Pascual y Perez (one son, three daughters; marriage dissolved 1963), 1964 Mandy Kilbey (two sons); died Bodmin Moor 24 April 1997.