OBITUARY:Simon Birch

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The Independent Online
Simon Birch could have been a courtier in the 18th century. He also had about him a Falstaffian quality. Life for him was for living. He may have been overweight and imbibed too much. But this was all part of his ebullient nature.

His taste and talent for art - he later started Christie's in the City - was nurtured in the graceful architectural surroundings of Stowe. From there he went on to the Westminster School of Art in 1938 and thence to Trinity College, Cambridge, to read Architecture; but the war was on and in 1941 he was commissioned into the Coldstream Guards, seeing service in the Guards Armoured Division after the invasion of France. Appropriately, towards the end of the war, in Brussels as a young captain he started the "Eye" club for his fellow officers; this could be described as a gourmet club and Birch exercised his talent for finding the best food and wines.

In 1945 he married Bettine Coventry. At first he continued his architectural training at the Regent Street Polytechnic and sold his paintings, mainly watercolour still-lifes, through the Roland Ward gallery, in Bond Street. But with the advent of a family his father persuaded him to go into the City, where he became a successful stockbroker with Rowe Swann, later Sheppards & Chase.

When he retired in 1983, he was able to indulge and make use of his knowledge of art. Through his friend Peter Chance, the chairman of Christie's, he set up a branch of the firm in the City. Christie's in the City was to provide a base for seminars and would-be sellers in the City, and to give advice about auctioning works of art. When the City office closed, he worked as a consultant on special customer relations at the headquarters in King Street. These were happy days.

Birch's mixture of artistic and commercial knowledge meant that he was in demand as a trustee of several organisations and of the Holkham Estate, as a governor of Gresham's School, as an executive of the Council of the City and Guilds of London Art School and chairman of the Minories Gallery, Colchester. He served as Prime Warden of the Fishmongers' Company and was also a High Sheriff of the City of London.

Simon Birch was a rounded figure in all senses of the term and he had an unfailing eye for beauty whether in art or in the female form. Parties at his Suffolk house could become bacchanalian.

David Wolfers

Simon Birch, art connoisseur and stockbroker: born London 15 March 1921; married 1945 Bettine Coventry (died 1990; two sons, one daughter); died Brantham, Suffolk 28 May 1995.