Vietnam battler who is unlikely defender of rural life

IN THE NEWS: ERIC BETTELHEIM
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The Independent Online
HE CLAIMS to have been inspired by the anti-Vietnam protests and the civil rights movement in America. Eric Bettelheim, wealthy Chicago- born City lawyer, is an unlikely defender of British rural life.

Yet he is the man who thought up Sunday's vast exodus of country into town.

If the Government cannot be swayed by the strength of rural opinion, he believes that "direct action" might become the only option in combatting "the organs of state violence" as they attack traditions.

The Countryside March, he has said, came to him in a thought over lunch when an image came to mind of the Jarrow Crusade, the great procession against poverty made by the unemployed from the North-east who walked to London in 1936.

"We should get people marching from all parts of the country to demonstrate how they feel," he told his companion.

But in his brogues and pin-stripes, working from a legal office in the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral, he looks anything but an opponent of the establishment. A stag's head on the wall gives a pointer to his great love away from the world of financial services law.

On "occasional" weekends he dons the pink coat to go hunting. He likes other country sports too. "People say I am a pretty good shot..."

The son of Bruno, the famous child psychologist, he was introduced to the joys of the great American doors learning to shoot and canoe at summer camp. Mr Bettelheim came to Britain to study at law at Oriel College, Oxford.

A defining moment in his life was a trip to Dalnacardoch in Scotland, where he was first introduced to the finer points of walked-up grouse shooting. But as he committed himself further to British country pursuits he quickly realised that his new interests faced an uncertain future.

While his freedom-fighting zeal may have been inspired by the Sixties counter- culture - he was "involved" in the civil rights movement - he emphasises that it was Enoch Powell whose words set him on his current course.

During a speech at the Inner Temple in 1992, Mr Powell expressed the view that field sports were a civil liberty under threat unless public opinion could be turned.

Mr Bettelheim's answer was the Countryside Business Group, which aimed to raise millions to give a louder voice to the hunting, shooting and fishing set.

Drawing on his considerable networking skills, Mr Bettelheim was able to sign up 10 founding members of the group, each prepared to pay up pounds 10,000.

But it was always Mr Bettelheim's intention to mould the scores of field sports organisations into a "powerful, single-group lobby", which has emerged in the form of the Countryside Alliance, which is organising Sunday's march.

Meanwhile, he continues with his own crusade, giving more than 200 public presentations on the value of field sports.

He believes that part of the problem is the general public's reluctance to face up to death. Hunting, he says, brings people in touch with death. "As my father was one of the many great minds to point out, without death life has no meaning."

Leading article, page 20

THE SAYINGS OF ERIC BETTELHEIM

"IF YOU can sell death in packages called cigarettes, you can sell field sports."

"I grew up during the Vietnam protests and the civil rights movement, and I saw they had to defend themselves like a minority in the modern political and media terms."

"The communists went into rural communities and tore them to shreds! What is the difference between what is happening in English farms and collectivisation?"

"In my opinion this will be the biggest voluntary movement of people in this country since D-Day."

THE FRIENDS OF ERIC BETTELHEIM

LORD STEEL of Aikwood, chairman of the Countryside Movement; the Duke of Westminster, Britain's richest man who underwrote the Countryside Movement; Sir Alick Rankin, chairman of General Accident and director designate of the new Countryside Alliance; Jonny Weatherby, chairman of the family firm which runs British racing. The Countryside Alliance, which is organising Sunday's march is an amalgamation of the Countryside Movement, the Countryside Business Group and the 80,000-strong British Field Sports Society.

THE ENEMIES OF ERIC BETTELHEIM

ACTOR SIR JOHN GIELGUD, children's presenter Michaela Strachan (above right), singer Mark Owen, anthropologist Desmond Morris, actor and playwright Colin Welland, television presenter Shaw Taylor, all are supporters of the Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals, which backs Michael Foster MP's bill to ban hunting with hounds.

WHERE HE LIVES

MR BETTELHEIM lives in Knightsbridge, and works for American law firm Mayer, Brown and Platt in a ninth floor office near St Paul's amid the grey towers of banks and financial institutions with barely a tree in sight.

BRUNO, THE FATHER

Renowned child psychologist who survived Auschwitz and Dachau to emerge as an American sage and cultural hero. Ran the Orthogenic School in Chicago where he developed humane treatments for severely disturbed children. His writings include The Uses of Enchantment, a work on the psychological function of fairy tales which has become a classic. He also authored The Good Enough Parent while disinheriting his own daughter.

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