Obituary: Bruce Lidington

Charles Kenyon
Monday 09 September 1996 23:02

The actor Bruce Lidington packed a full and sadly short life with service to others, both in his work with the Liberal Democrats and, since 1995, as the National Chair of the charity Families Need Fathers, an organisation dedicated to keeping fathers in contact with their children. Had he lived, there is little doubt that he would have become a leading national figure in the field of child welfare.

In 1978 Lidington had married Sheila Johnson and, although separated 11 years later, they both set an example to others in the way they selflessly put aside their differences to bring up their daughter Claire true to the principles of shared parenting. He was never divorced and still wore his wedding ring.

He first contacted Familes Need Fathers for advice following their separation in 1989. Families Need Fathers had long been tarred with the brush of "fringe pressure group of angry men" at odds with current social philosophy. Lidington saw that it was the messenger, not the message, which needed changing. Initially as Chairman of the London Branch and using his personal charm, coupled with an erudite and balanced approach, he set out to reform public opinion, later becoming the organisation's national media spokesman.

He welcomed the 1989 Children's Act and urged fathers to support it and work within it. He abhorred the civil justice system that turned a blind eye to the principles of shared parenting enshrined within the Act. He fought against decisions that refused fathers proper access to their children, believing that these could result in permanent insecurity for the children and lifelong misery for the father. He acted frequently as a lay supporter to fathers in court, representing with increasing success. He lobbied unceasingly for settlements based on a long-term view rather than the common short-term expediency of satisfying emotional demands made to establish a status quo, practically irreversible later. Lidington's anger, slow to kindle, was reserved for those who perpetuated a system which imprisons a father for trying to see his children, yet places no penalty on a mother who ignores a court order to let him do so. He hated the pejorative term "absent father".

Lidington could not agree with the Child Support Act of 1991 and the way it was enforced by the Child Support Agency. While he did not contest the proper duty of a father to maintain his children, he questioned the crude formula for its operation. The real hardship brought to both father and children by a refusal to take account of travelling and accommodation expenses if the children had been moved hundreds of miles away spurred his campaign for amendment. His sound argument played a vital role in the Government's recent review of the Act.

Lidington was born in Harrow in 1950 and educated at Harrow County Grammar School. He decided to be an actor at an early stage and trained in London, at the Webber Douglas Academy in Kensington, from 1970 to 1973. His repertory skills brought him to television and he appeared in a number of popular series, including Z Cars, Crossroads, Dangerfield and Bergerac. In film his early success was as Doubting Thomas in Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth (1977). He will next be seen in Richard Attenborough's film Love and War, which is still in production. He was an agile fencer and a strong horseman, both attributes being used in many an exciting film or television scene. But his other great attribute was his voice and, as with his charity work, he was on the cusp of public success. His dark, rich, mellow tones, seemingly filled with wit and wisdom, delighted listeners to Radio 4 serials. He loved this work.

In politics, Lidington was an active Liberal and part of the team that developed the Liberal Democrats in the Tory stronghold of Harrow into the dominant party on the local council. Knowing that he himself would not have time to undertake full-time council duties, he would have pleasure in standing in no-hope wards so as to give the opposition the best possible run for their money.

Bruce Lidington was driven by his conviction that, properly handled, family break-up need not bring long-term destructive pain and suffering to children and parents. He believed that, while people's natural instincts were for good, our adversarial legal system thrived on bringing out the worst in those set against each other. His last battle was against the concept of "no fault" divorce. He felt the vows of marriage were too important to be dismissed so lightly.

Bruce Howard Lidington, actor and campaigner: born 30 January 1950; married 1978 Sheila Johnson (one daughter); died 5 August 1996.

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