OBITUARY: Frederick Woods

Valerie Grosvenor Myer
Saturday 22 October 2011 22:22

Frederick Woods was a versatile writer and administrator, whose 30 published books ranged from historical scholarship to raunchy thrillers (under the transparent pseudonym of Fredric Woods). He was also an expert folklorist under the by-line Fred Woods.

Woods was born in Swindon in 1932, the only child of the Rev Bertram Woods, the distinguished Methodist minister and musician who wrote the tune of "O Jesus, I have promised" in the Methodist hymnbook. His mother was a headmistress. Retaining his Christian faith, Fred Woods sang in the local church choir almost to the end, accompanied by his third wife Monica Tew, and her grown-up daughters Sharon and Claire. His first two marriages were dissolved and he had no children of his own.

He went to Emanuel School, Wandsworth, where he received a traditional grammar-school education which left him with a fondness for Latin puns. He was good at telling jokes, and despite what might have appeared a certain dry reserve, was excellent company. He was outstandingly well-read. However, like so many clever boys of his generation, he left school at 18.

After National Service in a Highland Regiment he held a variety of jobs, becoming Secretary of the Performing Rights Society, and after years of patient part-time toil published A Bibliography of the Works of Sir Winston Churchill (1963, fourth edition 1979), the standard bibliography.

By 1970 he was managing director of Argo Records, a branch of Decca specialising in the spoken word and in folk music. He was particularly proud of a record of cricket poems read by John Arlott. Woods owned a full set of Wisden, and loved all games and sports, having played cricket, soccer, rugby and tennis as a young man.

Woods's expertise as a folklorist produced some memorable discs from outstanding singers like the Clutha, Gordeanna McCulloch, Cyril Tawney, Shirley Collins, Tom Paley, the late Peter Bellamy and the late Ewan MacColl. During the Seventies he was the founder and fully professional editor of the lively Folk Review, to which most of the leading folk journalists of the time contributed, among them Karl Dallas, Eric Winter, Ian A. Anderson and Tony Jasper.

The magazine was sponsored by two excellent albums which Woods produced on the Polksound label, with contributions given freely by such noted singers as Nic Jones, Vin Garbutt, Tony Rose, Louis Killen, June Tabor, English Tapestry, Miriam Backhouse, Tim Laycock, Martin Wyndham-Read, Sean Cannon, Dick Gaughan and Archie Fisher.

In 1977 Brighton wanted a folk festival to open its brand-new conference centre, and Woods directed it, bringing over Burl Ives (by the then new Concorde). Other featured performers were Robin Hall and Jimmy McGregor, and Alan Taylor.

Woods wrote various books on the Folk Revival and was a regular broadcaster on BBC radio's Folk on Two. In 1983 he edited The Oxford Book of Traditional Verse. He knew about other kinds of music as well; his study wall was decorated with a photograph of himself at the microphone with Andr Previn.

All his life Woods was fascinated by Winston Churchill and two years ago, when he was 61, he received a doctorate from Keele University for a thesis on Churchill as author, although Woods held no other degree. This brought him international acclaim. He was due to take up a bye-fellowship at Churchill College, Cambridge, and had been commissioned to edit the letters in collaboration with Mary Soames, Churchill's daughter. He was also about to undertake a lecture tour of the United States, but, to his great disappointment, illness intervened.

Valerie Grosvenor Myer

Frederick Woods, writer: born Swindon 18 January 1932; Editor, Folk Review 1971-79; married three times; died Crewe 27 February 1995.

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