OBITUARY:Roy Beddington

James Fergusson
Monday 05 June 1995 23:02

Roy Beddington was a fisherman who wanted to be an artist, and an artist who wanted to be a fisherman. "The trouble is," he wrote, "one always wants to fish when one is painting and paint when one is fishing . . . When one is fishing down a pool, the light suddenly changes and a perfect picture reveals itself. At such a moment I have to make up my mind whether to go on fishing or to take up my paints."

Beddington struggled with this dilemma all his life, from the time he cast for his first gudgeon on the Lugg and turned down a place at the Slade, to his old age when, disguised in impeccable country tweeds, he remained an astonishingly prolific and meticulous watercolourist, still arranging exhibitions in his 85th year. As well as painting, he illustrated books; as well as fishing, he wrote copiously on fishing for Country Life and other country magazines; and at the same time he wrote and illustrated his own books - most of them about fishing.

The origins of his conflict probably lie - though he would not thank one for suggesting it, such was his reticence on the subject - in his family background, a complex study in disguise and display.

The Beddingtons are an interesting clan: everyone called Beddington is necessarily related to each other, since the surname is adopted. Late last century the Moses family, well- established English Jews, took the name of a Surrey village (now a London suburb), and from them descends a multitude of distinguished army officers, businessmen, public servants, patrons of the arts. While some of them donned the camouflage colours of the British establishment, others were more flamboyant: the writer Ada Leverson, Oscar Wilde's "Sphinx", was a Beddington, while Jack Beddington, John Betjeman's "Beddioleman", was the publicity director of Shell who kept a whole generation of English artists in employment in the Thirties. "They can change their name from Moses, but they cannot change their noses," sniggered a 19th- century rhyme; Roy Beddington suffered an anti-Semitism at school that he never forgot. At Rugby he spent his time in the artroom.

Roy was given his first lessons on the Lugg by his father, Reginald Beddington, a formidable fisherman who was for many years President of the National Association of Fishery Boards and of the Freshwater Biological Association. Roy's mother, a sister of Sir Basil Henriques, that distinguished pillar of British Jewry, herself once broke a record for the catching of salmon. Roy followed his father to Rugby, in the holidays from which he invented a fly which Ogden Smith's of St James's marketed as "Roy's Fancy", and then to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, to read Law.

But his ambition was to be an artist. On the strength of his school portfolio, he had been offered a place at the Slade by the then professor, Henry Tonks, but was unnerved by its Bohemian atmosphere and after only a short time elected to take up his place at Oxford. It was not until years later, after narrowly avoiding the career in accountancy with the Mazawattee Tea Company for which his father had determined him, and after private tuition from the painter Bernard Adams, that he returned to the Slade, now under a new professor, Randolph Schwabe.

It was Adams and another Chelsea artist, Arnold Mason, who introduced Beddington to artistic London and it was the friendship of Schwabe and another Slade mentor, Karl Hagedorn, that gave him self- confidence. But it was the innovative publisher Noel Carrington, brother of the Bloomsbury Carrington, who set Beddington on his career-path. Carrington, then head of Country Life's book division, was recommended Beddington as a possible book illustrator and paired him up with the Irish writer Stephen Gwynn. Their collaborations - The Happy Fisherman (1936), From River to River (1937), Two in a Valley (1938) - produced some of Beddington's most fetching work. Carrington also pointed him at Ackermann's, which, with the Grafton and Walker's galleries, gave him his first London one-man shows.

Gwynn, in turn, who introduced Beddington to Ireland, the worlds of Yeats and Elizabeth Bowen, suggested that he take up writing. He started a column for Country Life and wrote and illustrated a children's book, The Adventures of Thomas Trout (1939). Aside from much journalism, he wrote three books of his own after that, To Be a Fisherman (1955), occasional pieces on fishing characteristically illustrated ("The true fisherman is at all times a fisherman," he avers), The Pigeon and the Boy (1957), an unusual novel about a boy and his racing pigeon in the Second World War, and Pindar: a dog to remember (1975), a remarkably unselfconscious biography of a yellow labrador. He was the author too of two volumes of verse.

Beddington spent his war first in anti-aircraft work, until he was invalided out of the Army, and then with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, investigating such projects as the netting for food of small perch in the Lake District, or the capture (for their high protein content) of silver eels on the Test. He never lost his interest in British fisheries policy and played a large part in the national affairs of the Salmon & Trout Association, as well as serving as chairman of the Fisheries Committee's Hampshire River Board.

Moving to Hampshire from London meant deserting the heady world of Chelsea studios and the hopes of a higher profile that regular book work and his obvious talents might have offered him. Beddington converted quietly into one of his own book-illustrations: a John-Buchanish figure, hat on head, pipe in mouth, fishing bag slung over his shoulder - the undercover artist, a secret countryman of letters. His writings about the open air of Britain, its waters and its skies, have the same clear-eyed serenity as characterises his best watercolours, the spacious landscapes relieved perhaps by a single tiny figure - usually a fisherman.

That serenity did not always carry over into his personal relationships, which could be turbulent. He was never an easy man, but he had great charm and funds of affection.

Roy Beddington's last exhibition was a one-day party held this time last year in the barn studio of his house near Andover. The fisherman/artist sat there twinkling all afternoon, surrounded by his pictures.

James Fergusson

Julian Roy Beddington, artist and writer: born London 16 June 1910; married secondly 1952 Anna Griffith (died 1967; two daughters; marriage dissolved 1959), 1961 Diana Dobson (one daughter); died Salisbury, Wiltshire 31 May 1995.

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