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Friday, November 09, 2007

Chad Varah (1911-2007)

Edward Chad Varah, best known to the world as the founder of the Samaritans organisation in 1953, died yesterday at the age of 95. Born in Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire, on November 12, 1911, Varah was the eldest of nine children of the Rev. William Edward Varah and his wife Marie (nee Atkinson). His father was the vicar of Barton and his son was named after St. Chad, the founder of the parish.

He studied at Worksop College, Nottinghamshire, and Keble College, Oxford, where he took a degree in politics, philosophy and economics. He was ordained as an Anglican clergyman in 1936. As the priest of various parishes in London and in the north of England, he became aware of the isolation and ignorance that children suffered. His first funeral as an assistant curate at St. Giles, Lincoln, was for a 13-year-old girl who had committed suicide, thinking that her menstruation was some awful disease. Varah became a forthright supporter of sex education for children -- against the prevailing attitudes of the time -- and was accused of being a dirty old man before the age of 25. In later years he was a contributor to the sex magazine Forum and Penthouse Forum.

He was curate of Putney (1938-40), marrying Doris Susan Whanslow in January 1940 shortly before becoming curate at Barrow-in-Furness (1940-42). The young couple had a daughter, followed soon after (in 1944) by the birth of triplets, all sons; a fourth son followed. By now, Varah was vicar of Blackburn (1942-49) and to help earn extra money had taken on editorship of the diocesan magazine, The Crosier, which brought him into contact with the Rev. Marcus Morris. The two helped found Interim, through which they were able to buy first-class articles for syndication.

Morris had notions of creating a national boys' weekly comic and Varah was one of his keenest supporters, writing article for free for Morris's magazine The Anvil so that money could be saved for the new project. Relocated as vicar of St. Paul, Clapham Junction, in 1949, Varah was in London when The Eagle was launched and he became one of the paper's most prolific contributors, working late into the night after a full day of parish work and as Chaplain of St. John's Hospital, Battersea.

Varah's contributions ranged from the serial adventure 'Plot Against the World', which began in the first issue to back-cover biographical strips about St. Patrick (1951), Alfred the Great (1953-54), the conquest of Everest (1954), David Livingstone (1957) and others. Some of his best work can be seen in 'Mark the Youngest Disciple' (1954-55), drawn by Giorgio Bellavitis, and 'The Travels of Marco Polo' (1959), drawn by Frank Bellamy and Peter Jackson.

Varah also worked on the paper's front cover strip, Dan Dare, describing his contribution as "scientific and astronautical consultant," scrutinizing the artwork to make sure that Dan did nothing that was scientifically impossible. He was the scriptwriter on the Dan Dare adventure Marooned on Mercury. (1952-53).

Varah also found himself working on other items, "doing scrappy bits or short stories which didn't give me the satisfaction of the back page." One such was the Ripley's-style feature 'It Couldn't Happen... But It Did!' (1951): "It was an immense labour finding incidents which could be scripted under this heading, as they had to be verdical. I remember my favourite one was of someone who had jumped out of a blazing aircraft at 20,000 feet and landed unharmed in a deep snowdrift."

When Girl was launched in 1951, Varah became a heavy contributor there, scripting the back-cover biographies for ten years. His last contributions appeared shortly after the takeover of Hulton Press by Fleetway Publications and the departure of editor-in-chief Clifford Makins.

Makins, whose wife died in 1993, is survived by four of his children, one son having died in April this year.

A lengthy biographical article about Varah can be found at the website of the Samaritans.

Further information: BBC News (8 November), Daily Telegraph (9 November), Guardian (9 November), The Independent (9 November), Down the Tubes (9 November).

Obituaries: The Times (10 November), Daily Telegraph (10 November), The Independent (10 November), The Guardian (10 November).

(* Photo and quotes are from Varah's autobiography, Before I Die Again, London, Constable, 1992; Eagle illustrations are © Dan Dare Corporation)

1 comment:

  1. Very nice tribute, Steve - totally missed this news until Tom flagged up your post on Comics Reporter, will now make amends and stick a link up on the blog too.

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