Saturday, April 12, 2008

Tim Beaumont (1928-2008)

Tim Beaumont who died on 9 April 2008, aged 69, was a clergyman, publisher and politician who, in 1967, was created Lord Beaumont of Whitley. Born Timothy Wentworth Beaumont on 22 November 1928, he was the son of Major Michael Wentworth Beaumont, a rightwing Conservative MP for Aylesbury and his wife Faith (née Pease), the daughter of Liberal prime minister Herbert Asquith's chief whip, Jack Pease.

He had a monied upbringing and was educated at Eton (where he lasted only a year), Gordonstoun school in Elgin, Moray, and at Christ Church, Oxford, scraping a Third in agriculture. He then went to a theological college, Wescott House in Cambridge, and was ordained a deacon in 1955 and priest in 1956. He met and married (in 1955) Mary Rose Wauchope, with whom he had two sons and two daughters.

He was sacked after two years as an assistant chaplain at St. John's Cathedral, Hong Kong, but was invited to remain as vicar of Christ Church in Kowloon. It was in Hong Kong that he gained his first experience in publishing through editing a parish magazine. He believed that the Church was very poor at public relations—few newspapers carried articles about Church affairs (and when they did it was usually when a clergyman was caught doing something wrong) and the Church press was insufferably smug.

Following the death of his father in December 1958, Beaumont inherited a fortune and, returning to England a year later, was able to put some of his thoughts into action. In 1960, he became honorary curate at St. Stephen's, Rochester Row, and, on learning that the magazine Time and Tide was about to close, bought the ailing magazine from its publishers in March 1960. He introduced a weekly Church page and other changes and relaunched the paper. Four months later he acquired Prism, a small press magazine started by undergraduates two years earlier, which had earned itself a circulation of 2,000 but was in financial difficulties. In January 1961 he took over The National Christian News, which already had an established circulation said to have been 100,000.

Although Time and Tide rose in circulation (from 7,500 to 10,000) in 1960, Beaumont was still losing £600 a week and, in June 1962, he sold it to Brittain Publishing Company where it was continued by W. J. Brittain. Circulation of the monthly National Christian News, which had replaced many parish magazines, was down to 53,000 by February 1963; Beaumont had by then launched Outlook, a supplement intended for parish magazines. National Christian News (then giving its circulation as 47,000) was merged with the Birmingham Christian News in the autumn of 1963.

Beaumont became editor of New Outlook in 1964, a Liberal magazine he had begun publishing in 1961 with Donald Newby as founder-editor. Beaumont had become joint honorary treasurer of the Liberal Party in 1962 and chairman of their Publications Department in 1963. Beaumont was a supporter of Jeremy Thorpe, the Liberal Party's leader (and a contemporary at Oxford), who made him the party's first life peer in 1967. Lord Beaumont became Chairman of the party in 1966 but was sacked by Thorpe in 1968... only to win (on ballot) the party presidency three months later.

During this period, Beaumont had continued to publish. He had purchased the publishing company Studio Vista from Cecil Harmsworth King but sold it to Crowell-Collier & Macmillan in 1968; Aspect, a heavyweight magazine of in-depth articles on current affairs, foundered after only a year (1963-64); Prism was relaunched as New Christian in 1965 and ran with some success until 1970. Beaumont remained as publisher of New Outlook until selling the title in 1974.

By then, his vast fortune, already diminished by propping up publications that often lost a great deal of money and by generous donations to charities, had virtually disappeared in the stock crash of the early 1970s.

Beaumont resigned his holy orders in 1973 and had to earn a living; he became a food columnist for the Illustrated London News, and edited a number of books, including A 'New Christian' Reader (1974) and The Selective 'Ego': The Diaries of James Agate (1976). He was a contestant on Mastermind in 1977 on the subject of Liberal history since 1877.

He resumed his orders in 1984 and in 1986-91, was vicar of both St. Philip's and All Saints in Kew.

He remained on the Liberal benches in the House of Lords until 1999, for many of them as spokesman for education and the arts, then defected to the Greens, citing then leader Charles Kennedy's lack of action on the environment as his reason.

He is survived by his wife and three children. One of his sons was killed in a car accident in 1980.

Beaumont's connection to comics is as the publisher of Wonderland, an educational nursery comic-cum-magazine that was launched in 1961 under the banner of Wonderland Educational Press. From its first issue (15 September 1961), Wonderland was printed (in Italy) in full colour photogravure—the late Denis Gifford credited it as the first British comic to be published in colour throughout. The paper was edited by Harry White who went on to edit comics for City Magazines (Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear). Wonderland dropped its comics' content in September 1966 to become an all-educational title but folded 17 issues later in December 1966.

Obituaries: The Independent (11 April), The Guardian (11 April), Daily Telegraph (11 April).

(* The photo of Tim Beaumont comes from the Green Party website.)

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