Richard could easily have been a character in a novel. It was said of the American humorist S.J.Perelman that before they made him, they broke the mould. But Richard never had a mould: his was an elusive character.
He knew exactly what he liked; he moved on from one thing to another in his life – with intermittent Walter Mitty like dreams; and he was quite undaunted by INexperience. He was always cheerful, and never worried or too busy.
He had the ability to get on well with anybody if he chose to, yet he was in a way quite private. And there were many to whom he was magnetic: he was engaging, amusing, irreverent and often a little mischievous – or worse! But never malicious.
His two greatest obsessions were: gossip –personified by the Daily Mail; and the Cash Register – especially when it went Ker-Ching!
When they first met, Ariel practically drowned him. Flustered perhaps, she failed to secure the ballast of her dinghy; and when it tipped them both out, Ariel swam courageously to the shore and managed to get someone to rescue the floundering Richard. He was evidently worth rescuing.
They were engaged for two years – apart in different countries – during which time, he wrote her some 300 letters (which she treasures); and they married in 1960. They lived very happily together for nearly 60 years with their very different lives; and their three children – as different from one another as were Richard and Ariel – here to tell you their own tales.
Richard preferred different names to those by which his children were christened – he felt that they should have names more likely to suit them as the film stars they were destined to be, like Bo-bo, Sam and Poppy were.
Richard at first followed our Father who was a mathematical scholar and a Chess Blue at Oxford and an eminent chartered accountant. Richard too qualified, but Accountancy was not for him.
His first job was a rather unlikely one – in a Canadian Bank; and when after two years they returned from this, the pair of them set off together, aiming to work their passage round the world.
They both wrote for local publications, particularly in Hong Kong; and broadcast together on Hong Kong radio a children’s story they had also written together. Certainly until quite recently you could see Ariels’s pictures on the walls of Macdonald’s in Hong Kong.
In many ways, he and Ariel could not have been more different: he – interested in business and in making money: she – in the amorphous world of the arts. Ariel says he painted some nice watercolours, but I am not convinced that he would have known what she meant.
Their world trip with its freedom, its adventure and its flashes of entrepreneurialism, united them as it typified them.
With Nick Mills, he then started to build a chain of what are known as Mags and Fags shops – in the Gloucestershire area, where they both lived.
The Chairman of a company with whom they were then having discussions, somewhat irreverently christened them Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men; but nobody quite knows why!
When they later sold that group of shops, Richard and Ariel moved to Jersey, and Richard retained the two or three that were in Jersey; and King Street News in St Helier flourished. Ariel has fond memories of tidying and hoovering the shops with the children on a Sunday evening.
He bought a big Bentley – which he once described as ‘an aggressive social gesture’; but when he scraped it yet again on the walls of the small lanes in Jersey, he sold it, explaining to those who would listen, that it didn’t fit on the roads here.
He invested in property; and some say that he then became the property king of Barnes in West London.
Never short of a new venture, he became a Director of ‘Film and General’ which produced the film ‘True Blue” – subsequently chosen for the Royal Command Peformance – which caused them to meet the Queen.
When the new local radio licences were being allotted, he got into radio, and with Richard Johnson started and ran Channel 103 and Bath Radio. And with his friend Michael Henriques, he became a Director of Coln Valley Smokery.
He went on to found PoundMagic here in St Helier, and then its sister in Guernsey. He always took a deep interest in the tactics of supermarket shopping. And in 2010 at the age of 75, he won the Jersey Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
But there were very much other sides to him. While he was at Oxford, Richard’s spicy wit suffused the gossip column of Isis, Oxford’s undergraduate magazine. The London social life of his good friend from Winchester, the poly-amorous Jinx Grafftey-Smith, with whom he shared digs, readily provided the necessary first–hand material.
He diced with death a second time when Jinx turned his car over in France with the pair of them inside – Jinx suffered with injuries to his shoulder, but Richard was unhurt.
When they returned to the UK from their world trip, he and Ariel continued in the genre to which they had contributed in Hong Kong and Sri Lanka, and wrote serious stuff for the then leading magazine “Time and Tide”.
He wrote the infamous book “Who slept with whom”. Though based only on published material, it never found a publisher, probably because Michael Winner threatened to sue the pants off him. Revised to include only the dead – who could not sue him – Ariel and I thought that the same fate had befallen this version. However, Ariel has just found it on offer from Robson Books, apparently published in 2004, and placed an order. Richard would have said: make sure you collect the royalties.
He wrote and circulated anonymously a complete spoof edition of Winchester’s old boys newsletter. It provided him with unmissable opportunities to take off all sorts of people like those who had given him and his friends constant amusement – in that somewhat traditional establishment.
So true to character were Richard’s take-offs that it was difficult to tell if his edition was the real thing or not. The clue was in the first line: the Headmaster’s usually rather subtle opening piece traditionally started with the words “The Headmaster writes…”. Richard’s edition started with the words “The Headmaster writes and writes…!
His play about Charles II who was crowned King of England here in Jersey, has been through several drafts; and he was keen to put on at Elizabeth Castle, but that has yet to reach the public.
Among his periodic flights of imagination, he once contemplated standing for the States of Jersey. He thought it needed root-and-branch changes. It would not be unlike him to have sent his ideas on to Donald Trump – he was a copious letter writer.
He wrote frequently to the Press; he wrote to our sister at her school telling her how to write a good essay; he wrote to daughter Sam when she graduated in Theology offering her the job of Archbishop of Canterbury.
He and Ariel were in effect a complete publishing house – working together on different aspects of each other’s writings, of which Ariel’s were perhaps the more reliable.
He was an avid reader of Private Eye, and you might have thought that he would write for Private Eye, but I don’t think he ever did. He was certainly a bit of a maverick: he was never a revolutionary, but he liked to play the world as he found it. He was full of ideas for impractical jokes.
In some ways he was like the old-fashioned amateur: he was a man of considerable talents that he was willing to apply to anything that amused him. He had what one person described as ‘a mad sense of adventure’. Work was never part of his vocabulary – not because he shunned it, but if it was interesting or fun, it would be pursued for its own sake.
* Seldom less than competitive, he played and followed a lot of sport. Not only cricket, golf and tennis, but also Boules and Snooker, and of course Racquets.
With David Lowe, he won the annual Public Schools Racquets Championship in 1956, and I regularly pass their names and their photograph in the corridors of Queens Club in London.
He was a good golfer. Golf was in the family – our mother played off a handicap of one, and her brother off scratch. He spent a lot of time on the golf course while he was at Oxford, and nearly got a Blue.
After university, he played cricket with The Frederic E. Pickersgill Memorial Cricket Club, a team invented by Michael Sissons, the literary agent, and recruited largely from the London literary scene, for whom a good story-line from someone in the pavilion was worth as much as half-a-dozen runs.
He was a keen tennis player. Again it was in the family – a cousin had played at Wimbledon; and he was a keen promoter of Poppy’s talents on the court.
When we were young it was of course de rigeur to wear whites even at the local the tennis club, but not for Richard – who appeared regularly in dark blue shorts.
(It was rare to catch him in anything but a rugger shirt and shorts, but he did own a dark suit with highly conspicuous yellow pin stripes, and looked in it just like a member of the Mafia.)
He was pretty sure that on the tennis court he could beat Boris Becker – if only he could get his serve a little better! His serve disgusted him more than anything I ever remember!
Emergencies were never really Richard’s thing. I remember once arriving at his house in France and the TV would not get the French Tennis Open Championships. Heaven and Earth were moved until we could see some decent serving. He always had good fixers.
You knew – and he knew – that you could never beat him at Snooker on his own table in France. Unconfirmed rumours (as many of his articles might have begun) suggested that he once flew into Jersey a coach who might help him to chase his dream of a break of a hundred up.
* He loved life at his successive houses in the South of France, which Ariel made so beautiful – just as she did Les Aix here in Jersey. He would ease himself gently onto a lilo, paddle it out into the middle of the pool in the sun, where he would devour the Daily Mail. It was one of his greatest pleasures.
Those who knew him well loved his company – his sprightly wit – and he loved theirs. His family recall him jumping into the air across the lawn with his favourite sweets – Maltesers – in his hand, because ‘he couldn’t stay down’ as they were ‘lighter than air’.
Ariel and he were very close during the final few weeks and days of his life: she caring intimately for him despite lately her own crutches; and he deeply appreciative of all she was doing for him.
* He lived a wonderful life – in all sorts of ways. We shall miss him terribly. But we have lots of golden memories of him to treasure – one of life’s more fascinating characters.
Good Morning John – Excellent and humorous eulogy to Richard’s very full and productive life. I am sorry that Jennie and I arrived back in the Island too late to join you all in church and to hear your delivery which by all reports was superb. He will be greatly missed. We are in frequent contact with Ariel and standby to provide support to her and the family if needed. Stay in touch.
Best regards, Peter & Jennie