A non-conformist intellectual, deeply concerned about humanity's responsibility to its environment.
Henry Bentinck, Earl of Portland, who has died at the age of 77, was a man far ahead of his time in understanding how fast we were losing our inheritance of the natural world. He knew as an environmentalist how and why Rachel Carson's sad prophecy of a silent spring could soon be with us. He came from an aristocratic family that had lost its wealth and land in an earlier period. He knew personally all about the loss of inheritance.
He was not one to merely voice his concerns in private. His thriller Isoworg (International Society for World Government) espoused his ideas and he once hired Trafalgar Square for an afternoon to make his voice heard. His other publications include a children's adventure, The Avenue of Flutes; a popular science question-and-answer book, Anyone Can Understand the Atom; and a television play, Countdown at Woomera. The last six years of his life have been spent working on his fourth and most important book, 'Life is a Sum Humanity is Doing Wrong'.This is a philosophical assessment of the position humanity finds itself in today and what the future holds. In later years young people in particular were delighted to find support for their unconventional ways and ideas from this unlikely figure.
Henry Bentinck was born in 1919, a Count of the Holy Roman Empire with a Royal Licence of 1886 to use the title in England. His father died when he was 12 and his mother seven years later. His mother was Lady Norah Noel, eldest daughter of the Earl of Gainsborough, and for the first six years of his life, Henry grew up to love the woods and streams of the Gainsborough seat at Exton where they lived in a cottage in the park.
Bentinck always had an independent spirit. After education at Harrow, he was sent to Sandhurst. He left after only a term amidst press headlines - "Count missing from Sandhurst" - went to America where he worked as a cowboy in California for a year. He returned to England in 1939, and in 1940 married Pauline Mellowes. With the outbreak of war, Henry had promptly registered as a Conscientious Objector, expounding the idea of the unity of mankind's spiritual existence and the unique consciousness of humanity, a quite extraordinary idea from a twenty-year-old of that period. However, his innate sense of patriotism and the death of a close friend soon made him realise that he could not sustain his views. He joined the family regiment, the Coldstream Guards, as a private soldier. He was soon commissioned as a Lieutenant and served with distinction in Italy at Camino, was wounded twice and the second time taken prisoner shortly before the crossing of the river Po. The news of his capture made a front page story in the Daily Telegraph under the headline "Count Missing Again". On reading the story, a relation thought he had deserted from the front line and left the Bentinck money intended for Henry to a number of other people. He remained a prisoner of war until 1945. On his release, he rejoined the regiment as part of the garrison in Trieste.
After the war, he joined the BBC as a talks producer. This job brought him in touch with the work of people such as Professor N.S. Shaler, who had forecast ecological catastrophe as early as the 1900s. Ideas like these reinforced his view that the abuse of the environment would be fatal to our civilisation. It led him to accept an offer of employment as a "jackaroo" on a sheep station in Tasmania. He emigrated there with his family in 1952. Events there gave them no option but to return to England in 1955 where he rejoined the BBC.
Here, he joined Bob Craddock, the first producer of "Today", with Jack de Manio as presenter. He also produced the series "The Younger Generation" and worked for further education which helped him in the selective pursuit of his principal interests and also enabled him to write his first book, Anyone Can Understand the Atom.
In 1959 he left the BBC to join J Walter Thompson as an advertising producer. There he gained a reputation for innovation and daring, producing over 600 commercials. Who of us will forget the stunning images of the Nimble balloon or the Kipling cake campaign. The advertising industry still remembers "The Count" in raccoon skin coat, black eye patch and convertible VW Beetle.
In 1967, his wife Pauline died. His increasing interest and expertise in the dangers facing the environment made him decide to leave the advertising world. Together with his new wife, Jenny Hopkins whom he married in 1974, he moved to Devon where initially with the help of his son and daughter-in-law, then single-handedly, they set up and ran a self-sufficient 10 acre organic smallholding and guesthouse which they managed with great success for the next six years.
Now in his sixties, the workload proved too much, and in 1982, Henry moved with Jenny to a beautiful thatched farmhouse in North Devon. There, he devoted himself to his writing. He struck up a close friendship with the writer James Lovelock, whose respect and encouragement enabled Henry to finish Life is a Sum...
In 1990, the dukedom of Portland died out and Henry succeeded to the earldom of Portland. He had always wanted to use the political platform of the House of Lords to further the environmental causes he had espoused for most of his life and his maiden speech took up the theme. He called on his fellow peers to take a lead in the environmental debate - "to keep their 'green' hat on always" - and not merely talk about sustainability, but work to create an economy that the environment could sustain. He urged them to help people face up to the fact that civilisation no longer serves our best interests but threatens them. Failing health prevented him from having the impact that he had hoped, but his legacy will not be forgotten.
He married first in 1940, Pauline Mellowes, who died in 1967; they had one son and two daughters, Sorrel and Anna. He married secondly, in 1974, Jenny Hopkins. Heir, Timothy Bentinck, Viscount Woodstock.
The book that Henry spent the last seven years of his life writing. It's what he was all about. It is incomplete.
"If civilisation and population are allowed to continue unmodified on their present expansionist courses it will cause ecological catastrophe which will destroy that civilisation and most of that population."
Are you ever mystified by what you read or hear in conversation about the atom? If you are this book is specially for you because it is conversation. Conversation about the atom designed to be easy for the layman to follow. It explains what an atom is - how matter is built up and how energy is released. It explains enough about genetics to show why atomic radiation is so dangerous to living things and describes some of the many uses to which the atom can be put.
Read it and you will not only be able to follow a conversation about the atom, you'll be able to contribute to it.
Atomic power has become an essential part of our age, yet there is a growing danger that democratic control over the influence of science upon our lives will slip out of the hands of the electorate simply because we are not equipped to understand the issues involved. Here we have the means of making informed political decisions.
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Tamsyn Firebrace lives in her grandparents' huge house in the west of Ireland. Her twin brother, Justin, has gone to look for their father, who has disappeared. One night, Tamsyn walks into a dream world, where she finds Justin, and where the people she knows - two schoolmasters, her grandfather, his visitors, a cruel groom - reappear under srtrange guises, and where animals talk. The sisister bear, Bondorofski, is dictator of this dream country. Tamsyn and Justin, determined to overthrow him, win some of the animals to their side. War breaks out. The battle rages faster and furiouser. Who will win?
Here is an enchanting story for children, packed with inventiveness, drama, fun and fantasy. The topsy-turvy world Tamsyn finds herself in is as logical and surprising as Alice's Wonderland. And Tamsyn herself? - well she is a General's grand-daughter, the most charming, daring, resourceful heroine you are likely to meet this year.
ISOWORG was written in the mid sixties and within the first two chapters Henry foresees the Internet, "Thorne was connected to a network of computers that housed the sum of the world's knowledge", the iPhone, "he communicated with it via a radio device the size of a cigarette case", and Wikileaks, "the job of the Isoworg spies was to discover the secrets of all the world's governments and publish them in the newspapers".
ISOWORG is the International Society for World Government; a society whose policy is to publish all secrets to the world, reasoning that secrecy breeds jitters and that a jittery finger is a bad thing to have on an atomic button. For this it needs agents, special agents. Agents trained to perfection not only in the ways of spying but in the knowledge of themselves.
Thorne is invited to join ISOWORG and accepts. He rescues a Dutch scientist in danger of abduction by a foreign power and ISOWORG publishes his breakthrough in the use of power from atomic fusion to the world; and brings back from Samarkand secrets which will help towards the final formula for restraining plasma at temperatures of millions of degrees.
Caught up in a world of violence and intrigue he is involved in a breath-taking skating race across 120 miles of frozen canals in Friesland; a blood-curdling BasKashi where, instead of the usual tethered goat, Natasha, Thorne's assistant, is the bait; and finally plucks two hostages from the heart of Russia, fighting it out in a gun battle in a Paris hotel.
Brutal and exciting, this highly original first novel by Henry Bentinck holds the reader's attention from one action-packed page to another. Once started it is impossible to put down.
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I remember my parents telling me that one night Henry, in his black cape and eye patch came through the doors at The Plough Potten End. (This was a pub run by my parents close to where Henry and family lived) He said “Peter, let me have some change for the phone box!” My father gave Henry the change. One of the customers that night said “ Blimey Guv’nor, I thought he was going to ask you for some pieces of eight!”
He taught me to milk a cow. Great man.
I only met him once - on a weekend in Devon. Three things I remember..1. He terrified me 2. He ate the biggest plate of spaghetti I have ever seen 3. He told me to read Karl Popper (I have - I still don't get it)
I have a number of memories of him, too long to put down here. He taught me to drive, along the old drive at Foth. I remember discussing the Dead Sea Scrolls with him when I was a teenager. For his interview for the BBC job he read the first part of The Wreck of the Deutschland, because he thought it would impress his interviewers, which must have worked because he got the job! Lots more little things, mostly unimportant but characterful.