Bingham Wilson was a colourful, flamboyant character, a maverick. He was an artist, a friend
of Augustus John, and a man with the ability to inspire friendship. His daughter writes that
despite his lack of interest in making money, he left a great deal of it. It would be
difficult to believe that Berkhamsted School of his generation would have been prepared to
claim him as one of its sons, but these hints of his own story written in 1987, when he was
76, are a record of the 'alternative' Berkhamstedian.
Son of a parson who died when I was nine, I intended becoming one myself; got Scholarship to Cambridge for the purpose and took a degree in Classics. After two terms at theological college, what had been suggesting itself for some time dawned upon me - that I was mighty short on experience. Book learning was hardly equipping me to understand myself, let alone the rest of humanity, whose fate has concerned me vitally ever since.
Coming down from university to the hunger marches and the great 1930s Slump, and with no very practical qualifications, I seemed unlikely to get even the most menial job. Compromising by attending The Slade briefly and becoming an art master (art had been my favourite subject at School),I finally escaped the academic world with relief when, by an extraordinary fluke, I took control of a tiny printing shop and developed the business for seven years, delighted to get my hands dirty and to learn by my mistakes in the real world.
In a variety of jobs since -for none of which I had any special training -I have found mastering anything of personal interest infinitely easier and more enjoyable than having one's nose hefld to the educational grindstone. A fascinating year as a farm labourer (at 37s 6d a week!) was followed by four years running a small precision engineering shop and, after the war, antique dealing with two shops in London during the time when that was wildly exciting. When it became a rat race, I switched to restoring period property, and came to acquire, for a song, in 1971, a large Regency house with two and a half acres. It was on the brink of dereliction with dry rot, etc, and with it I had bought myself a job for life. This and a large stock of furniture to be restored kept me busy.
(This house near Milton Keynes had 37 main rooms, seven kitchens and seven bathrooms and a coach house.
There to stay Bingham invited new-age travellers and all such as interested him. - Ed.)
I have never been ambitious for money, status or power. preferring the freedom to choose what interested me. Contentment and a modest standard of living enabled me to achieve my wishes. The distinction between work and leisure has hardly existed in my life, and even now I am hardly retired in the ordinary sense. There tends to be much more that I could happily be doing than I can actually get done.
I like walking. especially in wild and beautiful places, drawing, painting. photography, writing. good conversation, table tennis, thinking about life. I used to be mad about dancing but can't now stand the decibels.
As the middle of three brothers in a happy family, it fell to me- in the lottery of genes I suppose -to be the unconventional one. I can remember, even when still at School, thinking marriage, particularly as it was then, a ridiculous arrangement. It took me long enough to make my life my own personal experiment. That has thrilled me ever since, although my attitude has been regarded with considerable suspicion by the enormous multitude that have never tried anything for themselves.
It would take a volume to tell a quarter of what happened, so I'll say only that I brought up two families without being married to either of the women concerned.
(Bingham describes the bringing up of his own and three adopted children.)
In our affluent consumer society emotional starvation, particularly among the elderly, seems common, and so close friends are precious. To be in love, however, still seems to me to be the very core of happiness -the greatest adventure. Yet, with the clearer discrimination of experience, it's rather like looking for the needle in the haystack to find the kindred spirit, let alone the subtle ingredients of attraction that are beyond conscious calculation or intention. To make the attempt, however, turns despair into mere hardship, which is to me well worth bearing for so great an objective.
I am 76, under 10 stone (Ed.note 140lb), bearded since my twenties. I lead a very active life, and never catch so much as a cold. I failed to take to smoking or alcohol because, I imagine, life was intoxicating enough already.
Bingham died on February 2nd, 2000
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