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Eulogy for the late Michael Pelham delivered by Charles Pelham, 25th March 2022

Eulogy for the late Michael Pelham delivered by Charles Pelham at the Memorial Service 25th March 2022


My father was Born To Sing; with all that that entails.

He was born in 1926 in Malvern and boarded at Hillstone Prep School at the much too early age of 6.

His Treble voice at Prep School was apparently remarkable, and we were so lucky to hear his magical recording there of Mendelssohn’s ‘O for the Wings of a Dove’.

After scoring a 98% average in Common Entrance, Sherborne followed, where he excelled in Music, Languages, Gymnastics and Fencing. His mother had chosen Sherborne rather than Eton as it was far away from wartime London, but a week after he arrived, he was sitting in the Library when a Bomber, returning from a raid on London, dropped four bombs in Sherborne’s Quadrangle. Miraculously none of them went off, harming no one.

Life really began for him though in Cambridge, when he won a Choral Scholarship at Kings College, latterly under Sir David Willcocks, who played the rickety organ at his wedding, singing later at his Golden Wedding with his grandson George and two other Choral Singers. National Service with the Royal Engineers in Egypt came halfway thorough his time at Cambridge, where he used to play verbal chess while on potato peeling duty!

He read English Literature. Right up to the end of his life he was reciting poems, often only needing the first line before completing the whole poem from memory. His letters and emails to me over the course of over 50 years were always packed with literary references and his Evening of Shakespeare’s Sonnets at home lives on in many peoples’ memories.

Due to the war, it meant that some older undergraduates returned to complete their studies afterwards, so my father was lucky enough to make friends with all kinds of fascinating people and ages, like EM Forster and once even beating John Maynard Keynes at Chess!

His life changed when the Engineering Don, Robin Caldecote, walked into the Junior Common Room at King’s one day and said ‘Anyone for a sail this weekend?’ Ever one to try anything for the first time, my father put his hand up! There then followed, together with Robert Borwick, a very happy sailing partnership aboard a gaff cutter called Citara, followed by a 10 metre Bobcat, Citara II.

In London he ran Scout Troops and worked with the London Federation of Boys Clubs. His great coup was persuading Sir David Attenborough to give a talk on the Natural World accompanied by his chimpanzee.

He also sang as a Deputy in St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey Choirs.

Robin Caldecote did him an even greater favour by introducing him to the love of his life, Lucy Egerton.

After university my father entered the world of Paper Making, starting as a Wet End Boy, in Dartford,  joining Wiggins Teape first and then setting up the European office of the Canadian Forest Products business, Abitibi.

He had a fascinating career selling newsprint to most of the newspaper barons, notably Roy Thomson, Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch.

Early in his career he joined the Stationers Livery Company and subsequently became Master, not long before his 80th birthday, and delivered a speech in Chaucerian English to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the Foundation of their Guild.

One of his great interests was wine and his prodigious memory served him well in tastings on behalf of the Wine Committees of the Royal Yacht Squadron, The Royal Thames and the Stationers

In 1973 my parents bought Abbey Spring with its spectacular garden, moving to Oldways after 18 very happy years.

During this time my father became Captain of the Beaulieu River Sailing Club and Church Warden twice. He loved that role as he was such a believer in the concept of the Parish, with people helping one another, described so tellingly by his favourite writer, Anthony Trollope.

Then, in the 1970s, with the encouragement of Elizabeth Varley, he founded Music at Beaulieu, which created an annual series of concerts with profits going towards Beaulieu Abbey upkeep.

Ralph Montagu designed the excellent logo. And Edward Montagu was kind enough to say how thrilled he was that Music at Beaulieu had put Beaulieu on the musical map of England.

My father used his printing skills for early concert posters using a silk press given by a friend in The Southern Daily Echo, and working with choir members like David Surplice and Ted Thomas, hanging up the A2 posters to dry on the washing line.

He assembled an impressive array of Patrons and in the early years would give the concerts himself, I particularly remember tears being shed in the audience when he sang Bach’s Love Song written for his wife, Bist du Bei Mir.

These concerts, which regularly included the Choral Scholars from Kings, were made even more enjoyable thanks to my mother’s flawless cooking back at home after the concerts, for the musicians and helpers.

He ran Music at Beaulieu for 41 years.

On retirement my father became a Blue Badge Guide and started his own Travel Company, Pelham Tours, leading many tours, initially around his beloved England and then internationally, ranging from retracing the steps of St Paul to visiting archeological sites in South East Asia.

He was a hugely generous man, with a very big heart. He delighted in showing the world to us, with wonderfully unusual holidays, like going on a cargo boat from Hull to Helsinki, or travelling down the Brittany Canal system. If we showed any interest in anything he was there to demonstrate how to do it or would get someone to teach us.

A particular memory I have is going to the Childrens’ Book Centre every weekend ready to devour another book, which he read to us beautifully. I so remember him reading me The Wild White Stallion by René Guillot with tears streaming down his face.

It seemed as though he was determined to give us the best possible childhood. He certainly succeeded..

A constant theme in the wonderful letters we have received since his death, is the referral to his interest in other people and his efforts to help them in their careers or academic life, whatever their age. He was always very generous with his time for everyone.

He would undoubtedly say that the best part of his life was his marriage. His eulogy to my mother, on the occasion of their 60th Wedding Anniversary, was especially moving.

Our family will miss him terribly, but we draw comfort from the thought that perhaps, like John Bunyan’s Mr Valiant-For-Truth, that even now Heavenly Trumpets are sounding for him.