Farewell Filing Clerk


27 June 2017 See Will's addendum below.

23 June 2017 The wine trade has been robbed of one of its funniest characters, and when I say funniest, I mean someone who was reliably and delightfully full of fun. Tim Stanley-Clarke died yesterday in hospital. His character shines out from this message from his hospital bed: 'I am sorry to be the harbinger of bad news, but a new and invincible infection has attacked my lungs (IOP). I have been in intensive care for ten days, but am hoping to get home shortly as nothing more can be done. I want to see the garden and crack some decent bottles!' 

Because he really was the embodiment of life and merriment, it seems ridiculous to use the past tense about him. Any gathering was lit up and guaranteed to be entertaining when he was in it. He may have cultivated a sort of Bertie Wooster image in both speech and appearance but was infinitely sharper than the P G Wodehouse character. He didn’t actually wear a monocle but you felt he could have – although he was thoroughly up to date in his wide-ranging understanding of the world.

He delighted in playing the most absurd jokes on people – none of which I can remember, so overcome am I by the knowledge that I will never encounter them again – though I do remember his signing himself Filing Clerk in his wonderfully neat handwriting. He was also a brilliant mimic. Although he seemed the quintessential Englishman, he actually spent much of his youth in North America.

I first met him when he was married to his first wife, introduced by mutual non wine trade friends. But I was to come across him mainly in a port context as for many years he represented the Symington family in the UK in a somewhat vague but always charming way. The only time I saw him lose his cool was when he was supposed to be organising a big wine trade lunch at the Savoy and some detail went awry. I still have the straw hat stenciled with the word Bomfim that was our going-home present.

Paul Symington wrote to me yesterday:

‘It’s unbelievably sad. I spoke to him last Thursday on the phone and he knew he only had a few days left. He joked with me; his humour was still strong and undiminished. It was extraordinary. Truly Tim.

‘He joined us in 1984 from Christopher and Co [an old-fashioned London wine merchant that claimed to have a history dating back to the Great Fire of London], then the UK agents for Dow’s Vintage Port. I remember how this happened as if it were yesterday. While at Christopher he brought out a group of UK wine merchants to visit us, and my father and I received them at [Quinta do] Bomfim. I was so impressed with his easygoing and friendly manner over the days that they were with us, as well as his love of wine and Port, that I suggested to my father there and then that we needed somebody like Tim to help us to build our sales in the UK. Dad agreed and within six months he had joined us. We had only just bought [UK importer] Fells a few years earlier and he added a new level of expertise to the company.

‘Tim taught me a huge amount about the UK wine trade, taking me around the country on countless visits and conducting numerous tastings. He knew how to organise a tasting and was a stickler for making sure that all the details were perfect.

‘As a Port taster he had few rivals anywhere.’

Tim was eminently clubbable and many men will remember him in the context of a gentleman’s club of which they were both members. But he was not one of those Englishmen who so obviously prefer the company of men to women. He just loved people and was a perceptive judge of their quirks.

He was immensely proud of his son and his second wife Dounie, who for many years worked at the House of Commons. They moved from his mews flat in Belgravia to a house in the Suffolk countryside to be close to her father. He installed a swimming pool there and had some typically elaborate spoof message to visitors on the door. He loved to plot their holidays together inbetween his duties as church warden and chairman of the annual wine dinner in aid of Marie Curie, a role he passed on to Adam Brett-Smith of Corney & Barrow. He was so well connected that he always managed to lure an array of well-known guests to the dinner.

Earlier this year, he and Dounie gave a large drinks party in Vintners’ Hall that was full of warmth and their various friends from many walks of life. The main speech was given by England cricketer David Gower, who clearly loved Tim, who organised many a trip that combined cricket and port, as much as the rest of us.  We were probably not the only guests who wondered why the party was given. Perhaps it was intended as a swan song.

Paul again:

‘I forgot to say that just a month ago on 15 May, Tim was out here with the Garrick Club wine committee. He was at his very best, hosting a bunch of bon viveurs who thoroughly enjoyed visiting ourselves, Taylors and Noval (Christian [Seely] being a member) in Gaia and Douro. They were a fun group.

‘I hosted a tasting at our lodge followed by a Factory House dinner on 15 May. I asked Tim that day if he would try to make it to the 2015 Vintage tasting that I was conducting with Charles later that week in London on Thursday the 18th, the one that you attended [I am planning a report on the recently released 2015 vintage ports].

‘After the tasting and while we were having drinks downstairs, Tim bounced into the room, having come straight from the airport, pointed at his shoes and said “Douro dust on my shoes, but I made it as you asked.”’

Our son Will Lander adds I remember Tim well from the Oxford Wine Society days.

You mention his many practical jokes that you couldn't remember but I remember one he told me on one walk from the Oxford train station to the tasting. He had been staying near Clive Coates' home and had been told by the manager of the local Waterstones [book shop] that Mr Coates was very insistent his new book should be well stocked and plentiful.

So Tim went in and stuck loads of 'CLEARANCE' and '50% off' stickers on every copy of Mr Coates' new book. With expectedly explosive consequences. He confessed it was his work I think to protect the Waterstones' staff.