Obituary: Sugar beet stalwart Roger Beck

PUBLISHED: 06:20 15 October 2016

Roger Beck with his 1946 Bedford truck. Photo: Adrian Judd

Roger Beck with his 1946 Bedford truck. Photo: Adrian Judd

A Norfolk farmer who represented thousands of growers at the county’s oldest sugar factory for more than three decades has died at the age of 88.

Roger Beck, of Brunstead Hall, near Stalham, was a well-known figure at the factory in Cantley, where his quiet style and positive approach commanded respect among fellow beet farmers and British Sugar’s staff.

It was fitting that he was a guest at a special dinner to mark the factory’s 75th anniversary at the Hotel Nelson, Norwich, in 1987, and his campaign reports to the Norfolk National Farmers’ Union’s executive meeting in Norwich were always a model of clarity.

Mr Beck saw massive changes in the sugar beet industry over the decades. When he delivered his first load to Cantley aged 19 in 1946, he took a farm worker to throw off the 6.5 tons of beet. In those days, his father employed 12 full-time staff and grew 65 acres of beet.

When he celebrated 60 years’ beet delivery in January 2007, he drove his original five-ton “O” type 1946 Bedford lorry, which originally cost £500, and had completed more than 230,000 miles. By that time the farm was growing 165 acres of beet – employing just one full-time worker.

Mr Beck was born on October 23, 1927, and went to Norwich School. During German raids on the city on June 27, 1942, Norwich cathedral was attacked and an estimated 850 incendiary bombs were dropped. Mr Beck joined the volunteer fire-watchers during the bombing and kicked many incendiaries off the roof – almost certainly helping to save the cathedral.

Later at home, his role in safeguarding St Peter’s Church – just yards from the family’s home since 1919 – was crucial. When in 1996 the thatched roof was open to the sky where 
ducks were also nesting, he led efforts to raise funds and save the church for occasional worship.

He was president of Stalham Farmers’ Club from 2000 to 2010. He had also served as chairman in 1966 – his father, Cecil, had been chairman in 1960 and 1961.

For a quarter of a century, he was treasurer and helped to arrange the club’s foreign trip in 1971 with neighbour Hubert Sands as 34 members went to West Germany.

He enjoyed success in many club competitions and the family farm won the best two-acre beet trophy eight times over six decades, between 1958 and most recently in 2009.

Mr Beck was also an avid collector of farm machinery and his collection of Case tractors, which he had acquired and restored over many years, was regarded as one of the best in the country.

He staged a memorable informal yesteryear harvest event in August 1999 when three friends with vintage combines cut 19 acres of wheat. His son Alan used a 1966 Claas Matador combine – which had been originally owned and used on the farm.

Mr Beck leaves a son, Alan, and two daughters, Helen and Sheila, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. His wife, Jeanne, died earlier this year.

His funeral service will be held at St Peter’s, Brunstead, on Monday, October 31, at 2.30pm.

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