FULL OBITUARY: ‘Mr Southwold’ Dudley Clarke
PUBLISHED: 18:49 13 June 2019 | UPDATED: 08:52 14 June 2019
Dudley had run The Crown and other Adnams hotels, and helped start Southwold Literature Festival
Tap a Londoner on the shoulder, whisper "Southwold", and the chances are they will know what you're talking about. It wasn't always so. Many people have banged Suffolk's drum in the capital, but we can safely make the case that, in modern times, Dudley Clarke thumped it hard. He, after all, took a beach hut to the Country Living Magazine Fair four years running in a bid to lure tourists.
This chapter of his life began in 1988, when brewer Adnams approached him to run The Crown hotel in Southwold. Five months in, he was asked to manage The Swan, nearby.
"Mr Southwold was to be born," says family friend Carol Ryland. "Eventually he looked after all the hotels in the Adnams group, which included The Randolph in Reydon, The Angel in Halesworth and The Anchor at Walberswick.
"His brief was to make Southwold a year-round resort and not just the 12 weeks it was then busy for. Affable and avuncular, professional and poised, he chatted and charmed his way right to the heart of the town, helping put Southwold on the national and international map."
Dudley Clarke has died at the age of 81. "There are lots of words to describe Dudley, but a flamboyant character would be just one. He was often seen on the high street in an array of smart, beautiful attire," says Carol, also a former business partner of his.
Kay Dunbar, director of the Ways With Words literature festivals, says he is "a great loss to Southwold and to us all".
"We first met Dudley Clarke in 1993, a year after we had started our Ways With Words literature festival at Dartington Hall in Devon. We knew Southwold well and thought it would be a good place to run another festival.
"Dudley agreed and got behind the project from the word 'go', helping to promote the festival locally and making the Adnams hotels available for Ways With Words' customers to stay, and as a place to accommodate our speakers.
"One of our most fond (and humorous) memories was the year that the Two Fat Ladies (Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson) spoke at the festival. Dudley said he would love to interview them live on stage, in front of a sold-out audience.
"He did masses of preparation, got all his questions organised, but when they all went on stage he put his sheet of notes on one of the seats, only for Clarissa to sit on them. He didn't feel he could ask her to get off the notes and so he did the whole show ad-lib.
"He was, of course, the consummate professional and no-one in the audience ever knew."
Dudley was born in Romford in February, 1938. His father was in banking and lost a leg in Italy during the war.
The youngster's schooldays were spent in Gidea Park, though the academic side of school was not his forte. The social aspect most certainly was… He acted in plays, ran school dances, was a member of the scout troop and played a lot of sport.
After leaving school, he headed for upmarket Piccadilly department store Fortnum & Mason as a trainee manager.
Dudley was said to have been a flamboyant dresser from the off. His mother was a model and window dresser. He reckoned he got his flair for style from her.
He would board the train at Gidea Park, dressed in a suit, trilby, polished shoes and carrying a walking stick. At work he changed into a morning suit, with a wing-collared shirt and grey tie.
Princess Margaret and actress Diana Dors were among the famous clientele.
Tea with a king
Dudley completed his National Service in 1957. He'd enjoyed it so much that he decided to stay in the RAF. He was posted to Germany as a radio operator and met his first wife.
In 1963 he qualified as air crew and joined 99 Squadron, based at Lyneham in Wiltshire - home to a worldwide strategic transport operation with its new Bristol Britannia aircraft.
He travelled to Japan, across America, to Hawaii, Guam, Australia, New Zealand, Asia and around Europe. He described it as work; but so enjoyable because it was unique.
After three years Dudley moved to Abingdon and No. 46 Squadron, before being posted to Bahrain with the Hawker Siddeley Andover plane equipped to carry VIPs such as the Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers and top civil servants.
He was invited, with the rest of the crew, to have tea with King Hussein of Jordan at Dorneywood (Buckinghamshire). Then in 1976, after almost 20 years' service, he left the air force at the age of 38.
Back in Civvy Street, Dudley joined the John Lewis Partnership, which seconded him to open a new Waitrose branch in Newmarket.
"On a chance foray across Suffolk he headed past the old nearly-derelict pub in Charsfield (near Wickham Market). He had a bright vision of its future and six months later he was the landlord of The Three Horseshoes," says Carol.
"Three years in, he had won the East Anglian Daily Times and Evening Star Pub of the Year award for Suffolk."
Then came the approach from Adnams to manage The Swan, and his role evolved to take in all the group's hotels.
With Kate Dunbar and Stephen Bristow, directors of the Ways With Words group, Dudley helped found the town's literary festival - an event he enjoyed hugely.
He was elected chairman of the East Anglian Hospitality Association, which played a major role in lobbying the Government about aspects of the hotel and restaurant trade.
Love…. and semi-retirement
On July 28, 1988, three months after joining Adnams, wife-to-be Marion walked into his life. She was then chief executive of the Theatregoers' Club of Great Britain. They married in February, 2000, at Lowestoft Register Office.
Dudley retired from Adnams the following October - "with an abundance of letters wishing him well in his retirement and saying how greatly missed he would be", says Carol.
After a few months he was asked by some local businesses to help with their public relations and promotion.
A bit busy…
Dudley's roles included chairing the management committee of Suffolk Summer Theatres (Southwold and Aldeburgh) with Jill Freud.
He was also on the organising committee for the Rotary Club's Southwold Christmas Day Swim that has raised thousands of pounds over the years for causes including the Help an East Coast Child Appeal and Southwold Christmas lights.
This came about after Marion challenged five or six people to go for a chilly dip on Christmas morning. "This escalated, as you would expect with Dudley, to 29!" says Carol. "This event is still enjoyed by hundreds of people every Christmas morning.
"You would think that was enough of a legacy to leave behind, but no. Dudley did countless charity works, including The Aldeburgh Christmas Lights, Halesworth Christmas Lights, and Suffolk Dog Day.
"He was asked if he would be a commentator, despite Dudley making it very clear he had never had a dog, nor did he know much about them!
"He stripped naked for a charity calendar in 2008, along with other businessmen from the town, to help raise funds for The Southwold Christmas Lights Fund, The Southwold & Reydon Rapid Response Team and (an) East Coast children's charity.
"A huge part of Southwold's continuing success can be attributed to Dudley's forward-thinking, charisma and general flamboyant personality."
In his later years, Dudley and Marion moved to Ipswich. "He would say he was helping the Italian wine-makers and then a few select drinking establishments in the town," says Carol.
"He endeared himself to everybody he met; he treated everyone with the same respect and courtesy.
"He experienced a fantastic life, with so many different roles which he truly fulfilled with as much love and excitement and flamboyancy as he could muster. A true gentleman who will be sorely missed by everyone lucky enough to have met him."
Dudley is survived by two children from his first marriage, and second wife Marion.
His funeral is at St Peter's Church, Wenhaston, on Thursday, June 27, at 11am, followed by burial in the local cemetery and finishing at The Queen's Head, Blyford.
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Eastern Daily Press. Click the link in the orange box below for details.