Lord Townshend: Landowner, Anglia TV founder and Norwich Union director

Michael Pollitt, obituaries editorLandowner, industrialist and the founding chairman of Anglia Television, the Marquess Townshend of Raynham, has died just three weeks before his 94th birthday.Michael Pollitt, obituaries editor

Landowner, industrialist and the founding chairman of Anglia Television, the Marquess Townshend of Raynham, has died just three weeks before his 94th birthday.

For almost 30 years he headed Anglia Television and, with fellow Norfolk landowner the late Lord Aubrey Buxton, earned the broadcaster an international reputation for programme-making.

Under his direction, the family estate at Raynham, near Fakenham, has been transformed over the past 40 years into a highly-efficient arable enterprise of around 6,000 acres.

The Townshend family has owned land in West Norfolk for 600 years, since the reign of Edward IV. One 17th century ancestor, "Turnip" Townshend, helped launch the agricultural revolution.


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Born on May 13, 1916, George John Patrick Dominic Townshend was just five years old when he inherited the family title, dating from 1786, as the seventh marquess.

When, in April 1926, the nine-year-old was threatened by kidnappers who demanded a �5,000 ransom, the family home, Raynham Hall, was under police guard night and day. The plot came to nothing and the heir to the then 18,000-acre estate was not told of the threats.

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Educated at Harrow, he joined the Norfolk Yeomanry in 1936 and was later aide-de-camp to Gen Sir Edmund (later Field Marshal) Ironside, then in charge of Eastern Command. He served in the Scots Guards and volunteered to join a skiing battalion training for the Norwegian expedition, but in 1940 he fractured his skull during the London bombing raids and had to take a less active role as an instructor at Sandhurst.

On September 2, 1939, the day before the outbreak of the second world war, he married Elizabeth Luby. When they returned to the family seat in 1945 with two daughters and heir, Viscount Raynham, the property needed major restoration. The house, built in the early 17th century, had been requisitioned by the army. It took years to restore the damage, which then estimated at �45,000. One attic had been used as a shooting gallery - the bullet holes are still there.

Invited to join the board of Norwich Union in 1950, his ability was speedily recognised. In the mid 1950s, when independent commercial television was proposed, he became chairman of one of nine groups competing for the East Anglia contract.

It was potentially risky, but Lord Townshend's leadership and enthusiasm secured backers including the publisher of the EDP, the Norfolk News Company (now Archant), May Gurney, two Cambridge colleges and Norwich Union (now Aviva).

He was founder chairman in June 1958 and served until 1986. On his retirement, aged 70, one building was named Townshend House. He was chairman of Survival Anglia for 15 years as the programmes were sold around the world, earning a Queen's Award for export achievement.

When Anglia needed a symbol, he bought the silver knight from a London jeweller.

Lord Townshend said a great friend, Algeron Asprey, had a silver statue of Richard the Lionheart. "I thought it appropriate to have such a legendary figure as our new emblem," he said. "The sword in his right hand was removed and replaced by the Anglia flag."

When the much-loved knight had been dumped for a more modern image, Lord Townshend wrote to the EDP in January 2006 welcoming its reinstatement before the 6pm news programme.

Agriculture, the foundation of the family's wealth and political power, was always important. In his maiden speech in the Lords on June 24, 1947, he spoke during the second reading of the Agriculture Bill. He said that Norfolk's farming economy was based on keeping fat cattle and sheep but prices were so low that ewe flocks had been sold.

However, he was determined to transform the estate, pioneering the latest techniques. And his estate was also innovative; in the 1970s using on-floor grain drying and running a 150-cow dairy herd with just two staff.

As president of Fakenham Young Farmers' Club, at the first annual meeting in October 1948, he outlined his plans to visit France to study mechanised crop lifting.

In May 1950, he became a member of Norfolk agricultural executive committee. He was a great supporter of Norfolk Agricultural Station, the independent farmer-owned research charity, then based at Sprowston, for six decades, and was chairman between 1973 and 1987.

And 18 months ago, the frail but determined president of its successor body, Morley Agricultural Foundation, cut the first sod of a new �1m office and business centre at its headquarters near Wymondham.

Agriculture's importance to the rural economy was reflected in Anglia TV's output, hence he promoted programmes like Farming Diary.

In 1972, he became the fourth member of the family to become president of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association. More than a century earlier, his great-grandfather had held the post in 1858.

So it was fitting when he was chairman of the RNAA for 10 years until 1985. He also represented Norfolk as a council member of the Royal Agricultural Society of England.

His business career was notable. He was vice-chairman of Norwich Union Life Insurance from 1973 and Fire Insurance, until he retired in 1986.

A former president of Norfolk Country Land and Business Association, he warmly welcomed the West Norfolk Foxhounds. And he was delighted when one of the largest ever fields, including more than 200 mounted and hundreds of spectators, assembled at Raynham Hall on New Year's Day, 2005.

He had also been a skier and was an excellent shot. He was appointed a deputy Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk in 1951 and was awarded an honorary degree by the University of East Anglia in 1989.

When he retired, he revealed in an interview with the EDP, that he had always enjoyed Anglia dramas like PD James and the Tales of the Unexpected, and even Dallas.

A former colleague described him as a "traditional country landowner, very busy in agricultural and county affairs. He is a man with immense pride in his ancestry, with impeccable old-fashioned standards in everything he does".

He is survived by two daughters, Lady Carolyn Townshend and Lady Joanna Boegner, by his first marriage. Divorced in 1960, he had a son, Lord John Townshend and daughter, Lady Katherine Bayley by his second wife, Ann, who died in 1988. Finally, he married Philippa Swire in 2004.

He leaves five children and is survived by the Dowager Marchioness Townshend. His son, Charles, Viscount Raynham, succeeds.

A private funeral at the estate church will be followed by a service of thanksgiving at Norwich Cathedral, date to be announced.

Michael Pollitt

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