A life of adventure and service: The life story of Sir Timothy Colman
- Credit: Archant © 2007
Sir Timothy Colman wore many ‘hats’ in life. Part of the Colman’s Mustard dynasty, he was a Royal Navy officer, seven-time speed-record holder, naturalist and respected businessman.
He was also the Queen’s man in Norfolk and a champion of his beloved county. Steven Russell looks back on a life brimming with achievements.
Most of us find it easy to pluck lazy stereotypes from our bag of clichés – to believe “businessman” automatically equals a one-dimensional character in a dull-grey suit.
Sir Timothy Colman shattered that stereotype. Yes, he was an astute reader of a balance sheet and a formidable leader, but his horizons stretched far beyond the boardroom.
About 50 years ago, for example, he was part of the first tourist expedition from Europe to visit Antarctica – quite something for us to imagine now, in an age when the internet has shrunk the globe and in doing so stripped away some of its mystery and majesty.
Not surprisingly, the trip made a deep impression on a man who had been president of Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust since 1962. It was led by ornithologist and conservationist Peter Scott and included naturalists from nine countries. The voyage covered 4,000 miles, also visiting the Falkland Islands and Chile.
Sir Timothy returned to Norfolk to share his views in measured and thoughtful – but nonetheless passionate and poetic – tones.
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Antarctica was “the most silent, the most mysterious and unearthly and, in many ways, the most beautiful of continents on the surface of the earth”.
He wrote: “Expecting to wince with cold or be blinded with snow, the visitor is surprised and cannot fail to be inspired by the serenity and detachment of this white and silent landscape. It is empty, unrelated to the rest of the world.
“Where else can one travel for days on end without seeing a single trace of man’s creation? There are no smoking chimneys, no pylons, not even a lighthouse to guide the mariner. Above all, it is beautiful.”
But human behaviour was damaging its wildlife.
In 1968 he told a meeting of Norwich Rotarians the whale was very nearly extinct in Antarctica. There were rules banning the hunting of certain types, and limiting the pursuit of other kinds, but they were hard to implement if there was no police force to uphold them.
He wrote how the expedition had seen Wilson’s dolphins – apparently the first time they’d been recorded on the South American side of Antarctica – but only four whales.
Penguins, “the comedians of the ice”, had frolicked round the ship – which was heartening, as “penguins and seals have only just recovered from the indiscriminate slaughter of earlier generations”.
He asked if they and other animals would later “be sacrificed as on every other continent for his (man’s) selfish interests or can he recognise this as a challenge and opportunity to share this new world with living nature?”
‘Mauled by lioness’
There were other adventures…
In 1967, during three weeks of African sunshine, Sir Timothy and wife Lady Mary enjoyed “the most exciting and rewarding holiday” they’d ever had. It certainly had its moments.
They stayed on farms and went on safari in Uganda and Kenya, travelling hundreds of miles by Jeep and capturing on cine film the wide variety of wildlife.
In Kenya, in the Masai reserve, they picked up three Masai men who had been mauled by a lioness. “The beast had killed several sheep when they caught up with it and killed it with their spears,” he said.
The men had walked 12 miles before being helped by Mr Colman’s party and driven 50 miles to the nearest hospital. Fortunately, they made good progress – though they were given a lift just in time. An EDP article said the trio probably owed their lives to the safari, as their wounds were turning septic by the time they were picked up.
Timothy James Alan Colman was born in September, 1929, at Bixley Manor, south-east of Norwich. He was the second son of Captain Geoffrey Colman and wife Lettice.
Timothy was only six when his father died. His elder brother was killed in action at El Alamein in the early 1940s. Another brother died in an accident in the 1950s.
Timothy was a pupil at Norwich High School when it still took boys. He was 10 when he announced he was going to join the Royal Navy. This he did in 1943, as a very young teenager, going to Dartmouth Naval College.
In November, 1951, he married Mary Bowes Lyon, a cousin of the then Princess Elizabeth and niece of the Queen (soon to be Queen Mother). His bride (created Lady Mary in her own right) was the twin daughter of the Hon Michael and Mrs Bowes Lyon.
The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret attended the wedding at the Priory Church of St Batholomew-the-Great, Smithfield, London.
Mary’s attendants were her twin sister Patricia, and Sir Timothy’s brother Russell was best man. The church was full and several hundred people stood outside to watch guests arrive.
The groom wore naval uniform, his bride a tailored dress of oyster satin. Officiating clergy included the Rev Humphrey Barclay, vicar of Southrepps in Norfolk.
As the couple left the porch they passed under the crossed swords of a guard of honour formed by the groom’s fellow officers from HMS Indefatigable.
A reception for 600 guests was held at Ironmongers’ Hall in Aldgate and the newly-weds honeymooned in France.
Sir Timothy spent about a decade in the Royal Navy, serving on different types of ships, from destroyers to aircraft carriers.
He was a lieutenant when he left – returning to Norfolk in 1953, the oldest surviving son, to join the family firm. (By then it was the international business Reckitt & Colman.)
Sir Timothy began as a trainee on the factory floor and became a manager at the Carrow Works in Norwich. He left to farm the family’s large estate on the outskirts of the city.
In 1957 he became a director of Eastern Counties Newspapers – continuing the family’s unbroken link. It was in 1844 that Jeremiah Colman co-founded the Norfolk News Company (which grew into Eastern Counties Newspapers and, now, Archant).
Sir Timothy became vice-chairman in 1958 and was chairman of Eastern Counties Newspapers Group from 1969 to 1996.
In the late 1950s he began putting his energy behind the dream to establish a university in Norfolk. Sir Timothy became chairman of the University of East Anglia appeal committee… which in less than two months brought in more than £900,000.
He would later become pro-chancellor (effectively chairman of the university council) and in 1973 receive an honorary doctorate of civil law.
Five years later Sir Timothy succeeded Sir Edmund Bacon as Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk. (The unpaid position as the monarch’s representative involves duties such as presenting awards on behalf of the Queen, arranging and hosting royal visits, and taking part in civic events.)
One high-profile occasion in which he was closely involved came in April, 1996, with the Queen’s Maundy Service visit to Norwich.
That month, too, came the greatest accolade – the moment Mr Timothy Colman actually became Sir Timothy Colman. The Queen appointed him to the Most Noble Order of the Garter – one of the nation’s oldest and highest honours.
It made him one of 22 Knights of the Garter and Lady Companions. They included Lord Callaghan, Lord Hailsham, the Duke of Norfolk, Lord Sainsbury, Baroness Thatcher, Sir Edmund Hillary, and the Duke of Grafton, who lived at Euston Hall, near Thetford.
Previous Knights of the Garter had included Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Anthony Eden.
The Garter honour was a surprise, said Sir Timothy. “It took my breath away when I opened the letter a few days ago.
“I feel very thrilled, deeply honoured, but humble in receiving such recognition from the Queen, for whom I have the greatest admiration and respect.
“As much of my life has been related to Norfolk, I like to regard this, in part at least, as a compliment to the people of the county.”
Born to serve
Sir Timothy Colman can barely have had a minute to spare – ever – judging by the evidence of our bulging cuttings files. As well as his positions with Reckitt & Colman and Eastern Counties Newspapers Group, he held a portfolio of roles with other organisations.
In the autumn of 1959, for instance, he succeeded William Copeman as chairman of the Norwich Savings Committee. Mr Copeman said the new man would bring “drive, enterprise, initiative and encouragement to the savings movement”. The man who seconded Sir Timothy said he “bore a name long-honoured in Norwich for public service and work in the community”.
The previous June, Sir Timothy had donated a Norfolk dinghy to Norwich Lads’ Club, which needed a boat so members studying seamanship could do their practical training.
In 1961 he became a member of Norfolk County Playing Fields Association executive committee, pressing to improve facilities across the county.
He was a life trustee of the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, and a member of the Eastern Regional Committee of the National Trust. He also served on the council of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association.
In 1968 he was named one of four new Deputy Lieutenants for Norfolk.
At the start of 1969 Sir Timothy was sworn in as a Norfolk magistrate, and in 1970-71 was High Sheriff. (This unpaid royal appointment supports the Crown and the judiciary, as well as encouraging crime prevention agencies, the emergency services and the voluntary sector.)
In 1973 Sir Timothy became a member of the Water Space Amenity Commission, a think-tank advising the Government about recreational use.
The following year – already president of Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust – he was made one of 11 members of a new advisory committee for England appointed by the Nature Conservancy Council. (At that stage Sir Timothy belonged, too, to the Countryside Commission.)
His work with conservation bodies led to him being described as “one of the shapers of our national countryside”.
Then in November, 1974, he became chairman of what was then called the Norfolk and Norwich Triennial Festival – the big music and arts showpiece that continues today.
In December, 1979, Sir Timothy retired from the presidency of Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust after 17 years. He was succeeded by broadcaster and writer Ted Ellis, the first keeper of natural history at Castle Museum, Norwich.
The following year Sir Timothy became president of Norfolk and Norwich Horticultural Society. The Colman family had been associated with the group since it began in 1829.
In the early 1980s he served for a year as president of The Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, which runs the Royal Norfolk Show and other events. He’d later chair the association.
In 1986 Sir Timothy became a patron of Norfolk Outward Bound Association. Other interests over the years included Norfolk Wherry Trust and theatre, church and countryside charities.
The lady who loved him
Sir Timothy's wife Lady Mary died in January at the age of 88.
In 1996, she had said of her beloved husband: “Being married to a superstar could be difficult, but, I have to say, in my particular case it is not.
“Timmy and I fell in love at the ripe old age of 17 and 19 years, and married two years later; and, 44 years on, with five children and eight grandchildren, life is busy, and often somewhat hectic, but on the whole full of fun and laughter.
“One would think being married to a man with such myriad interests and duties might be almost lonely. Quite the reverse – I attend certain functions with him and, when not, have my own interests.
“Timmy is totally a simple, humble, family man – he thinks nothing (even after a full and busy day) of cooking us supper and together we adore our garden, and both enjoy in particular planting a large variety of woodland trees.
“All I can end by saying is that to be married to this wonderful man is a joy and I am very proud of him indeed.”
‘Failing to work with nature’
Sir Timothy wasn’t afraid to confront tricky issues, especially when they concerned his beloved countryside.
He spoke often about farmers being seen as trustees of the land – and the tension that came with it. “If our national heritage of countryside, wildlife and landscape is lost, society may in due course, rightly or wrongly, seek to dismiss those whom they see as trustees of that heritage,” he told the Norfolk Farm Management Section of the British Institute of Management in 1979.
Yet that society wanted more food and timber from that same land.
Early in 1970 he told the National Farmers’ Union’s Norfolk branch that land values could be revolutionised because of leisure. The arable farmer might regard an oak tree as a hindrance, but more than 90pc of the population might consider it something of beauty.
“How long, I wonder, before an attractive bit of countryside will command more and earn more than the bleak arable landscape that we are in such danger of creating in our midst, particularly in East Anglia.”
It was European Conservation Year and he said it was ironic the Government – happy to preach and sponsor conservation – should through its legislation fail to recognise the amenity value as well as the bare timber value of trees when, for instance, it paid compensation in connection with projects such as road widening.
He also said: “We are, with our pylons, our factories, our rivers poisoned with effluents, and our sprawling suburbs, completely failing as a society to work with nature and we are rapidly degrading our surroundings.”
It wasn’t entirely the farmer’s fault, he argued. Farmers and landowners deserved congratulations for probably doing more to preserve the character of the countryside than anyone else.
The good news was that farmers and naturalists had much in common, and the more they could understand each other’s views, the better.
“When naturalists complain about the removal of hedgerows, one wonders how many have ever considered the implications of making a living from land which costs £300 an acre.
“On the other hand, when farmers, as some do, ruthlessly remove all hedgerows and trees, one wonders how much thought they have given to the devastating effect they have had on the countryside for which their fellow men have a legitimate and increasing need.
“Do they realise, to take one example, that 37 of the 44 species of birds likely to be on the farm are dependent on bushes and trees?”
There must be a compromise between these two extremes, he said. Some fields must become larger and some hedges go, but it was not necessary to grub out every copse or fill in every pond.
He added: “I just don’t believe that farmers see materialism as the only value in life. In the end we shall be judged not on the money we make but on the condition in which we hand over our heritage to the next generation.”
One of Sir Timothy’s first duties as the new Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk was to present Alice Bunting with the British Empire Medal. She had worked for 40 years as a cleaner at East Winch School without a day off sick.
Alice had three children during that time – all born during school holidays. She’d retired in August, 1977, in her mid 70s.
“I had to unlock the school in the mornings and I used to light coal fires and scrub the floors before the children arrived, and then go back at night and clean up – that was before there was more modern heating. But I really enjoyed it,” she said.
The presentation at King’s Lynn Town Hall came at the end of Sir Timothy’s first day “in action” as Lord Lieutenant. His initial duty that day in March, 1978, involved the installation of the new High Sheriff. He then visited the Wedgwood glass factory and parts of the town flooded in January.
It was in the February that Downing Street announced Sir Timothy would be the Queen’s man in Norfolk. He succeeded Sir Edmund Bacon, who had held the position since 1949.
Sir Timothy said when the news broke: “I only learnt of the appointment a few days ago and I have hardly had time to collect my thoughts. It is a great honour to be invited to serve our Queen and also the county of Norfolk, which I love.”
End of an era
It was five days before Christmas, 2003, that Sir Timothy announced his impending retirement as Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk after 25 years.
He would step down the following September, to coincide with his 75th birthday – the age of compulsory retirement for the role.
His fondest memory was 2002’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, when the Queen came to King’s Lynn and Norwich, and held a garden party at Sandringham. “That was very special because it was a beautiful evening and involved more than 4,000 people, chosen from all walks of life across the county.”
A few days later, in an interview with the EDP's Simon Dunford, he said: “I’m in favour of retirement. No-one is irreplaceable. A fresh face, I’m convinced, is a good idea in a fast-changing world.”
To keep him busy, he had fishing, ornithology and trees (an arboretum was being created on his farm). There were also nine grandchildren. And for the past 20 years he’d been teaching himself to paint with watercolours – “an amateur holiday painter, you could say”.
It was fitting: Sir Timothy’s ancestors had donated most of the “Norwich School” (of artwork) in the Castle Museum.
Speaking of which, did he feel the weight of history of the Colman family and its mustard and starch heritage?
“Like, I’m sure, any other family, I’m very proud of my ancestors but we all came from humble beginnings, never far from the centre of Norfolk. I think it’s a feature of this county that many of its oldest families have stuck to their last and remained involved in local life. I count that as a strength.”
Jeremiah Colman had first advertised his mustard in the Norwich Chronicle in 1814. The Unilever website (the multinational has owned the brand for more than 20 years) highlights “pioneering achievements” in social welfare. In 1857 a school was opened for workers’ children. In 1864 the company employed a nurse to help ill members of staff.
Simon Dunford asked about Sir Timothy’s highlights in his Norfolk calendar: “A home victory at Carrow Road must come first, or the Royal Norfolk Show. One of the many music festivals, a special service in Norwich Cathedral, or perhaps a regatta at Barton or Wroxham.
“Otherwise, definitely the countryside in all its changing seasons – for me, in a sailing boat perhaps, or a bird hide, amongst trees or near the sea. Looking at old churches or listening to music.”
And his greatest achievements? “I’m afraid I will be modest, because I just don’t look at life like that.
“I’ve had the good fortune of an interesting and rewarding life, and if in the process it’s helped Norfolk on its way, that would give me pleasure. I’ve enjoyed every minute of my time with a wide range of organisations in the county, and particularly with the people working for them.”
The greatest achievement in his private life was easier: “Fifty-two years of very happy marriage” – as it was then – “I regard more as good fortune than private achievement, but to Mary, my wife, I owe everything.”
UEA a highlight
Sir Timothy Colman’s key role in the creation of a university at Earlham was dear to his heart. He told Simon Dunford in 2003: “I can truthfully say that one of my most rewarding experiences has been the privilege, as a layman, of being involved with the establishment of the University of East Anglia, which I do feel has had, and continues to have, a profound and beneficial effect on our county.”
Sir Timothy was chairman of the UEA appeal committee from 1961 and treasurer of the university since 1970. In 1971 he said it was unthinkable the area would have entered the last 30 years of the century without a university.
In 1973, when UEA made Sir Timothy an honorary doctor of civil law, it was said “his persuasiveness, local popularity, firmness and business sense contributed in the highest degree to the success of the appeal”.
Sir Timothy retired in 1985 as UEA’s pro-chancellor but it was a short-lived absence. He returned the following year, when the university decided to have two (not just one) of these senior figures.
In July, 2000, Sir Timothy and Lady Mary were among the proud relatives at a UEA graduation ceremony. Granddaughter Rose Troughton received her degree certificate.
It also marked the end of Sir Timothy’s 41-year involvement with the seat of learning: from his work on the university council to his time as pro-chancellor. Vice-chancellor Vincent Watts said: “Sir Timothy’s contribution to this university has been invaluable.”
Freedom of the city
Sir Timothy received the honorary freedom of Norwich in 2004, joining a list that included Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.
City council leader Ian Couzens said: “Sir Timothy has made an outstanding contribution to the life of our city and county over many years.” The man himself was “humbled”. He said: “I hope that an ordinary man would be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed by such words – because I am a very ordinary man.
“There are many hundreds who have worked tirelessly and often without reward for this city, for this council and for a host of organisations maintaining the prosperity, ethos and charm of the city of Norwich. In accepting this award this evening, my honour is to identify with them.”
‘Even better than I dared to hope’
In the spring of 2007, Sir Timothy Colman saw a dream come true.
The Great Broad at Whitlingham Country Park, near Norwich, was handed over by quarrying firm Lafarge Aggregates.
Sir Timothy, who had the initial idea to turn the one-time sand and gravel quarry into a park, accepted the broad on behalf of Whitlingham Charitable Trust. He described it as a “dream fulfilled”, saying “I’ve known the area since I was a small boy. My grandfather lived in the house at the top of the hill.”
The Great Broad could accommodate a 1,500-metre rowing course and facilities for sports such as windsurfing and sailing.
Sir Timothy had been inspired by country parks he visited while with the Countryside Commission. “It has turned out even better than I had dared to hope and I think it’s got wonderful potential for people to enjoy.”
*Sir Timothy Colman stepped down as president of Norfolk Record Society in the autumn of 2009… after 31 years in the post.
Society secretary Alan Metters said: “Sir Timothy has provided wise counsel and inspired leadership throughout his time as president and has become a much-loved and respected figure in the society.”
Queen has ‘worked selflessly’
Sir Timothy Colman paid tribute to the Queen in 2012, as she marked her Diamond Jubilee. The monarch was his cousin by marriage, and his wife, Lady Mary, godmother to Diana, Princess of Wales.
Sir Timothy, who had represented the Queen in Norfolk for 26 years as Lord-Lieutenant, said the monarch “has worked selflessly to give this country and all of its people pride and continuity during a period of relentless change”.
Not enough hours
In 2004, Sir Timothy Colman was the first recipient of a new award honouring those who had made an outstanding contribution to Norfolk.
“The person selected for this award has so many achievements that if I were to list them all we would be here until the early hours of the morning,” said Noel Murphy, chief executive of Business Link for the county.
Sir Timothy had been a tireless supporter of charities and the arts, and attended many business functions over the years, as well as acting as the Queen’s representative.
The Denise Anderson Award was created in tribute to the former chief executive of Business Link for Norfolk, who died the previous year.
‘Almost umbilical connection’
It wasn’t just the University of East Anglia that honoured Sir Timothy Colman. Anglia Polytechnic University – later to become Anglia Ruskin University – also celebrated his skills and service.
Making him an honorary doctor of the university in 1999, APU called him “sailor, businessman, patron of the arts, and one of Norfolk’s favourite sons”.
A review of his work “will certainly demonstrate the almost umbilical connection between Sir Timothy and the County of Norfolk”.
It talked about his business career (from Reckitt & Colman and Eastern Counties Newspapers to Anglia TV) and said: “Sir Timothy identifies a series of common characteristics of these enterprises: a ‘family culture’, respect for individuals, robust ethical standards and the sustenance of growth without the sacrifice of essential values – this says much about his own motivating values and the type of business culture he has always endeavoured to engender.”
His years as Lord Lieutenant were used “to promote, with huge energy and commitment, co-operation between various groups concerned with causes related to the social cohesion and economic prosperity of Norfolk”.
At the time he was honoured, Sir Timothy was active in the Shaping the Future initiative – a focussed approach to rural regeneration.
A family that got things done
It’s impossible to separate the drive and vision of the Colmans from the story of media group Archant, publisher of this newspaper and website.
Sir Timothy was the great-great-grandson of James Colman – the nephew of Jeremiah Colman, who began milling flour and mustard near Stoke Holy Cross in 1814.
In November, 1844, a group of nonconformists and radicals – free-thinking tradespeople and professionals – met at the house of wealthy miller Jeremiah. They were most angry about the refusal of the Norwich Mercury to report on protests over Church rates levied on everyone, regardless of their religious leanings.
The group included solicitor Jacob Henry Tillett and wholesale grocers John and brother Jonathan Copeman. The upshot was the launch of The Norfolk News, “a weekly journal based upon civil, religious and commercial freedom”, explained Tony Clarke in his book Pilgrims of the Press.
The business grew, had name changes (such as Eastern Counties Newspapers Ltd) and is today Archant: embracing more than 140 brands and products in print, online, on mobiles and tablets, via events and TV.
The Colman milling/food business, meanwhile, had been brought to Carrow Works in Norwich in 1856 by Jeremiah James Colman. He was a great-nephew of “old Jeremiah”.
Sir Timothy joined as a management trainee in 1954 and was appointed a non-executive director in 1966. In the spring of 1978 he became a non-executive director of what had become Reckitt & Colman.
He also joined the media business, being elected a director of the Norfolk News Company Ltd in 1957 and vice-chairman the following year, when WO Copeman moved up to become chairman.
In the summer of 1969, 70-year-old Mr Copeman stepped down as chairman of Eastern Counties Newspapers Ltd, citing his belief that a younger person should take over. That man was Timothy Colman, who became the first executive chairman.
ECN had recently grown, and merged with Suffolk-based East Anglian Daily Times Co Ltd.
The Sir Timothy era was marked by significant change. The Norwich HQ moved to the newly-built Prospect House in Rouen Road, opened officially in 1970 by Princess Alexandra and allowing the first colour printing on ECN’s own presses.
The first commercial full-colour advert ran in the Evening News in 1971. In 1972, the EDP had its first colour picture on the front page.
Then, in 1975, hot metal typesetting came to an end. All the company’s newspapers were now printed “web offset” (where a continuous roll of paper was fed through the press).
In 1993, building work began on one of Europe’s most advanced printing press centres. It was at Thorpe St Andrew and cost £23m. Opened by The Duke of Kent in 1995, it meant ECN could print colour on every page of its newspapers.
The following year, just a few days after being made a Knight of the Garter, Sir Timothy revealed he was retiring as chairman of Eastern Counties Newspapers Group Limited. The 66-year-old would step down at the AGM the following month, after 27 years at the helm.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my years with the company and feel proud of its papers and particularly those who work for them,” he said.
The company printed a supplement to mark the departure. In it, Barry Capon, retiring chief executive of Norfolk County Council, said he was invited to become Sir Timothy’s clerk when he became Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk.
“I accepted willingly because I was already aware of Sir Timothy’s reputation within the county for being someone who was a wise and considerate person concerned with the welfare of his fellow human beings and the people of the county.
“I can say with absolute honesty that being Sir Timothy’s clerk has been one of the most enjoyable posts I have ever occupied. He is such a modest person, yet so skilled in encouraging and persuading others to help themselves and the community at large.
“Nothing is too much trouble for him when working for the benefit of Norfolk. He picks up problems and issues which others would hesitate to grapple with, if he sees that to solve them would be good for Norwich and Norfolk.”
The EDP’s Charles Roberts wrote a tribute to Sir Timothy. At ECN, it was said “he expects tomorrow’s job to be done yesterday. In this job, as in so many voluntary ones, his flair for chairmanship was one of his outstanding features”.
He never interfered in editorial policy, though. “That virtue has consistently earned him the respect of his company’s editors and journalists.”
And a leading Norwich figure told the writer: “He is the finest chairman I’ve ever experienced: steady, tactful, wise and always thoroughly knowledgeable about the subjects in hand.”
Sir Timothy had a number of other business positions over the years. In 1961, for instance, he headed a consortium seeking to buy Norwich printing firm Soman-Wherry Press Ltd. He later became its chairman.
In 1966 he became a director of Norwich, East Anglia and General Trust Ltd, formed to make investments in companies with local connections.
In 1980 he was appointed a non-executive director of Whitbread & Company. Then in 1987 he became a non-executive director of Anglia Television – as did Dr Mary Archer, the former Cambridge University lecturer, and wife of novelist Jeffrey Archer.
Sir Timothy left Anglia in 1994, following the company’s takeover by MAI media group.
The art of East Anglia
Art was important to Sir Timothy. In 1992 he found himself committed to canvas…
A new portrait of him was unveiled at Norwich Castle Museum as part of an exhibition of prominent Norfolk figures. The show featured 113 works, among them two Holbein paintings lent by the Queen.
Sir Timothy’s portrait was by Tom Wood, whose previous subjects had included the Prince of Wales.
* Eight years later, Sir Timothy was in London, championing his home county and rubbing shoulders with well-known names.
More than 250 guests gathered at Tate Britain for a reception to launch the exhibition Romantic Landscape: The Norwich School of Painters 1803-1833.
Among the guests were writer and broadcaster Michael Palin and clockwork radio inventor Trevor Baylis.
The gathering was sponsored by Norfolk and Norwich Connections, which aimed to challenge negative perceptions about the county and raise its profile.
It was organised by the East Anglia Art Foundation and opened by the chairman of its trustees: Sir Timothy.
He said the display of pictures had been made possible by Norwich Castle Museum’s closure for a £12m overhaul that should put the city on the cultural map of Europe.
A series of Tate loan exhibitions in Norfolk would get a fresh wind with a show of 20th Century sculpture when the castle reopened in 2001, he said, and the “buoyant” EAAF would continue to act as a catalyst in bringing world-class art to Norfolk.
Three years later, Sir Timothy said that nurturing the partnership between Norwich Castle and the Tate Gallery – which had led to a “greatly enhanced museum” and the creation of the East Anglia Art Foundation – had been an experience he particularly enjoyed.
* In the summer of 1994 he was saddened by the loss of the local history collection begun by his family more than a century earlier. Two thirds of the Colman collection of 10,000 historical documents and books on Norfolk were destroyed in a fire at Norwich Central Library. The rest was badly damaged.
‘Wonderful midlife diversion’
There can’t be many knights of the realm who claimed a series of world speed records, but Sir Timothy Colman did.
He’d sailed from a very young age. When the Royal Yachting Association unveiled plans for a new world sailing speed record in 1971, he found the notion irresistible.
So Crossbow was designed by Roderick Macalpine-Downie and built at Brightlingsea, in Essex.
Sir Timothy, its owner and regular helmsman, called the catamaran “remarkable and beautiful”. The man who built her labelled her The Beast. Whatever, Crossbow (and her successor) dominated the speed charts for well over a decade.
The rudder, hardly used, was the size of a Reader’s Digest, apparently. The vessel was very light – just 1.5 tons. Hence, she flew.
In 1972, off Dorset, she set a new world sailing speed record of 26.3 knots over the 500m – the first sailing boat to top 30mph. The headline trilled “speed queen Crossbow”.
The records kept coming, despite a catalogue of dramatic mishaps, including snapped masts.
The team was back for more in 1973 – hitting a new record of 29.3 knots that autumn on the opening day of trials in Portland Harbour.
Sir Timothy said: “Sailing a boat at (nearly) 30 knots is hectic and exciting… The main sheet winch, which has a load of over a ton, was turning like a turbine.”
Thirty knots appeared to be an unbreakable ceiling, like athletics’ four-minute mile had been, but he was sure it would soon be cracked.
In 1975 they did it, establishing a new record of 31.1 knots.
Then it was time to retire Crossbow and unveil… Crossbow II, built by Tim Whelpton’s yard at Upton, north of Acle. In October, 1976, she set a new record of 31.8 knots.
The following year they raised the bar higher (33.80 knots). Then came 34.4.
In 1978 Sir Timothy announced his retirement from record-breaking. It was only a temporary absence. In 1980 the crew from 1977 was reunited for another attempt. That November, in a force eight gale, she touched 36 knots (more than 41mph).
Boatbuilder and team member Tim Whelpton said: “Of all the skippers I have sailed with, Sir Timothy was by far the most organised.
“Whenever we went away to make an attempt, he planned everything to the last detail. He was a terrific organiser – an important factor in our success – and a very good skipper indeed.”
“You could call Crossbow a wonderful midlife diversion: extremely exhilarating,” Sir Timothy told Simon Dunford in 2003.
“When the notion of establishing a sailing speed record was announced, we said we’d do it for two years – if we happened to win, we’d have a go the second year to prove it wasn’t a fluke. We ended up doing it for 12 years and enjoyed every single minute of it!”
Risky? “It probably looked dangerous. But I don’t remember being aware of it at the time.”
He added: “And we used to keep a rope handy so we could climb down in an emergency. We also carried a razor-sharp knife to cut the sheets and release the pressure from the sails if there was a crisis.”
Sir Timothy and his crew retained the record until 1986, when it was beaten by the sailboard of windsurfer Pascal Maka, of France. He hit 38.86 knots.
* Sailing was in Sir Timothy’s DNA.
In the summer of 1979 the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club made him the first club admiral in its 120-year history. He’d belonged to the Lowestoft-based organisation since 1948. His great-grandfather, JJ Colman, was commodore in 1878. And his grandfather, Russell Colman, was commodore 13 times between 1901 and 1929.
Russell was a founder of the Broads One-Design class, known as “brown boats” because of their varnished hulls. He had number six, Dabchick, built in 1902/3.
To mark the diamond jubilee of the Broads One-Design in 1960, Sir Timothy presented the club with a trophy: a silver model of Dabchick that had been crafted in the 1930s as a table centrepiece.
It was competed for each year, over an unusual course between Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft: out in the North Sea, up-river to Breydon Water, along the Waveney and down Oulton Dyke into Oulton Broad.
Sir Timothy was also a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes, and served as commodore of the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club.
‘Norfolk is special’
“I was born and brought up in Norfolk and I have never wished to live anywhere else, despite having the good fortune to have travelled fairly widely,” Sir Timothy told Simon Dunford in 2003.
“Norfolk is special; not only to those born here but equally, one has to say, to thousands of others who have moved to the county and absorbed its characteristic charms.
“Eric Fowler, who for many years wrote for the EDP under the name of Jonathan Mardle, once described this paper as ‘provincial and proud of it’. It is a sentiment I can easily identify with. Most of the best values of English life lie beyond the shores of London.”