THE recent death of the legendary Sir Hugh Ripley, 4th Baronet of Bedstone & Rawden, closes a remarkable life of a raffish and racy country gentleman and war hero who pursued a career in the whisky trade - he was a director of Johnnie Walker - with a dedication second to none. In an exclusive interview, JEN GREEN talks to his son William, the new Baronet, about his "infamous father".

HUGH George Harley Ripley, was born in 1916, the third son of Sir Henry Ripley, a sporting squire seated at Bedstone in Shropshire. The family date back to 18th century West Riding and were prominent in the wool trade, producing fine worsted cloth.

His father, Sir Henry Ripley, MP for Bradford, built Bedstone Court, the "black and white" Victorian pile, near Bucknell.

Brought up in the Welsh Marches, young Hugh became a fine horseman, fisherman and shot - skills he took with him to Eton, where he sneaked off to attend local race meetings disguised with a false moustache.

In the 1930s he took to tea-planting in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and at the outbreak of the Second World War, he joined the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps and later The Kings Own Shropshire Light Infantry

In 1944, Captain Ripley was commanding anti-tank guns at the Anzio beachhead, where he single-handedly blew up four German tanks. For his actions he was awarded the American Silver Star for Gallantry, a remarkable decoration for a British Officer.

In his citation, American General Mark Clark said: "Ripley, by thorough and aggressive reconnaissance, kept his guns in extremely close support of the foremost assault elements."


His son William, the new Baronet, recalled: "Father told me many stories about his war experiences, particularly those at Anzio. He also took the Sword of Surrender from the Italian Admiral commanding the Island of Pantalerea. Ever the gentleman, father said he was rather charming chap and offered him a cigarette in the bunker."

He suffered severe wounds at Anzio - a piece of shell shattered his head and face leaving a hole in his cheek.

Sir William said: "Father recuperated in Rome where he had an affair with the very beautiful and man-eating young Countess Ruspoli from an old Italian family, which he said, helped him recover."

In 1946 he married Dorothy Bruce-Jones from the Harley family in Brampton Bryan. They had a son - William - and a daughter, Caroline. The marriage was dissolved in 1971.

After the war - in which he also saw service in North Africa and was twice mentioned in dispatches - he decided to stay on in the Army as a regular soldier and rejoined his old regiment in Egypt. But after two years he resigned his commission and learnt the craft of distilling in Scotland for John Walker & Sons.

In 1956 he succeeded his father in the baronetcy and, on the strength of his new status, he demanded a seat on the board of Johnnie Walker.

The present Baronet, Sir William, who was born in in 1950, remembers: "Caroline and I were brought up at Bedstone, it was a wonderful way of life. For 34 years father had an incredibly plush office in Central London and on visits he introduced me to his famous friends, Earl Alexander of Tunis, Douglas Fairbanks jnr, and many more.


"On one occasion he drank with the famous novelist Kingsley Amis all afternoon. In his office there was a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label with a tiger snake coiled up, pickled, inside it. He loved showing it to me".

The "plush office" was placed strategically opposite Sir Hugh's club 'Boodles'. His society watering holes and haunts included Annabel's, the Long Room at Lords, the Burma Road course at Wentworth and, of course, the Turf.

However much he relished the relaxed metropolitan morals of the Swinging Sixties, the late Sir Hugh never lost his Shropshire lad's cunning or his passion for country sports.

His autobiography Whisky for Tea, published in 1991 is considered a " fascinating account of real life as it is and ought to be lived".

Affectionately summing up his father, Sir William, also an old Etonian, said: "He was very old fashioned in so many ways and liberal in others, but he was never happier than with a glass of whisky in his hand."