British artist, politician and farmer
Born 1902 Died 1993
Apparently the first person to practice artificial insemination in Gloucestershire, in his entry in Who's Who Wogan Philipps once described himself as a 'farmer and painter'. He became far better known however, for being the only member of the Communist Party of Great Britain to ever sit on the Cirencester Rural District Council, and for thirty years was the Party's sole Parliamentary representative at Westminster. Although as the Earl Attlee once observed, it was a curious irony that the Communists should have to rely on the hereditary principle to gain a voice in Parliament.
Wogan Philipps was born at the Manor House, High Street in Brentwood, Essex on the 25th February 1902, being the eldest child of Laurence Richard Philipps and his wife, Ethel Georgina, the only daughter of the Reverend Benjamin Speke, the rector of Dowlish Wake in Somerset. The Philipps family of Picton Castle in Pembrokeshire could trace their descent back to the twelfth century although their ascent to the ranks of the peerage was far more recent. His father Laurence was the younger brother of John Wynford Philipps, 1st Viscount Saint Davids, and made his fortune in shipping and insurance, subsquently being created a baronet in 1919 and awarded the peerage title of the Baron Milford in 1939.
Thus born into a wealthy and titled family, Wogan Philipps was educated at Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he read history but left without completing his degree, and went to work for the Court Line which was the family shipping business. There he remained for a few years and on the 21st November 1928 married Rosamond Lehmann, the daughter of the journalist and Liberal Memebr of Parliament Rudolph Chambers Lehmann. His wife Rosamund had already had one novel published, and continued to pursue a writing career during their marriage with Wogan's encouragement as he often acted as his wife's typist. In 1930 the couple moved to Ipsden House in Oxfordshire, by which time Wogan had given up on the family business and embarked on a new career as an artist. He attended the Ruskin School of Drawing in Oxford for a time, and held his first solo exhibition was in 1931. He continued to exhibit work throughout the 1930s, both at the Leicester Gallery and in conjunction with the Artists' International Association, whilst he later worked with artists of the Euston Road School.
Their Oxfordshire house became something of a mecca for left leaning artistic individuals and various friends such as Julian Bell, Stephen Spender, Lytton Strachey, and Dora Carrington often came to stay, whilst Wogan used to go out on extensive pub crawls with Augustus John until Wogan decided to stop when he suspected that they were responsible for his recent bouts of hallucinations.
The Red Baron
It was also during this time that Wogan also began to have develop distinct political leanings towards the left. He appears to have sympathised strongly with the miners cause during the General Strike of 1926, and ended his political journey when he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1937, much to the disgust of his father who was a staunch Conservative and promptly responded by disinheriting him.
Early in 1936 he spent a holiday in Spain and when the Spanish Civil War broke out later that year he immediately joined Medical Aid to Spain. He bought a van, loaded it up with medical supplies, and drove to the Jarama front. There he began treating the wounded despite the fact that he had no particular medical expertise, although this did not appear to bother the Spanish Republican forces who made him a sergeant. He was later wounded by shellfire and invalided home, but soon returned to Spain and used his family connections in the shipping business to transport supplies through the nationalist blockade. When it became clear that Franco would win the war, he helped establish the Refugee Ship Committee and personally organised the evacuation to Mexico of nearly 2,000 refugees aboard the SS Sinaia.
With the outbreak of World War II Wogan volunteered for service in the Merchant Navy but was declared medically unfit, and spent the entire war working as an agricultural labourer in Gloucestershire. Although of course as a member of the CPGB, he spent much of his time organising on behalf of the National Union of Agricultural Workers. His marriage to Rosamond Lehmann ended in divorce in 1944 (she had been openly living with the poet Cecil Day-Lewis since about 1941) and on the 17th January 1944 he married a fellow aristocratic communist, Cristina Casati Stampa di Soncino, the daughter of the Marchese Casati, and the former wife of the 15th Earl of Huntingdon.
After the war he went and bought a 180-acre farm at Colesbourne in Gloucestershire where he settled down to raise pigs, poultry, Jersey cattle, and sheep. Now recognised as something of an expert on the matter of agriculture within the CPGB, he served as a member of the party's national Agricultural Advisory Committee and was also the long time editor of the Country Standard the official CPGB countryside journal.
He had earlier stood as the Labour Party candidate for Henley-on-Thames before the war, (it wasn't until after the war that Labour decided to exclude Communists from their party) and in 1946 succeeded in being elected to the Cirencester Rural District Council, becoming the first and only member of the Communist Party to sit on that almost exclusively Tory body. He later lost his seat in 1949, but only by fourteen votes, and then stood at the 1950 General Election as the Communist candidate for the Cirencester and Tewkesbury constituency. The party organised a total of thirty-five meetings in support of his candidacy, indeed with the sole exception of Tewkesbury these meetings were the first occasion in living memory in which a communist had ventured into such territory. His campaign drew a certain amount of hostility from the more 'reactionary' elements of Gloucestershire society who sought to disrupt the meetings and Wogan found himself being pelted with potatoes, tomatoes, eggs, and even on one occasion, a turkey. At the final ballot he received a total of 423 votes which was regarded as something of a result by the CPGB, even though W.S. Morrison, the Conservative candidate, was unequivocally returned as the Member of Parliament with 23,942 votes cast in his favour.
The Communist Peer
Of course as things turned out Wogan only had to wait before a seat in Parliament automatically came his way and after his father died on the 7th December 1962, he took his seat in the House of Lords in May 1963 as the second Baron Milford. Wogan was apparently disinclined to do so but was persuaded by Harry Pollitt who persuaded him that he would thereby gain a platform for the Party's views. Wogan therefore took the opportunity in his maiden speech to say that the "House of Lords can play only the part of a constitutional obstacle to progressive legislation. I and my party are for complete abolition of this chamber." As the Baron Milford, Wogan was later active in the work of the house, even if many of his fellow lords disapproved of his politics. He was particularly interested himself in questions of foreign affairs where he campaigned against various repressive regimes, and also took the opportunity to visit the Soviet Union on two occasions in order study its agriculture, but was apparently disappointed by what he saw there.
Following his retirement from farming Wogan moved to a flat at Hampstead in London and returned to his old love of painting during the late 1980s. There were further solo exhibitions at the Woodstock and Pentonville galleries in London, the Regent Gallery in Cheltenham, and at the Einaudi Gallery in Milan. Wogan also took the opportunity to show his modernist interpretations of the Cotswold landscape at the annual exhibition of artistic parliamentarian at Westminster and as far as he was concerned would have been satisified to be remembered "for leaving a few good paintings to the world".
He died in London on the 30th November 1993, being survived by his third wife, Tamara, and the son of his first marriage, His widow later organised a memorial exhibition of his paintings in London in 1995.
As noted above his first wife was the novelist Rosamond Lehmann, former wife of Walter Leslie Runciman, 2nd Viscount Runciman, whom he married in 1928 and divorced in 1944. His married his second wife Cristina in 1944, but she later died on the 22nd March 1953 and on the 20th May 1954 he married Tamara Rust, the widow of William Charles Rust, editor of the Daily Worker. Both of his two children were borne by his first wife, being Hugo born in 1929 and Sarah Jane or Sally as she was commonly known, born in 1934. His daughter Sally later married the poet P. J. Kavanagh, but died of polio at Jakarta in 1958. His son Hugh duly succeeded him as the 3rd Baron Milford.
- C. V. J. Griffiths, ‘Philipps, Wogan, second Baron Milford (1902–1993)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- The entry for MILFORD from Burke's Peerage and Baronetage 107th Edition
- Michael Walker, Wogan Phillips
- TIME magazine