Tim was President of the OSS between 2000 and 2004. We should always be grateful for the injection of energy and fun that Tim brought with his presidency. The Daily Telegraph published this obituary:
Tim Heald, who has died aged 72, was a journalist and writer whose ability to turn out well-wrought, amusing prose on almost any subject was matched by his genius for friendship.
He wrote features, diary stories, opinion pieces and interviews with members of the Royal family, television stars and writers, and turned out books on village cricket and royal warrant holders while being ever ready to contribute a letter to The Daily Telegraph on any issue of the day. The only time his amiability was publicly tested was when reviewing fiction. A Jeffrey Archer novel once drove him to wonder if English was the author’s first language.
In addition Heald drew on his journalistic experiences to write a series of jolly detective novels about Simon Bognor, a bumbling investigator for the old Board of Trade, which were described by one reviewer as “crime writing with a P G Wodehouse flair”.
The first, Unbecoming Habits (1973), was set in an Anglican friary which resembled an existing community in the West Country so closely that the first publisher to see it developed cold feet, leaving a braver house to take a revised version. The plot was an absurd tale of state secrets smuggled out to Iron Curtain trade fairs in pots of honey. But with its jokes, sharply drawn characters and allusions to people and places with which readers would feel vaguely familiar, it set the pattern for some dozen successor works.
Blue Blood Will Out was about the rivalry of two stately home owners. Deadline, the fruit of Heald’s experience on the Telegraph’s Peterborough diary column, was described by the New York Times as almost as good as Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop; and a short story about an obituary writers’ day out was based on a journey by steam train to Shrewsbury School, organised by the Telegraph’s “obits” supremo Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd.
Murder in Moose Jaw, the fruit of a year working for Weekend magazine in Toronto, had a character loosely based on Lord Beaverbrook, although some of the Canadian jokes were lost on British readers.
Heald thought he had struck lucky after interviewing the actress Maria Aitken when he gave her a copy of one of his books. She passed it to Thames Television’s head of drama who immediately commissioned six works from the Bognor canon. But the series was not a great success and was scrapped midway through the run.
Undaunted, Heald went back to writing Masterstroke, the last of the six commissioned, which turned out to be one of his best. It was about a poisoning at Apocrypha College, where the character of a dashing motorbike-riding don was specially written for Maria Aitken.
The son of a decorated colonel, Timothy Villiers Heald was born on January 28 1944 in Dorchester, and showed early literary promise at his Somerset prep school, where he was awarded a copy of The Oxford Book of English Verse for winning an essay competition.
He went on to Sherborne, where he recalled being commissioned by the head boy, Boris Johnson’s father Stanley, to write an attack on fagging for the school magazine. “Fagging was abolished soon afterwards,” he recalled, “and I have had a healthy respect for the power of the pen ever since.” Stanley Johnson’s daughter Rachel would later appoint Heald royal correspondent for The Lady magazine.
He went up to Balliol College where he read Modern History and was inspired by the historian Richard Cobb, whose entertaining letters he collected and published in 2011 as My Dear Hugh: Letters from Richard Cobb to Hugh Trevor-Roper and Others. After graduation he worked for the Sunday Times Atticus column and then became a staff feature writer for the Daily Express, before forsaking office routine for the life of a freelance writer.
He wrote studies of old boy networks and royal warrants, and a Cook’s tour of Britain’s cricket grounds which became a Carlton Television series – as well as official lives of Denis Compton and the cricket commentator Brian Johnston. An even more stimulating challenge was Dame Barbara Cartland, who threatened to haunt him from the grave if she was offended. Unfortunately for Heald, Beating Retreat, an account of Hong Kong under its last Governor Chris Patten, hit the bookshelves at about the same time as Jonathan Dimbleby’s more highly publicised work in 1997.
Although he was sought after to write articles on the Royal family, some of Heald’s royal books also enjoyed bad luck. Caroline R was an amusing fictional romp about an American married to the Prince of Wales, which he wrote in 1979 only for the real prince to announce his engagement to Lady Diana Spencer.
A co-authored biography of the prince was marred when the American publishers insisted on referring to “Prince Chuck” in their publicity. More successful was his crisp biography of the Duke of Edinburgh, published in 1991 after he had been given an unusual degree of access to his subject.
Heald and his editor, Ion Trewin, enjoyed dealing with Sir Brian McGrath, Prince Philip’s then private secretary. Once, McGrath told Heald to sit next to the prince on a flight, but warned him that if the prince was bored, he would simply go to sleep. To Heald’s amusement, he did.
Heald’s biography of Princess Margaret (2007) was subtitled A Life Unravelled, and charted how the Queen’s younger sister managed to throw away her advantages in spectacular fashion during a life that Heald summed up as “sad, really”.
After a break of almost 20 years and following a move to the West Country, Heald returned to the adventures of Bognor, by now Sir Simon, with Death in the Opening Chapter and Poison at the Pueblo (both 2011), and wrote a trilogy of crime novels featuring Dr Tudor Cornwall (a “genuflection” to the Oxford historian A L Rowse), head of the Criminal Studies department at the University of Wessex.
Heald was an eternal optimist, always ready to see the funny side of life. He was perceptive and no conversation passed without laughter. In his later years, he took part in literary festivals, lectured on Cunard cruise ships and ran courses on creative writing at the Universities of Tasmania and South Australia.
After two falls and the onset of Parkinson’s restricted his travelling, he took up blogging, genially writing that life was boring to write about and boring to read about – but never boring to live.
Heald married, in 1968, Alison Leslie, the sister of the journalist Dame Ann Leslie, with whom he had two sons and two daughters. The marriage was dissolved and in 1999 he married Penny Byrne, who looked after him devotedly during his final illness. She survives him with his children.
© The Telegraph