HOME About Barnaby Books        Reviews     Articles    Recommendations Links      Contact Info


Rough Journeys: George Bean and Terence Mitford

Heroes are easily acquired as a boy. I remember my eyes watering over the death of Antigonus Gonasta on the plains of central Anatolia in 301BC. The image of that 81 year old warrior, desperately scanning the horizon for the late arrival of his cavalry under the command of his son Demetrius, seemed to be unbearably poignant. As the last of Antigonus' bodyguard were hacked to death on the hill at Ipsus, so died the unity of the empire of Alexander the Great. I can no longer remember why I felt so passionately about Imperial unity as a schoolboy. Age brings with it decreasing respect. My barrel of heroes is now virtually empty. I am down to poets, prophets and historians. Amongst the latter, I include Terence Mitford and George Bean.

Their labour was to identify, record and tease out the ancient history of Turkey's Aegean shore. This they achieved, not for fame or fortune, but out of love for their work. Their influence is incalculable, for aside from identifying literally hundreds and hundreds of new inscriptions and sites, they acted as an unwitting catalyst for conservation. Their quiet dignity, humanity and learning impressed thousands of Turkish villagers with the importance of these monuments to their own past. Ruins that had been used as occasional quarries were treated with a wholly new respect after they had received the attention of the two courteous British professors who spoke such beautiful Turkish.

The great body of the published work of George Bean and Terence Mitford is confined to that twilight world of monographs in learned journals. Typical of this output was the catalogue of Greek inscriptions from Side, Lycia and Cilicia that George Bean and Terence Mitford had prepared for the Austrian Academy.

Fortunately, almost by accident, George Bean at the end of his academic career began working on a series of archaeological guide books. These four volumes, Aegean Turkey, Turkey beyond the Maeander, Turkey's Southern Shore and Lycian Turkey, were commissioned by the publisher Ernest Benn. George Bean died in 1977 just as the fourth volume was going to press. Together they form an extraordinary 850 page compendium of learning. The guides bridge the yawning gulf between the unreadable pedant and the gushing populist. They are lucid, neither talking down to, nor losing the reader in the mysteries of a technical vocabulary. Above all they are authorative, not only about the history but also the spirit of the place. They are also energetic. Having exhausted the reader with a complete exploration of Xanthus and the Letoon, it is typical of Bean to casually mention an ancient fortress, "an easy hour's walk to the west of the site." Reading further into this description one becomes aware that few other historians have walked this way since Fellowes made his first visit in 1840 and Bean checked up on his description in 1946.

The guides are thorough. Every important ancient site in the 750km between Pergamum and Alanya is described. This great chunk of south-western Turkey must be one of the richest archaeological regions in the world. In addition it is a sublime landscape, a veritable Arcadia (or should one write a Lycia) of forests, rough goat-grazed scrubland, limestone crags and well-watered valleys. To all those educated by centuries of European landscape painting and the ruin hunting prose of John Betjeman and Rose Macaulay this region of Turkey is a form of paradise. For many thousands of tourists, travellers, students and holiday-makers, Bean has been the guide to all this enchantment. His books have appeared in numerous editions, have been translated into dozens of languages, as well as pirated, pillaged and quarried by later writers.

I determined to find out more about them. The introductions turned out to quite easy to aquire. George Bean's widow, Jane Bean, lived in the same Suffolk village as my step-grandmother and had played cards with her. I had also met Margaret Mitford, Terence Mitford's widow, many times, for a succession of student friends had lodged in her house. I started to write down their stories.

No one could recall Terence Mitford ever mentioning any incident from his childhood. He was born in Japan and brought up in Asia where his father worked as a writer and journalist. Later he was sent back to a boarding school in Britain. Perhaps like many an expatriate boy, the exotic experiences of his childhood were buried to assure conformity with his new peer-group. From the age of 13 to 18 he was educated at the London public-school of Dulwich from where he won a classics scholarship to Jesus College, Oxford. His passion for rugby, was considered to have distracted him from winning a double first. Instead of a mainstream academic career he found a position teaching Latin to students at St Andrew's University. He started in 1932, working under the great Latin scholar W.M.Lindsay, but also took on the administrative post of Warden of St. Salvators College.

St. Andrew's is an isolated Scottish medieval town, perched out on the edge of Fife and swept by the winds of the North Sea. It suited Mitford. After serving an apprenticeship of four years he was appointed a Lecturer in 1936, the same year that he married Margaret, the elegant and clever daughter of Professor Herring. He was an inspiring personal tutor and a conscientious teacher of classics but not a great public speaker. Right from the start he kept his academic interests quite separate from his job as a teacher. They were pursued as part of his private life, not his University career. Throughout the 1930s he used the long summer holidays to further his research into Greek scripts. He explored the Aegean and especially concentrated his attention on the island of Cyprus which has a fascinating diversity of scripts and mysterious Bronze Age texts. It was this passion for scripts that first brought Mitford and Bean together.

If Terence Mitford was a typically tough and independent-minded product of Britain's expatriate diaspora, George Bean was much more deeply rooted in the soil of Britian. Unlike Mitford, who seems to have existed almost without benefit of kin, George Bean came from a supportive and encouraging family. Indeed his father, William Jackson Bean, was something of a prodigy. William Bean was born in 1863 the son of a hard working Yorshire tenant famer. He left Hull Grammar school aged 14 to take up a job as a gardener's boy on the Belvoir Castle estate in Leicestershire. He was good at his job, and aged 19 was appointed the tree nurseryman. A year later his employer, recognizing his exceptional abilities, put him forward as a candidate to join the staff at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. It was a time when newly discovered species, especially shrubs, were pouring into Kew gardens from botanists exploring South-West China. William rapidly became the expert on shrubs, a self-taught botanical scholar who would eventually rise to become Curator of Kew. In his spare time in the evening, he wrote his encyclopaedic Trees and Shrubs in the British Isles which was published in 1914. It is still in-print in its 8th monumental edition.

Although William Bean filled a prestigious post in Victorian society he was short of money for his ambitions. His son George, born in 1903, was sent to a private school in Richmond and then to the great London public-school of St. Paul's. Five years later he went to Pembroke College, Cambridge. George had won scholarships at every level of his education but even so William Bean's precious botanical library had to be sold to pay for his son's way through Cambridge. No such sacrifice was made for George's talented sister who had to forge her own, slightly neglected way through the school system. Although George got a first in Part I of his finals, he failed to equal that in Part II. At the time nothing less than a double first would have opened the doors of a university career for a man without private means. After graduating in the summer of 1923, George returned to his old school, St Paul's, to assist in the teaching of scholarship Greek that autumn.

George Bean was a gentle giant, a somewhat unworldly figure whose towering 6 foot 6 inch frame only seemed to come alive on the golf course and tennis court. For many years he competed at Wimbledon (once getting into the third round) and he played badminton for the Surrey County team. Elsewhere his agility was not so noticed. His pupils could find themselves knocked over if they failed to look out for the "grave and enormous strides of a frame shaped like an outsize robot, begowned and apparently carrying a toy brown attaché case." He worked in tandem with his fellow classicist, Leslie Mathews, an ebullient, rumbustious extrovert who would teach Latin until noon on Wednesdays after which they swopped class-rooms and Bean would teach them Greek for the rest of the week. He was remembered as being exceptionally rational, kind and polite, almost "too nice for the very young". One old pupil remembered balancing a wicker waste-paper basket over the door, which fell down turning their teacher into "the man in the whicker mask". Bean typically contented himself with the mildest rebuke, "I say, friend, have a care there."

In the summer holidays of the 1930s he organised school trips to the classical sights of the Aegean. At first they were rather modest expeditions, but once he got the help of the Whitall family, a famous clan of English merchants in the Levant, they started exploring the Turkish coast around Izmir by boat. This was in the days when the local bus driver would get lost trying to find the way to Ephesus.

When the war came in 1939, George Bean found himself in a reserved occupation as a teacher. It was just as well, for though strong, he had not a drop of the aggressive temperament required for fighting. He volunteered for police work but was found to be much too busy with his own thoughts to concentrate on the details of street life. Instead he served as a volunteer fire-fighter and a night watchman in London at the height of the blitz. It was a hazardous job, but one that occasionally allowed Bean to read right through the night.

In 1943 the British Council sent him off to work in Turkey, teaching English at Izmir. It seems an odd decision for a government department to have made in the middle of a World War. However there may have been a rationale. 1943 was a turning point in the war both on the North African and the Russian fronts. This advantage would have been immediately reversed if Turkey wavered from her strict neutrality. Bean was a pawn in the diplomatic chess game by which the Allied and Axis powers expressed the waning and the waxing of their influence in Turkey. A few years later George was recruited by a Turkish friend to help set up a new archaeological department in Istanbul.

Terence Mitford's experience of the war was in complete contrast to George Bean's. Terence became a swash-buckler, a cloak and dagger man, leading and training men in countless covert operations many of which still remain secret. He was a model officer, tough, totally discrete and capable of independent action. He never talked about his wartime activities. The record is not entirely clear but he was commissioned into the Dorset Regiment in 1939 and almost immediately transferred to the Special Air Services, the S.A.S. . He served under Pendlebury in the defence of Greece and was one of the heroic defenders of Crete against the German invasion in 1941. Thereafter he seems to have been based in Aleppo, training up an irregular force of exiles, minorities and mountaineers. The operations of this branch of the Special Operations Executive are still shrouded in secrecy but included raids on Sicily and Iraq. He was later moved into the Special Boat Service, mounting operations in the Aegean before he was parachuted back into Crete in 1944 to direct the partisans operating out of the villages of the White Mountains. His diary from these years, packed full of military details, also makes space to record the chance discovery of ancient Greek inscriptions.

At the end of the war he returned to his post at St. Andrew's and took up his old habits. There he was the dedicated classics tutor, the keen sportsman, bird-watcher and family man who used his holidays to explore the ruin haunted hills of Cyprus and south-western Turkey. The war years had deepened Mitford's existing character traits. He became even more single-minded, self-willed and independent, loathing cities and the world's ever-growing obsession with speed and noise. Although he would later attend many a city-based academic conference he seldom, if ever, made use of a hotel. In Athens he would walk out into the countryside and sleep under an olive tree, in Cairo he slept in the sand dunes and at Oxford he would wrap himself in a copy of the Times newspaper and sleep in the Port Meadow. Although he had been trained in the use of every sort of mechanical device in wartime he refused to drive, a task his wife took over. He adored the wild places and could survive in any wilderness, either camping with his growing family (three sons and a daughter) or sleeping rough by himself. Mitford was far removed from the image of a modern hiker or camping holidaymaker. He had no need for backpack, walking stick or wallet let alone guidebook. He would forage for his subsistence, be it sea urchins, eels, nettle soup or rabbits, and once spent a contented month on the bank of the Euphrates without spending so much as a bean.

His wartimes colleagues, especially such fellow classicists as Professor Man, Professor Nicholas Hammond and Patrick Leigh-Fermor, formed a group of totally dependable friends. Beneath the austere, tough exterior there was also a humorous and forgiving man who went to great trouble to encourage the academic career of one of his wartime adversaries.

After the war George Bean stayed on in Istanbul. As a foreigner he could never be given tenure or a senior post. Officially he remained just a temporary teacher of classics in the Faculty of Letters at the Istanbul University at Beyazit. It was a post that he went on to occupy for 24 years. However his Turkish colleagues made certain that he was honoured as "Professor". Away from the letter-head formality of the administration he was acknowledged to be one of Turkey's key men in the study of ancient scripts, an epigraphist. He lived across the Golden Horn from the old city, in an apartment at Cihangir with a view of the Bosphorus.

His holidays, from 1943-1971, were devoted to travelling around the villages of Turkey, discovering ancient remains, identifying cities and recording hundreds and hundreds of Greek inscriptions. In the competetive world of archaeology he was remarkable for his modesty and his willingness to share his discoveries and help others with information. Typical of this sort of labour was his work, with W.M. Calder, on creating a classical map of Asia Minor which would be printed in 1958. He survived on his modest salary topped up by small allowances from British academic bodies such as the Society for Anatolian Studies and the Journal of Hellenic Studies, which just about paid the bus fare for his expeditions. In the postwar period he began a fruitful relationship with Professor Keil of the Austrian Academy who needed a colleague to check up on the work of Heberdey and Wilheim. These two pioneers had collected an impressive body of inscriptions throughout Turkey in the late 19th-century. They had made written copies of the stone carvings, but mistakes had crept in thanks to the awkward conditions, tricks of light and variant Greek scripts. Another source of confusion was the transcription of the indigenous languages of Western Anatolia, such as Carian and Lycian, into Greek. Bean set out to make a perfect record of this unique historical source. Terence Mitford had also embarked on a similar relationship with the Austrian Academy though his area of interest remained focused on Cyprus and the nearby coast of Cilicia. They were both by nature generous with their knowledge but it helped their friendship, that the two men specialized in different, if neighbouring provinces. Another source of potential friction that was removed from their relationship was that Bean's passion was for Greek while Mitford was at heart a Latinist. Above and beyond their passion for ancient scripts they shared an extraordinary physical stamina.

The work for was physically demanding stuff, especially in postwar rural Turkey which had no maps, hotels, made-up roads or telephones. George Bean took a bus as far it went and then he walked, if need be, for days. His impressive presence and fluent Turkish, spoken in a deep bass voice in an educated accent, made him unforgettable. The equisite manners that he had maintained, even in the vicious enviroment of an English public school, at last found there true home in the land of the Turks. He never allowed himself to appear in a rush or stand on his dignity. Indeed at each village he would respectfully wait upon the village headman and take coffee. Only in conversation would these men gradually find out that they were in the company of an eminent professor, and only after talking about the affairs of the village, the crops, the condition of the herds and the roads would they learn the purpose of his visit. His patience was rewarded time and again as villagers rushed to assist the professor in his work. Doorsteps would be proudly dug up to reveal a buried inscription on the otherside, while in the evening the local intellectuals as well as the herdsmen would be consulted about the location of carved stones in the hills. Bean would invariably be lodged as an honoured guest in the wooden house of the headman but being six foot six in height, he often found that conditions were too constricting for "a full grown man".

The taking of the inscriptions was no light task. The stones had first to be cleaned of lichen and dirt with a wire brush. Paper was then laid onto the carved stone, moistened with a spray and beaten into shape with a special soft brush. When water was impossible to find, the juice of watermelons was used. Theoretically any blotting paper could do the job though 'Whatmans Filter Paper' was found to be ideal. It was left to dry, then peeled off and carefully stored for the long journey back. The process was later replaced by latex. However the rubber tends to rot whilst Mitford and Bean's "squeezes", stored either in Vienna or Cambridge, are still in perfect condition.

The villagers, although they certainly respected the professor, did not always understand his mission. They would beg to be given a translation. Usually this was nothing more exciting than "so and so, son of so and so, is buried here and any transgressor of his tomb is to pay a fine to the town council." Hoping to hear of the whereabouts of buried treasure the villagers were often a little disappointed. On many an occasion they would wait for a suitable opportunity for a private consultation and whisper, "Tell us where to dig and we'll give you half the gold".

Eventually his patient explanations were believed. His honesty only added further to the reputation of the man they called Bin Bey, also affectionately referred to as the little minaret of Cilicia or the two metre man. He knew nothing of corruption, not even the casual sweetener (usually no more than the price of a few coffees) which used to speed the way of bureaucracy. His second wife, Jane Bean, remembers that even after living in Istanbul for twenty years George remained blissfully ignorant of these traditions and found it impossible to book a marriage until he was advised that a ten lira note would help the process along.

Jane Bean knew quite a bit about Turkey before she married George. Since 1952 she had taught at the English High School for Girls on Istiklal Caddessi, which boasted a roof top kindergarten which caught the evening breeze. She first met George when he was playing spillikins with his friend, George Chapman, who was then the only British-trained Chartered Accountant in Istanbul. George had already separated from his first wife after six years of marriage. Jane and George got on well immediately.

Of the rigours of field archaeology Jane remained in some state of ignorance. Before her first trip George casually mentioned that she might 'pack some thick pajamas". The trip had few of the ingredients that are now considered indispensable for a romantic weekend break. All the rooms in the village house were lined with beds and washing was a communal experience that took place under an old kerosene can fitted with a dripping tap. At the 1959 Pazarlik dig, led by J.M.Cook, the newly-married Jane found herself in charge of the 'kitchen', which was an iron triangle fed by pine cones. George gallantly insisted on fetching the water, potatoes and meat for his young bride though after his choice of veal was found to be an old cow that had died a horrible death on the road, he was relieved of the latter duty. On another trip in 1961 just when Jane was feeling the strain of an all day march she found that Terence Mitford had dropped back to chat her through the last gruelling five miles.

Jane took to the life. Alongside the hard work and rough conditions there was inextinguishable excitement and romance to it all. She remembers the polished wooden floors of the village houses strewn with killims in honour of the guests. Other nights would be spent sleeping rough on the floor of a deserted Byzantine chapel covered in bed rolls borrowed from a local shepherd. In the morning they walked up a dry river at dawn before stopping many hours later at a village for breakfast. She remembers the extraordinary courtesy of the people. Once they stopped to ask directions. The shopkeeper locked up his shop and insisted on walking the first two miles with them to check they were on the right road before returning to his work.

If archaeology was still in its infancy, tourism hadn't even been thought of. Troy was a forbidden military zone, the only bed available at Antalya was in the Archaeological Institute and it was not until 1964 that they first made use of a car on any of their expeditions. It is extraordinary to think that only a generation ago there was only a single track out of Alanya, no forestry tracks and no road east of Anamur.

Once or twice George Bean and Terence Mitford managed to persuade some of their Turkish academic colleagues from Istanbul to join them on their trips. It was not always a sucess for the urbane scholars from the old Ottoman cities were often disgusted by conditions in the villages and could not hide their disdain for the widespread illiteracy. One such effete friend developed a morbid fear of their mountain village base and begged to be taken back and buried in Izmir. Few archaeologists could practice George Bean's saint-like patience as he sat for hours on a hard wooden chair waiting for the initial suspicion of the villagers to break into hospitality. Well did Bill Campbell write, "George Bean was a deeply generous man, who loved and was loved by poor farmers, struggling day labourers who helped him to excavate, map and preserve, and by the faithful wardens of small museums - some of them merely guardians set to watch over remote and rarely visited sites. Visit any of these places and say you are a friend of "Uzun boylu Profesor Bean" and you have a village full of friends. In a period when Turkey's treasures were often endangered, and many lost abroad, George Bean stood forth as a scholar.... determined to find, describe and keep that heritage....for the benefit of the noble and generous Turkish people to whom it has descended."

No single man knew the countryside of south-western Turkey so well. At a dinner in London he was sitting next to the publisher, Ernest Benn, and talked about the irritating inaccuracies of the old Blue Guide to Turkey. By the end of the evening they had sketched out the idea for a new series of archaeological guides. To perfect the research for these guide books George Bean needed to criss-cross his old haunts, whilst he continued to hunt out new inscriptions. Many of these trips, especially in the 1960's, were undertaken with Terence Mitford. As a conclusive mark of their friendship, they were even able to publish a book together, Journeys into Rough Cilicia, which covered their joint explorations in June and July 1961, June and October 1962 and June 1963.

In 1964 George Bean started writing the guide books in earnest starting with the Aegean volume. That year both Jane Bean and Margaret Mitford were pregnant and the men travelled alone. In June 1965 they all explored Cilicia together and in June 1966. By the 1970s the great period of adventurous travel for the two men was coming to a close. It was not so much the lack of physical stamina, though both men were now over 65, but the desperate need to write up their life's work. Terence Mitford in particular was infuriated to find himself falling asleep at his desk in the afternoon as he pulled together a life's work. Their was simply not enough time.

They would die, Bean in 1977 and Mitford 1978, as they had lived, working to the last. Mitford's study on Roman Cilicia and Roman Cyprus and Bean's guide to Lycia were all published posthumously. Books, articles and memorial lectures remain to perpetuate their names though their style of modesty, energy, commitment and absolute integrity is increasingly rare. It has not completely vanished. Something of the spirit of the two survives yet. George Bean's daughter is clearly possessed by a gift for language, teaching and travel. Sitting across the table from Commander Mitford, one of Terence Mitford's sons, the sense of continuity, was even stronger. At the end of our meeting I confessed a long-term interest in the Roman Saharan frontier. His eyes lit up with an unmistakable passion as he unrolled some handdrawn maps of Eastern Turkey. I was sitting across the table from one of the world's foremost experts on the Roman frontier of Anatolia.

Back to Articles page

Recent Books
by Barnaby Rogerson

The Heirs of the Prophet Muhammad: And the Roots of the Sunni-Shia Schism

Book of Numbers

The Prophet Muhammad: A Biography