Icons / January 2016

Bunny Rogers | A Dandy Life

Couturier, entrepreneur, social fixture, heir, soldier, boulevardier, Neil ‘Bunny’ Roger was above all, a dandy without compare.

I doubt I shall forget the June day in 1994 when I walked out of my office at Sotheby's in London, only to be confronted near reception desk by a lean but broad-shouldered octogenarian male with a face that had obviously been enhanced by both surgery and cosmetics. It was a hot afternoon, and this extraordinary specimen was without compare. dressed for the weather: low-waisted white slacks with shallow, cross pockets and impossibly tapered legs; a chiffon shirt in vivid turquoise complemented by a flowing silk scarf; and to top off the ensemble, a Panama hat worn at a carefully calculated angle.

'Are you from the ceramics department?' he demanded from beneath the brim. 'No sir, from the press office,' I replied. 'Ooooh. That's a shame.' Heterosexual males, of which I am one, are programmed to put up their guard when faced with demonstratively homosexual, elderly men, but more often than not, we find them intriguing and, in no small way, entertaining. This man had piqued my interest sufficiently to make me want to continue the conversation, but shyness and embarrassment must have got in the way because I carried on walking towards the exit, aware of his eyes following me every step of the way.

Not until later did I discover that I had unwittingly passed over the chance to acquaint myself with one of the greatest British dandies of the 20th century, a man famed for his outrageous style, his love of entertaining, his endless generosity and his playful sense of humour. His name was Neil Munro Roger, more commonly known throughout his life as 'Bunny' after a nickname applied by his childhood nanny never went away.

Bunny was born in 1911, the second of the three sons of Sir Alexander and Lady Roger. Sir Alexander was a truly self-made man who began his career as an accountant with Fleming's bank before ingratiating himself with three sisters whose family owned a telephone business - a move that saw him rise through the ranks to become chairman of the Telephone and General Trust Limited, a position which brought him a vast amount of money that was to see his children set up for life.

The family lived in luxury with 14 servants at Ewhurst Park in the English county of Hampshire, but Sir Alexander wanted his sons to undergo a gritty Scottish upbringing similar to that which he himself had experienced in Aberdeen, so he sent Bunny to the famously dour Loretto boarding school. The first sign that his middle boy was probably not going to turn into an entirely red-blooded man probably came when Sir Alexander offered Bunny a reward for making it into the Loretto Nippers football team. He chose a dollhouse.

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Simon de Burton