May 22, 2003

Death of Graham Binns, campaigner for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 5:04 pm in Elgin Marbles

Graham Binns, who in recent years was well known as the head of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles has sadly died at the age of seventy-seven.

The Times

May 22, 2003
Graham Binns

Promoter of the arts and of commercial radio, who campaigned for the Elgin Marbles to go back to Greece
From 1997 until 2002 Graham Binns was the chairman of the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles. He was one of the committee’s first members, and was thrilled by the latest design for the new Acropolis Museum in Athens, where the Greek Government wishes to place the unified Marbles.

When the committee was first established, many thought its aim eccentric, but Binns was never deterred by the hostility which the views of the committee frequently met. He often conducted conversations through the letters columns of the broadsheet papers. In correspondence in The Times last year, he wrote: “If the British Museum ‘transcends national boundaries’, it makes sense to bring all the pieces relating to the Parthenon together in a purpose-built museum next to the monument where, indeed, they can be under the British Museum’s ownership and auspices. Things move on.”

Erudite and debonair, but humorous too, Binns researched the history of the Marbles, wrote texts for a largely photographic exhibition that travelled around Britain and Europe, and acted as a master of public relations for the committee; he was accustomed to media work after periods in broadcasting in Malta, Jamaica and Britain.

Graham Binns was born in Barking in 1925 and was educated at Bembridge, an unorthodox boarding school on the Isle of Wight. His father, Joseph Binns, was an ICI engineer who became a Labour MP; his mother was a weaver.

During the war he spent a short period with the Navy, but left for service with the Indian Army in the Himalayas, which lasted until 1947. He returned to Oxford to read English at Corpus Christi College, where he had made a reputation before his war service by being caught by the chaplain in bed with a Wren in 1943.

He succeeded Kenneth Tynan as theatre editor for Isis and was part of a circle that included J. R. R. Tolkein (his son Matthew has the middle name Frodo). Binns also became a friend of Neville Coghill, with whom he directed an acclaimed production of The Tempest.

It was in Oxford that Binns met the actress Jillian Palmer, who had been taken to the Oxford Playhouse by Christopher Fry; she and Binns made a stunning couple. They married and spent a year in America on Fulbright scholarships teaching at Syracuse University, where they directed two of Fry’s plays.

On his return, Binns, who firmly believed that the government should support the arts, became assistant regional director of the Arts Council. Based in Bristol, he worked in the early 1950s with painters and sculptors, and persuaded commercial outlets to show their art — the Dolcis shoe shop in Broadmead, for example, displayed mobiles by his friend Lynn Chadwick.

In 1956, when the Arts Council wound down its regional activities, Binns did not want to move to London, so he retrained to switch to broadcasting. He joined the broadcasters Rediffusion in Malta, where he learnt Maltese and also restored the Manoel Theatre in Valletta, an Italianate creation then derelict but now one of the country’s jewels.

In 1963 he moved with his family to become managing director of Radio Jamaica. He became a popular figure on the island; his wife kept a house there, and many of their Jamaican friends later visited them in Britain. He returned to Malta to become managing director of Rediffusion, and when Dom Mintoff’s Labour Party came to power, Binns’s personal connection with Mintoff ensured that the station avoided the potential threat of nationalisation.

Binns was then asked by Rediffusion to put together the consortium bidding to become Britain’s first commercial radio station. He put together the successful plans for Capital Radio, and served as its deputy chairman for eight years. He was involved with Capital’s purchase and restoration of the Duke of York’s Theatre, from where performances were broadcast live after its re- opening in 1980.

He became involved with the campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles in the early 1980s. With Christopher Hitchens and Robert Browning he published The Elgin Marbles: Should They be Returned to Greece? (1987), writing a chapter on restoration, and he prepared the committee’s submission to the select committee on cultural property return and illicit trade, which reported in 2000. He also drew a series of cartoons for the committee newsletter mocking the British Museum.

During the 1990s he was a member of the library committee at the Travellers’ Club, researching the colourful lives of its early members at the start of the 19th century. The library contains casts of the Bassae frieze, of which the originals are in the British Museum; C. R. Cockerell, who had found the frieze in 1811, was one of the club’s founder members.

Binns’s wife predeceased him by eight days; when he was told that he too had cancer he wrote that there was an “extraordinary beauty” in the fact that they would die together. He is survived by their two sons.

Graham Binns, arts campaigner, was born on June 13, 1925. He died on May 12, 2003, aged 77.

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