Ballet critic one of Warcop’s more improbable sons

Date: Saturday 27th October 2001

RICHARD Buckle, who has died in Wiltshire, aged 85, was one of Warcop’s more improbable sons. He is best remembered for his biographies of Nijinsky (1971) and Diaghilev (1979) and for a zest for life, gossip and ballet.

Dicky Buckle was born in August, 1916, at the Old Cottage, Warcop. He was the only child of Colonel Garry Buckle, who within two years was killed in action commanding the second battalion of the Northamptons near Soissons.

He grew up doted upon by his widowed mother and by his father’s powerful mother, Lily Buckle, of Eden Gate, Warcop. She later formed the centrepiece of the first volume of Dicky’s autobiography, The Most Upsetting Woman (1981).

Brought up in genteel poverty, wearing clogs and speaking broad Westmorland, he fished for minnows in Crooks Beck with the village boys. But through his mother he had links with an alluring aristocratic world. One of his earliest memories was to travel to London to the 90th birthday party of a great-grandmother who had been born a Greville herself a great-granddaughter of the Prime Minister, the Duke of Portland.

To Dicky these relationships meant a great deal. He never forgot that he was himself a cousin of Lord Harewood, whom he later befriended.


He founded the magazine Ballet in early 1939 but suspended it when (slightly to his own surprise) he decided to join up on outbreak of the war. He was commissioned into the Scots Guards. In Italy his regiment saw some hard fighting, and he was promoted to captain in spite of his usual indiscretions.

The regimental history recorded the story that he visited the German lines and returned with “odd curious books, abstruse and pornographic. One day he returned with a bridal dress which he wore for dinner in the evening”.

After the war he reopened Ballet and in 1948 he became The Observer ballet critic. His reviews were outspoken and waspish, but perceptive and fearless. His comments on Frederick Ashton’s and Constant Lambert’s Tiresias almost closed that show; his remarks on Dame Margot Fonteyn’s 50th birthday performance were less than respectful.

Dicky himself put on exhibitions of his own. His Diaghilev exhibition at the Edinburgh festival in 1954 was spectacular for its innovative design and lurid colours and for the two huge blackamoors who guarded the entrance.

Equally successful was his exhibition of Cecil Beaton’s photographs at the National Portrait Gallery in 1968.

He was The Sunday Times ballet critic from 1959 to 1975, after which he retired from London to Wiltshire. He was appointed CBE in 1979, chiefly for his work in the founding of the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden.

He had continued a vivacious correspondence with his grandmother at Eden Gate until her death in 1949. Then he hardly visited Warcop until his retirement from London when he began work on the first volume of The Most Upsetting Woman, which he planned as the first in a six-volume autobiography. The publishers later stalled after publication of the first two.

But in the 1980s he once more made regular visits to Warcop, often staying with Mrs. Winskill at Croft House. He was full of anecdotes of Warcop 50 years before.


One of the village boys with whom he had caught minnows 50 years before, now Lord Glenamara, Postmaster-General and Deputy Prime Minister under Harold Wilson, was then writing memoirs of his own. The two men had little in common. Each relied heavily on the memories and documents of Michael Gregson, the village antiquary. Their books about Warcop, combined with Mr. Gregson’s archive collection, mean that Warcop is the best recorded village in Cumbria for the early 20th Century period.

For almost the last 20 years Dicky Buckle suffered poor health which he concealed well. He remained sociable and exuberant to the end. He left instructions that his ashes are to be scattered in the cemetery at Warcop, where he and many of his kinsmen were born and baptised.