Harlan Walker obituary

Harlan Walker obituary

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My friend Harlan Walker, who has died aged 93, was a successful businessman and a stalwart supporter and sometime organiser of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery.

It was with Harlan in the guise of businessman, someone acquainted with order and method, that I met him in 1985 among the decidedly enthusiastic, but not invariably methodical, gathering of food writers, journalists, publishers and amateurs that was the Oxford Symposium. It had been founded by Alan Davidson and Theodore Zeldin of St Antony’s College four years before that, an international gathering of scholars, writers and amateurs interested in food history and the more arcane aspects of cookery.

Harlan had a tremendous interest in food history, as well as being himself a gifted cook, and it was with some relief that I handed on to him the task of organising the Symposium’s annual gatherings as well as editing (and, latterly, publishing) their Proceedings, tasks he undertook with ineffable efficiency and courtesy for 15 years until 2003.

His form in this sort of venture had already been demonstrated by his leading role in the affairs of the Buckland Club in Birmingham. Founded in 1954 in honour of the literally omnivorous Victorian naturalist Frank Buckland, its biannual banquets were invariably adventurous, if not outlandish.

Harlan was born in Birmingham, where his family were nautical instrument makers, famous for the manufacture of Walker’s Log, the brass spinner towed along by ships to determine the distance travelled through the water; the managing director was his father, Jeffrey Walker, while his mother was Katharine (nee Harlan).

After Bryanston school, war service as a tank captain in Italy and Greece and a degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Merton College, Oxford, Harlan joined the cotton company Coats, working in Naples and Glasgow. He subsequently returned to Birmingham, and engineering enterprises, ending his professional career as the manager of the British outpost of NTN, the Japanese manufacturer of ball-bearings.

Harlan’s skills in the kitchen were put to practical use thanks to his marriage in 1954 to the flautist Delia Ruhm. Her involvement in large-scale co-operative music-making at the summer operas at Shawford Mill in Somerset and Highnam in Gloucestershire, and particularly at the Pigotts Music Camps near High Wycombe, had him organising the catering in sometimes spectacularly primitive conditions.

Delia died in 2014. Their children Philip, Becca and Ben, survive him.



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