An “artist, writer, and poet” who worked as a teacher and went on to become a successful businessman and children’s author will be remembered for his “unstoppable” sense of humour.

Vivian Baron Cohen, who lived in Golders Green and Hampstead Garden Suburb since 1956, has died at the age of 92.

He was born Hyman Vivian Baron Cohen – and known to his family as Hymie - in 1930 in Mother Levy’s Maternity Home in Underwood Road, Whitechapel, a part of the Jewish East End of London.

Ham & High: Vivian Baron CohenVivian Baron Cohen (Image: Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen)

When the Second World War broke out in 1939 and all school children in London were being evacuated, Vivian, then nine, and his brother Gerry, seven, were taken by their school to Paddington Station to be evacuated to an unknown destination to escape the bombs raining down. They were clutching their gas masks and a small suitcase each. His mother Miriam and Morris (Moishe) Cohen were in the line of parents on the platform waiting to wave goodbye to their two precious sons, not knowing when they would see them again.

But at the last minute, Miriam broke through the line and grabbed her two sons, saying that she could not be separated from them. Together, they jumped into Morris’ black cab and drove to Cardiff, where their family still lived.

Morris found a stone hut in a farmer’s field, in Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales, outside Cardiff. It had no running water or electricity or heating, but was somewhere the family could live throughout the war. Vivian and his brother and their parents and grandparents spent from 1939 to 45 in that small stone hut, all sharing one bed, with Yiddish being the only language the two children could communicate in with their grandparents.

It was unbelievable poverty, with no electricity, toilet, or running water. Every morning the two boys would walk across the fields to get to school.

After the war, they moved to Morganstown on the outskirts of Cardiff and the boys went to Whitchurch High School. Their father opened a shop selling menswear clothing, and taught his sons how to box, to be able to stand up for themselves because there were frequent outbreaks of antisemitism, and they were the only Jews in the school.

Ham & High: Vivian Baron Cohen with his parents and grandparents and brother Gerry in CardiffVivian Baron Cohen with his parents and grandparents and brother Gerry in Cardiff (Image: Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen)

Vivian’s grandparents had escaped by boat in the 1890s as refugees from the pogroms in Russia and Poland. Arriving into Cardiff, his grandparents spoke no English, just Yiddish. His paternal grandfather was Chaim Baron, born in 1860 in White Russia (Belarus), and a Talmudic scholar. When customs officials asked him for his family name, he gave his caste name of Cohen to assert his Jewish identity at a time when most Jews were hiding their identity by giving Anglicised names to avoid antisemitism.

Vivian’s maternal grandfather was Jacob Nashelsky, born in 1864 in Lublin in Poland, who was a tailor. As the pogroms became more violent and dangerous, Jacob decided to leave Lublin, leaving behind his brother Daniel, Daniel’s wife and their nine children. Jacob arrived in Cardiff and worked as a rag-and-bone man, going from house to house taking away any old clothes, so he could sew them into clothes to sell. The two brothers exchanged letters until 1939 when the Nazis occupied Poland, and the letters abruptly stopped.

After the Holocaust, Jacob tried tirelessly to trace his brother Daniel and his family, without success. Eventually Jacob had to accept that since of the 42,000 Jews in Lublin, only 200 to 300 survived. All the others, including Daniel, his wife and his nine children, died in the Belzec or Madjanek concentration camps or in the ‘destruction ghettos’ that were created in Lublin.

After he finished school, Vivian became the first in his family to go to university, going to Cardiff University and graduating in economics and literature. The two Cohen brothers were very close and moved to Golders Green in London. Vivian met his future wife Judy at the Hampstead Everyman Cinema when she was visiting from Montreal, and they fell in love.

Their wedding in the New West End Synagogue in St Petersburgh Place, Bayswater, in 1956 and their 52-year marriage was a romantic story bringing together two very different families, his from the East end of London and Cardiff, hers from Montreal. Her parents were also Jewish refugees from the pogroms of Pinsk and Odessa.

Ham & High: Vivian Baron Cohen with his wife Judy on their honeymoon voyage to Montreal on the ship the Queen Elizabeth IVivian Baron Cohen with his wife Judy on their honeymoon voyage to Montreal on the ship the Queen Elizabeth I (Image: Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen)

Vivian first lived in West Heath Court, overlooking Golders Green tube station, and worked as a teacher in Kilburn, teaching Shakespeare to underprivileged kids in a local state school. He was an artist, a writer, and a poet and he and Judy went on to have five children. He was a wonderful father to his young children, telling bedtime stories about Joe and his Magic Snout, and in his later years, he published a book by this name for children.

After the birth of his daughter Suzie in 1961, he gave up being a teacher to join his father and brother in business to provide for the health challenges that her multiple physical and learning disabilities posed. Vivian served untiringly as Suzie’s advocate with the NHS and Social Care throughout all of her life, visiting her every Sunday in the hospitals and care homes she lived in, making her laugh and giggle and keeping her connected with us, her family.

He grew a remarkably successful business with his father Morris, a tailor, and his brother Gerry, an accountant and a scholar, that ended up as a chain of seven menswear shops in South Wales and London, including Baron of Piccadilly, at 210 Piccadilly, that survived and prospered in the heart of the West End and where Vivian went every day for 50 years. His staff loved working for him as he was an optimist, kibbitzing with the customers and loving telling Jewish jokes.

Ham & High: Baron of Piccadilly in Piccadilly RoadBaron of Piccadilly in Piccadilly Road (Image: Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen)

And together with his wife, Vivian continued a long family tradition began by his parents-in-law Michael and Bessie Greenblatt of fundraising for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem on Mount Scopus. Vivian and Judy created scholarships for the Ethiopian refugees arriving into Israel on May 24, 1991 under Operation Solomon.

Those who knew Vivian knew him to be a man with an unstoppable sense of humour, and a man deeply committed to his family, including to his wife Judy who passed away in 2008 and his daughter Suzie, who passed away in 2014.

Vivian is survived by four of his children, Dan, Ash, Simon and Aliza, and his five grandchildren, Sam, Kate, Robin, Shayna and Kobi.