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Max Arthur obituary: Much-loved Hampstead and Crouch End ladies' man who revolutionised military history

PUBLISHED: 17:00 28 June 2019 | UPDATED: 08:56 09 July 2019

Max Arthur in military gear working. Picture: Richard Watt

Max Arthur in military gear working. Picture: Richard Watt

Archant

First in Hampstead and then in Crouch End, noted historian Max Arthur became an indispensable part of the community.

Max Arthur in Doctor Who. Picture: Ruth CowenMax Arthur in Doctor Who. Picture: Ruth Cowen

Max, who died in May at the age of 80, was a ladies' man, sometime fitness instructor and football fan who revolutionised how military history is written.

And he was also in Doctor Who.

Max's former partner and close friend Ruth Cowen - who once edited the features pages of the Ham&High - told this newspaper about Max.

"The thing about Max is he was a brilliant listener," she said. "Whether in his professional or personal life, he made everyone feel that there story was so important.

A very young Max Arthur before his National Service with the RAF. Picture: Ruth CowenA very young Max Arthur before his National Service with the RAF. Picture: Ruth Cowen

"He loved people and he got so much out of people that they had never said otherwise, and he was like that in the community."

Ruth, who stayed close to Max after their relationship, added: "He was a genuinely lovely man. He was very very funny, and most of his stories were self-deprecating. He'd talk about all of his many jobs, and how he was awful at most of them. He loved cricket, but was a terrible cricketer."

Some in Hampstead may remember a longrunning keep-fit class Max ran at the Hall School.

Ruth said: "He had the most devoted group of women coming. But of course they'd never make progress - at the end of the session they'd go to the pub on the corner and get a curry."

Max Arthur and Lindsey Coulson taking part in ArtHouse Remembrance Sunday event, Voices of War. Picture: Nigel SuttonMax Arthur and Lindsey Coulson taking part in ArtHouse Remembrance Sunday event, Voices of War. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Diana Holmes, who was Max's pubicist at the outset of his writing career, remembered meeting him in 1986. She said: "We met for the first time for lunch to celebrate the publication of his book, Above All, Courage, in paperback.

"He had bought me such a huge bunch of gladioli that I couldn't see him over the top. We became good friends; he had so many outrageous stories I never knew whether he was pulling my leg."

Photojournalist and ex-soldier Richard Watt often worked with Max and told the Ham&High of their first job together.

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"The Times agreed to pay for both of us (£200 each) to fly to Hannover, courtesy of the RAF, and do a feature on the Territorial Army training with the regular German army."

Although Max and Richard didn't experience a scheduled parachute jump, they got to watch soldiers practicing for an early morning attack.

Richard said: "Max and I were all over the event, he was getting words, I was getting pictures and I think we made a good job of it.

"He loved living out of a sleeping bag, cooking some food on a hexi-block stove, in the field, chatting to the reservists.

Max Arthur in military gear working. Picture: Ruth CowenMax Arthur in military gear working. Picture: Ruth Cowen

"Max caught the essence of the event by reporting the classic quote from a Scouse soldier who told the German troops: 'You're kaput mate, ja!'"

Max became a garlanded historian, but not before trying out other things.

Ruth expanded on this: "In 1984 he had a bit part in Doctor Who - but he was not very successful as an actor.

"He was all dressed up and swinging his gun around. Unfortunately, the director had to stop the scene. He thanked Max, but said they would do the sound effects themselves..."

A very young Max Arthur before his National Service with the RAF. Picture: Ruth CowenA very young Max Arthur before his National Service with the RAF. Picture: Ruth Cowen

She said that national service changed Max's life.

Born into a working class family in Bognor Regis, he had been forced to leave school at 14, but being in the last group of teens called up meant he could take O Levels, and serving in the RAF paved the way for what would eventually make his name - an empathetic approach to military history.

Ruth added: "It was really critical to his life. He was in a very last cohort of national servicemen, and they recognised how bright he was. It sparked a real fascination and affection for the military."

And after a number of false turns, it was the armed forces that became most associated with Max.

Ruth said: "Before Max, people weren't interested in ordinary people in that way. Military history was about generals and tactics. I guess, yes, he changed how we think about war. That would be a fantastic legacy to have. Now we don't think it's unusual to hear the stories of ordinary servicemen, that's because of Max."

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