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Obituary: The Marquess of Bath

The Marquess of Bath Image copyright PA

With his eccentric dress sense and colourful private life, the Marquess of Bath was one of the best-known members of the British aristocracy.

His profile was further enhanced as the owner of the popular stately home and safari park, Longleat House, complete with resident lions.

Alexander George Thynne (he later dropped the 'e' from his surname) was born in London on 6 May 1932. His father, Viscount Weymouth, was the heir to the Marquessate of Bath while his mother was the former Daphne Vivian.

It was a somewhat dysfunctional family. His parents were repeatedly unfaithful to each other and later divorced, while his relationships with his siblings were also strained.

He was brought up in a house on the family estate at Longleat in Wiltshire from where he went to Eton and then did his National Service in the Lifeguards, making a name for himself as a boxer.

While at Eton the death of his grandfather saw the young Thynne become the 11th Viscount Weymouth, an event which he later described as "a great embarrassment for a schoolboy."

After leaving the army, he travelled to Paris where he studied art on the Left Bank and acquired a taste for the sort of flamboyant outfits which he would continue to wear throughout his life.

On his return to England, he went to Oxford where he gained a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics and became president of the Bullingdon Club, the notorious dining club which would, years later, admit the British prime ministers David Cameron and Boris Johnson as a member.

Throughout the late 1950s and early '60s he indulged his love of travel, including a trek through South America in the company of a young Hungarian actress called Anna Gyarmathy, whom he would later marry.

He returned to Longleat with the intention, as he later described it, of becoming a recluse and devoting himself to his painting. Working with a group of young artists, he began adding murals to his apartments in the house, many of them of a distinctly raunchy character.

Evicted

His father had opened the house to the public in 1949, setting a trend that other big estates would later follow and, in the mid-60s, bringing in the famous lions.

Thynne decided that the thousands of people coming to Longleat might pay to see his paintings and he opened up his apartments to the public. The salacious nature of some of his work was an obvious attraction to some, but there was also more serious interest, including a BBC documentary, The Thynne Blue Line.

He subsequently began taking an interest in politics, campaigning for the setting up of a devolved region of Wessex and standing under that banner in the 1974 General Election.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption He married Anna Gyarmathy in 1969

He also changed his surname to Thynn, which was the historical spelling of his family name. He did so in order to stop the drift in its pronunciation and to ensure people knew it rhymed with 'pin' instead of 'pine'.

He became the 7th Marquess of Bath on the death of his father in 1992. The pair had never become reconciled particularly after his father appointed his younger brother, Christopher, to run Longleat. On assuming the title, the new Lord Bath had his brother evicted from the estate.

His elevation saw him take his seat in the House of Lords where he sat as a Liberal Democrat and made his maiden speech on the subject of nursery education. He later lost his place in the upper house when most of the hereditary peers were excluded.

Most of his time was now taken up with Longleat where he introduced a number of new attractions and also appeared from time to time in the BBC series Animal Park which documented the day-to-day running of the safari park.

Infidelities

Over the years he amassed a collection of more than 70 girlfriends known as his "wifelets", many of whom ended up living in cottages on the Longleat estate and all of whom have been captured in mural form on the walls of his apartments.

His unusual lifestyle provided many column inches for the press, not least when police were called to Longleat in June 2011 after two of the women got into a violent altercation over who was going to sleep with the Marquess that night.

He, according to newspaper reports, had gone off to bed and told them to sort it out between themselves.

Image copyright PA
Image caption He handed the running of Longleat to his son Ceawlin in 2010

Despite his many infidelities, his wife, Anna, remained married to him - although she spent a considerable amount of her time away from Longleat.

Towards the end of the 1980s, he embarked upon a major autobiography entitled Strictly Private to Public Exposure, a remarkably candid account of his life, detailing family feuds and his various sexual encounters.

Writer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth described it as "elegantly written" and "a beautifully observed evocation of the lives of the English aristocracy".

He passed the management of the business to his son, Viscount Weymouth, in 2010.

Alexander Thynn claimed to loathe the class system, and broke with family tradition by sending his own children to the local comprehensive school.

But he was the first to admit that it was his privileged birth and inherited wealth that allowed him indulge to himself in the way he did.

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