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A title isn't what it used to be

Published Sep. 3, 2005

Few people make for copy as colorful as did Angus Montagu, England's 12th Duke of Manchester, and once an investor _ sort of _ in the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team.

Tampa met Montagu in 1991, when he surfaced as part of a group promising to pump $22.5-million into the Lightning. In a press conference in June of that year, the team draped Montagu in a jersey bearing the number 1 and the name, "The Duke."

But the Lightning never got anything in return; the deal, like most things Montagu was involved in, went sour.

Montagu died on July 25 at age 63. Here is the obituary that appeared in the Times of London, which clearly will miss him, if only because of the material his life provided.

_ MIKE WILSON, Floridian editor

Angus Montagu, 12th Duke of Manchester, was scarcely the conventional holder of a ducal title. Nor could he be regarded as a particularly effective upholder of the family name _ though he followed at least one noble family tradition by going to prison. In his case incarceration was in the Virginia State Penitentiary rather than the Tower of London, in which his distinguished forebear Sir Edward Montagu had languished briefly in 1553. Sir Edward's fault, as Chief Justice of the King's Bench, had been to draft the passages in the will of King Edward VI which settled the crown on Lady Jane Grey. When Mary came to the throne she made him pay for it, though he was able to buy his way out after a couple of months.

There was to be no such luck for the 12th Duke of Manchester, under the rigours of the American penal system after he had been convicted of fraud. His sojourn as Prisoner No. 19127-018 in the Virginia State Pen, between 1996 and 1998, was of a piece with a life that was a peculiarly unfocused saga of occasional and incompetent criminal acts. Most of these appeared to be the result of sheer bumbling idiocy rather than evil intent. From the word go there was something essentially dysfunctional about the man and everything he attempted to set his hand to. In 1985, in acquitting him on charges of conspiracy to defraud, an Old Bailey judge had described his capacities thus: "On a business scale of one to ten, he is one or less, and even that flatters him. He was absurdly stupid."

Angus Charles Drogo Montagu was born in 1935, the younger son of the 10th Duke of Manchester who, in 1950 sold the family seat, Kimbolton Castle, and emigrated to Kenya. There he farmed, keeping cattle and raising maize, wheat and coffee on his 10,000-acre estate. He died in London in 1977, having dissipated most of his inheritance.

Angus had a wretched early life. At the age of 2, he was separated from his family, when his father, a naval officer, was off serving in the Second World War. Instead, at that time, of joining his mother and his elder brother Kim in Alexandria, he was sent, for reasons he never really understood, to live with family friends in Ceylon.

He joined his father in Kenya in the 1950s, but they had a remote and chilly relationship. He briefly attended Gordonstoun. Thereafter he served in the Royal Marines for three years, not getting a commission in spite of his background, worked as a jobber on an oilfield in Texas, drifted through the United States and ended as a water-ski instructor in Florida, before settling in Australia in 1959. There, he eked out his existence as a trouser salesman in Sydney and a crocodile wrestler.

In 1961 he married Mary McClure, of Geelong, a secretary, who bore him two sons and a daughter. They separated in 1965 and were divorced in 1970 on the grounds of his cruelty and adultery. During the marriage, there was an embarrassing incident during a dinner at Quaglino's, when he was presented with a putative love-child by a woman who claimed his paternity. This was not proven. Later he entered into various business ventures in Canada.

In 1971 he married Diane Plimsaul, of Wimborne, Dorset, and following their divorce in 1985, he married, in 1989, Mrs. Ann-Louise Bird.

By this time he had fallen in with a louche set in Chelsea, where he accounted male strippers among his acquaintance. Hardly had he succeeded his brother in the dukedom than he was sent to the Old Bailey in 1985, accused of attempting to defraud the National Westminster Bank of 38,000 pounds. Three others were found guilty of obtaining loans against forged U.S. savings bonds. The duke was acquitted, and Mr. Justice Owen, summing up, described him as "absurdly stupid and negligent about his own affairs" and judged that "having the duke on the board of any company should send shivers down the spine of any investor."

Somehow intelligence of this episode did not cross the Atlantic. The duke became chairman of a company called Link International, which was presently approached by a consortium in Tampa, on the west coast of Florida, in an attempt to rescue the Tampa Bay Lightning ice hockey team. Only half the $50-million that was needed had been raised, when the deadline loomed on May 1, 1991. A Canadian businessman living in Orlando, Florida, Carroll Tessier, was a partner of the duke's.

It was not long before the duke was addressing a mass of journalists at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Tampa, a large whisky in one hand and a cigar in the other. He duly declared his love of America, of football and baseball, and, as the new chairman of the Tampa team, said he was sure he would soon love hockey, too. He dropped hints about castles in Cambridgeshire (his dwelling was, in fact, a one-room apartment in a 1960s block of flats overlooking a garage in the suburbs of Bedford, a far cry from the erstwhile family seat of Kimbolton Castle); Gordonstoun days with Prince Charles (there was a ten-year discrepancy in their ages); and he spoke romantically of the House of Lords (where, it is true, he liked to lunch and even made a brief maiden speech).

But no money was forthcoming, and three weeks later the local press unearthed the Old Bailey story. The duke was tracked down to the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, where he protested he had been duped and suggested that the British judge had suffered from the excessive heat of a courtroom lacking air-conditioning, and had in consequence taken it out on him. The Tampa deal fell through, no money being forthcoming from Link, and the sore-headed members of the consortium were left to rue the waste of the many thousands of dollars they had spent in entertaining the duke in the style to which they had deemed him to be accustomed.

For the duke, matters went from bad to worse. The FBI and Scotland Yard pursued a three-year investigation and discovered that Link was at the centre of a huge confidence trick. In June 1995, federal indictments were issued against the Duke of Manchester and four other men: two Americans (who pleaded guilty), a London lawyer (who disappeared), and another individual who skipped the $100,000 bail and went to Russia.

The duke was extradited to the United States for trial in March 1996. During the proceedings, his lawyer portrayed him as a simple and uneducated man who fell victim to the flattery of any passing rogue. "They led him round like a prize bull at a country fair," said the lawyer. His defence was that he was gullible, vain and foolish, none of which made him actively dishonest.

The duke chose to remain silent in court, and the jury found him guilty on four out of five counts of fraud. In June 1996 he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail, beginning his time in solitary confinement in Petersburg, Virginia. He was released in November 1998, and flew home to Britain, where his third wife promptly divorced him.

At Easter 2000, he married a fourth wife, Biba Hiller, a former model and property dealer. This marriage, too, was dissolved. In recent years he had conducted Americans on personalised heritage tours to Stratford-upon-Avon and the Pilgrim's Way, enjoying the respect they accorded to his ducal rank and taking pleasure in "putting them their ease."

The Duke of Manchester is succeeded by his son, Alexander, Viscount Mandeville, who was born in 1962.