James Cecil Baring, 6th Baron Revelstoke, enthusiastic amateur display pilot, aircraft owner and internet pioneer, died on 7th February 2012, aged 73. Younger son of the 4th Baron, Rupert, and his wife Flora, nee Hesketh, he inherited his title on the death of his elder brother John in 2005.
Born on 16th August, 1938, James followed his family to Eton. For his National Service he was accepted by the Royal Air Force for flying training on the piston-engined Percival Provost and then the de Havilland Vampire.
After leaving the RAF in 1959, and with the ear of a piano player and a refreshingly technical approach, James established a successful recording studio in Soho called Regent Sound, which was regularly used by pop groups and singers of the day including The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Jimmy Hendrix.
At the same time he joined Norman Jones’s Tiger Club which was the crucible of sporting flying in England. Recognised by his peers as a ‘natural’ pilot of light aircraft he immediately became one of the club’s regular display pilots, flying formation aerobatics in their Tiger Moths alongside the legendary Peter Philips and Neil Williams. With a full beard and ever-present leather flying helmet James was an admired and much-loved member of the club, sharing with its founder a healthy suspicion of all regulation to private flying. When Norman Jones built under licence the French ultra-light single-seat Druine Turbulents, James’s mother bought him one as a 21st birthday present and for the next decade he flew it adventurously all over Britain and France, regularly leading the Turbulent formation team in the Tiger Club’s displays as well as on the public days at Farnborough Air Shows. Exchanging his Turbulent for a two-seat Jodel Mascaret he won the first post-war Isle of Man rally in 1965, continuing to fly the club’s aircraft in their displays and specialising in ‘crazy flying’ which on one occasion ended in disaster when he failed to recover from an extreme manoeuvre too close to the ground and rolled a Tiger Moths into a ball, walking away from the wreckage disgusted at a rare lapse in his concentration.
In 1968 James married Aneta (Nini) Fisher after a whirlwind romance. The honeymoon was spent on a wind-swept airfield in East Germany where James was manager of the British Aerobatic team, his bride making tea for the pilots.
Running a recording studio proved to be a precarious livelihood so James bought the first British-registered Italian SIAI Marchetti SF260, a fully aerobatic four-seat tourer, and obtained the agency to sell the aircraft in Britain, targeting the Royal Air Force who were in need of a new trainer. Despite his skilled demonstrations the lack of turbo-propeller power lost him the business although the Irish Air Corps did buy the SF260 later, largely as a result of his efforts. During this period the late Arthur Gibson, doyen of aerial photographers, captured, in an iconic photograph, James in his SF260, leading a formation of the RAF’s Red Arrows.
James was an enthusiastic founding member of The Air Squadron when it was formed in 1966 and later its secretary. In his SF260 he flew on every outing of the nascent squadron, using his knowledge of the French light aviation scene to forge the Squadron’s strong links with Le Touquet, subsequently their chosen destination for special celebrations. At the same time he was an energetic member of the important rule-making committee of the UK branch of The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and flew himself regularly onto the airstrip on the family-owned island of Lambay, just north of Dublin Bay, to visit his father Rupert.
In 1974 he moved to St.Remy in Provence with Nini and their two young sons, Alexander and Thomas. There he bought a small estate, determined to make a living producing wine, olive oil and almonds. After years of effort during which he was a regular and generous host to a continuous stream of flying friends, neither his economy nor his marriage survived and in 1977 Nini returned to England with the boys; she and James were later divorced. James stayed on in St. Remy, marrying for a second time Sarah Stubbs, by whom he had two daughters, Aksinia and Miranda, but this marriage did not last and he returned alone to England in the late 80s.
While still in France James recognised the huge potential of the internet from its very beginnings and with colleagues in Moscow established the first Geonet hosts in the Soviet Union and Siberia, taking his arguments and beliefs into Cyberspace and sinking considerable money into a succession of internet adventures. Once settled again in England he continued to forge ahead in internet matters, at the same time, as a consultant to the Oxford Refugee Council, taking a compassionate interest in the treatment of asylum seekers by the UK Immigration Authority. He also helped EPRA in their efforts to rehabilitate drug addicts. His almost daily internet commentaries on world affairs were widely read and people in senior positions sought his opinions.
James inherited a scholarly brain and enjoyed provoking discussion on any subject which he would then debate with great intelligence, often purposely taking the opposing view simply to encourage argument, in which he was indefatigable, much to the entertainment, but often the exasperation, of his friends. He was a regular and popular participant at Air Squadron events, and remained deeply interested in aviation affairs. He is remembered by his friends as a talented self-taught pianist, amusing and stimulating, sometimes annoying, but never neutral.
He is survived by his two sons by his first marriage and his two daughters by his second marriage. His elder son Alexander succeeds to the title.