William Anthony Furness, 2nd Viscount Furness


William Anthony Furness, 2nd Viscount Furness

William Anthony, 2nd Viscount Furness, was born on March 31st 1929 at the family home in Melton Mowbray. He was the son of Marmaduke Furness, 1st Viscount Furness, and Thelma Furness, Viscountess Furness (nee Morgan), the American socialite and professional beauty. His grandfather, Sir Christopher Furness of Furness Withy Shipping, was created Baron Furness of Grantley.

Tony Furness,as he was known, was educated in England and in America and succeeded to the title in 1940 on the death of his half brother Christopher Furness (VC), who was killed in action at Arras whilst serving with the Welsh Guards. For his action in attacking an enemy position against considerable odds, Christopher Furness was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

When Lord Furness came of age, he decided to enter the House of Lords and to take up his responsibilities as second viscount, rather than to live and work in America, his mother's home country. In the House he served on a series of committees and was, for many years, a mainstay of the Inter Parliamentary Union.

In addition to his parliamentary duties he also ran Furness Enterprises from his grandfather’s offices at 60 St James’s Street, which gave him easy access to his favourite clubs. In the fifties and sixties he was a theatrical producer or ‘angel’, his preferred term, most particularly with the actor Alan Badel, with whom he ran Furndel Productions, based at the Westminster Theatre. Of these productions probably the 1959 production of "Ulysses in Nighttown", directed by Burgess Meredith, which transferred from New York and ran in London and later in Paris, and James Saunders' The Ark (1960) were the most prestigious; although Furndel productions also mounted the London production of Gore Vidal’s Visit to a Small Planet. When his partnership with Alan Badel ended, he continued to work as a producer, most particularly through his financing of Jeremy Brett's Hamlet, and a memorable production of Heartbreak House at Wyndham's Theatre, with Roger Livesey as Captain Shotover.

During these years Lord Furness also had business ventures in America, on occasions with his old Californian school friend Larry Spector, later to be involved in music management and the financing and production of Easy Rider.

For many years Lord Furness was an active member of the Royal Central Asian Society, now the Royal Society for Asian Affairs. His theatrical and Central Asian interests culminated in his visit to Mongolia in 1960, in an attempt to bring the Mongolian National Opera to London. And although this did not succeed, due largely to difficulties made by the Russian government of the day, this interest did lead to the founding of The Anglo-Mongolian Society in 1963.

In addition to his work in business and in the theatre, Lord Furness was, from his early adult life, a knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. The Catholic Church was an extremely important part of his life, thus his work for the order was something he took very seriously. Eventually he became one of the first two English Professed Knights ofthe Order since the reformation, the other being the late grandmaster of the Order of Malta, HMEH Fra Andrew Bertie.

On becoming a professed knight Lord Furness focused all his efforts on working for the Order and left England to reside in Martigny, as a tax exile. He spent much time in Geneva, Switzerland, where he maintained an office. He also traveled extensively.

He died in the Order’s Hospice of St John and St Elizabeth in London on May 1st 1995.

References

*Double Exposure, A Twin Autobiography. TL Furness G Vandebilt. Frederick Muller Ltd (1959)
*Monuments to Courage. John Harvey. Navy and Military Press Ltd (2000)
*Obituary Viscount Furness From: The Independent, London 12/5/95 Richard Fawkes


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