In that famous song “For he’s a jolly good fellow,” the word “jolly” is usually taken to mean “very.” But in the case of Barney Miller, who died last month, the phrase should be understood quite literally – in many ways, it was the secret of his charm and, in turn, his success.
Behind the “Hey Nonny No” minstrel, the keen sportsman and the born actor was a sharp mind which he devoted to tireless work for Anglo-Argentine community life beyond a successful business career. More precise details of his contributions to community activities on both sides of the Atlantic (with the Argentine-British Community Council and the AngloArgentine Society in London) will be appearing where they belong – in the Summer edition of the ABCC’s The Bulletin – but suffice it to say here that it was sheer personality which made him stand out as an institutional pillar.
Barney Miller represented such a perfect Anglo-Argentine synthesis that it comes as somewhat of a surprise to learn that he was born in neither country. Morris Barnes Miller Junior (his real name was one of his betterkept secrets) was born in Pasadena, California, on November 8, 1929 – just a fortnight after the Wall Street crash.
But the Great Depression and his mother’s remarriage saw him move to Argentina – first in Temperley and then in Hurlingham – in 1933 at the tender age of four. An early challenge because he started off with no Spanish and the wrong accent for St. George’s College, but he adapted completely in both cases – perhaps Oxford English would not be quite the right phrase (since he went to Cambridge) but it was definitely the Queen’s English.
An avid sportsman in school (swimming, cricket, rugby, boxing), he devoted the first three decades of his adult life to the Johnson Wax Company while always remaining somebody who worked to live rather than lived to work – a live-wire in generally light-hearted community cultural activities (such as the famous Camp Week Shows), both behind his guitar and on the stage.
For almost the last half-century of his long life (as from 1971) he was permanently based abroad but constantly popping up in Hurlingham and making his presence felt.
Quite apart from long heading the Anglo-Argentine Society in London, Barney’s interest in his first real home was revived by the South Atlantic conflict of 1982 – especially in the remainder of the 20th century he devoted considerable effort to brainstorming ways of rebuilding the bridges between Argentina and Britain.
Barney was a mainstay in organising nine Anglo-Argentine meetings (modelled on the postwar Anglo-German Königswinter conferences) through to 2006, bringing together politicians, journalists, artists, businessmen and clergy for open-ended and broad-based talks. He spread a wide net for possible solutions, such as the Finnish-Swedish condominium of Åland in the Baltic.
Barney evidently had powerful genes because of his four children (Julie, Catharine, Sarah and Dominic) the eldest is today the president of the Anglo-Argentine Society in London and the youngest has long been a guitarist with Sting, while two of his grandsons (Archie and Lucas) were journalists in the last years of the Buenos Aires Herald.
May he rest in the peace he always
sought and spread.