Obituary: Andrew Biggar CBE, MC; War hero, farmer and broadcaster who helped pioneer agricultural research in Scotland
Andrew Biggar, one of the driving forces behind the creation of the world renowned Pentland Science Park, has died. First and foremost, Andrew was a farmer but his interests and ability took him far beyond the farm at Magdalene Hall, St Boswells.
Always interested in agricultural science and how it could be transferred to practical farming, he was a director of the Animal Diseases Research Association based in Edinburgh. The government decided that near market research should be commercialised and so he helped set up the board of the pioneering Moredun Animal Health, which was the first company in the country to fulfil the government’s instruction.
Then, when it was decided to relocate Moredun from Gilmerton Road, Edinburgh to the Bush Estate, thus creating the Pentlands Science Park, he enthusiastically threw his weight behind this visionary move.
In restructuring the group of companies and the charity to create the Moredun Foundation, his experience and understanding of the research system made him an invaluable member of the board.
He was a firm believer in the “Scottish system”, which encourages strong links between farmers, educational institutes and research work, and he worked hard to ensure that scientific discoveries were quickly translated to practical farming and, just as importantly, farming problems were communicated to the scientific world for solutions.
As such he was very involved in the setting up of the Agricultural Discussion Society in Kelso, where he was able to use his contacts to bring the very best speakers to meetings. Similarly, the Border Union’s farm competitions were seen as an opportunity to see and appreciate “best practice”.
His genetic roots were deep in the farming world; he was one of four born into the Biggar family of Grange, Castle Douglas, a family known well beyond the shores of this country as expert cattle breeders.
While Andrew did not, himself, breed pedigree cattle, he was always intensely proud of the work his late brother, James, in following the family cattle breeding tradition.
After schooling in Castle Douglas, Warriston and Sedbergh, he graduated with a BSc from the University of Edinburgh at a time when few farmers had any tertiary education beyond the School of Hard Knocks.
Following graduation he was confronted with a choice between the law, accountancy and agriculture. Possessed of too much humour to become an accountant, he went to work at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen on a scholarship of £100 per year.
His career was interrupted by the war, and, as a territorial in the Royal Signals, he went to France with the 51st Highland Division. There he and his men were sent out to try to locate a terminal which, it was believed, would offer a telephone connection back to the UK.
A long and fruitless search ensued, and he sent his exhausted men back to camp while he continued on a motorcycle to search for the terminal. That exploit saw him become a recipient of the Military Cross.
In June 1940 he and his men were captured at St Valery and he spent the rest of the war in camps all over Germany. He wrote following the war of the loom he and his colleagues built and the cloth they wove. The ambition of the weavers was to produce a suit length to make a new suit for the King.
The completed length of Tweed reflected the eclectic sources of raw materials – worn-out sweaters and socks – which they had for their manufacture but they had to settle instead for it to become skirt lengths for wives and family.
Andrew’s portion, a skirt, remains in the family home.
Returning from the war, he married Pat Elliot, linking the Biggar dynasty with the equally illustrious Elliot clan in the Borders, and settled into a life managing farms both in Aberdeenshire and latterly in Northampton. In 1955 the opportunity arose to take the tenancy at Magdalene Hall and once there he milked cows and fed Christmas turkeys, both of which attracted great interest from his neighbours. When the dairy went in 1976, he moved into beef cattle production.
All this time, he was also fronting the BBC farming programme, Farm Forum, on which he became known as “one take Biggar” because his meticulous preparations meant that he didn’t need to resort to “take two”.
He was a genial and cordial studio host with the ability to put a young and rather nervous panel member at ease.
The thorough preparation he put in to his broadcasting work was also evident when he undertook the main ring commentaries for the Royal Smithfield Show in Earls Court. His commentaries set new standards, with chatty information skilfully blended with statistics which he had carefully extracted for himself.
Andrew had great pride in his family. He and Pat had a long and happy marriage and were immensely proud of Mike and Suzi and in due course their grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
He was a born do-it-yourself enthusiast, but repairs were generally carried out with the knife and piece of string he had been taught as a youngster to carry with him at all times.
In retirement he developed a great interest in his garden and following Pat’s death he further developed his talents in housekeeping.
Throughout his life he was a staunch supporter of Scottish rugby, particularly when his son Mike captained his country.
An elder at Mertoun Church, and following the linkage, at St Boswells, he lived his life with a strong Christian ethos.
To say that he was a man of parts is to undersell Andrew Biggar.
He had truly remarkable skills and diverse abilities which he deployed willingly to the benefit of his fellow men. He lived his life to the full, he lived his life well.