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Man of the world

Roger Benge’s extraordinary tales from around the world prove once and for all that an accountant’s life is never dull. Peter Taylor-Whiffen hears about a life well-lived

While working in Abu Dhabi, Roger Benge accidentally knocked a minaret off a mosque. Another time he had to physically put the body of his firm’s partner in a coffin. Then there was the occasion he got a job in Paris, with barely any French, and learned he was staying in the red light district… “Some people think an accountant’s life is dull,” he says. “Mine’s been a great adventure!” Benge, now 80, has other similar tales from a working life that spanned 55 years, and which began at Martin, Farlow & Co in offices he recalls as “Dickensian – we almost expected quill pens”. After qualifying, he joined Coopers, moving to France in 1964 with new wife Sally and finding they had moved into the red light district – “we certainly found the best way to learn a language is to be thrown in the deep end”. But Benge soon wanted adventure further afield, a wish fulfilled with a posting to Tehran and then, with Arthur Young, in Paris and Iran again, Athens, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. “I spent 30 really happy years in the Emirates,” says Benge.

“It was there I discovered my passion for sailing.” Sailing also gave him unexpected adventure. “Near where we lived was a ‘tin shack’ mosque. As I was towing my boat on a trailer back to the sea, the mast caught a wire supplying power to the mosque and the minaret fell to the ground. We’d actually got on very well with everybody in the past two years but the mosque crowd claimed that I, as an infidel, had deliberately tried to destroy it.” Benge smoothed things over and his compensation enabled them to rebuild the minaret – “with neon lights and two loudspeakers directed straight at our bedroom window. The first call to prayer is one and a half hours before dawn. We got used to it…” Other tales include going beyond the call of duty following the death of a partner.

“He was of CanadianGreek origin and his family wanted him repatriated to Canada, so I had to source a lead-lined coffin. Then when I went to the hospital I had to help put him in it, as the staff were reluctant because of his religion. The widow wanted me to accompany the coffin to Canada, so I did, but when it was in the grave, I noticed it had ropes round it. Apparently once his family all left, the widow was going to follow her husband’s wishes by shipping him back to Greece for cremation!” Benge and his wife, who have two grown-up children and two grandchildren, moved back to Weybridge when he officially retired, but he still does the accounts for friends in Abu Dhabi, “so we enjoy a month in the winter there”. He also still loves sailing and plays golf, tennis, petanque and croquet. “I’m thoroughly enjoying everything I do,” he says. “It’s been a great pleasure. It still is.”

Originally published in Economia on 4 October 2019.