Bert Beer (1900 – 1982)

From Ego No.2, 1982

Albert (Bert) Beer died on Sunday, May 2nd, in the Royal Marsdon Hospital, London, in his 82nd. year. Educated in a Catholic orphanage whose regime was so repressive that when he left he could neither read nor write (he taught himself later), Bert served in the Middlesex Regiment of the British Army from 1918 to 1921. After his discharge he was unemployed for some years. During this time he was staying in a workers’ lodging house where he met an old man named Thomas Mahoney, a follower of Benjamin Tucker. Mahoney urged him to read The Ego and His Own, but it was not until 16 years later, in 1942, that he did.

In the meantime, Bert had to go through a phase of social idealism and in the 1930s he helped to form the Hammersmith Anarchist Group which carried out a vigorous open air propaganda campaign for several years, Bert being one of their “soapboxers”. He was the author of a pamphlet published by the group during the 1935 General Election entitled Direct Action: The Only Way! 43 years later he wrote to me that on the whole he was “more than impressed” by it despite “the syndicalist balderdash which accounts for all the nonsense” it contained.

When World War 2 came along Bert decided that he did not want another dose of army life. He appeared before a “conscientious objection” tribunal where he stated his case in Stirnerian terms and won his exemption. After the war was over he took no further part in the anarchist movement, regarding the “social anarchist brigade” as “numbskulls”.

I first met him in 1975 or 76 (although he remembered me from a visit to the Maletesta Club in the 1950s) having been told by Geoffrey Webster (ed.-who wrote under the name Scepticus) of an old friend of his who was always encouraging people to read The Ego and His Own (Typically, during the last two weeks of his life, he lent his copy of Stirner’s book to his welfare worker). Before his powers of concentration began to decline, I was often impressed by the clarity and perception of his observations on life. To this he added a fund of humorous and often hilarious anecdotes about his clashes with the authorities and the adherents of the various religious sects whose meetings he attended for “free entertainment” (His story of how he made a donkey into his “guru” was a classical example of his subversive humor).

I last saw him at his home in Southall two weeks before he died. Although depressed by a nose cancer that was spreading across his face, he still managed to make me welcome and entertained me with an account of his clashes with a catholic priest during his stay in hospital. (After much cogitation the priest finally labelled Bert an “Epicurian”). A few days later he went back into the hospital for the last time. On the Friday before he died he told another friend that the priest had tried to get him back into the Christian fold. Bert, however, refused his blandishments and sent him packing.

Without any service or ceremony Bert Beer was cremated on May 12 in the presence of a few friends and his son.