I’ve been sorting my bookshelves and came across my George Bean guide books. In the 1980s and 90s, these volumes were my constant travelling companions. In the age before the Wikipedia and Google Maps, George Bean guaranteed that I found my way to almost every archaeological site on the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts because he had walked, driven or ridden there himself. In the early 80s, turning up with a copy of “Turkey Beyond the Maeander” under an arm would be the signal for elderly gentlemen seated in the kahves to make that universally accepted Turkish hand-flapping gesture meaning “come hither” and recount how George, Uzun Boylu, The Tall One (he was over 6ft 5 tall) had stayed in the village and how Ahmet, Mehmet or Ali had taken him up to the Kale on the hill and this was cue for every one else to join in the conversation emphasising how polite he was. His wife Jane tells a story illuminating George’s innate niceness; They were staying as guests in a village house and a goat stew was brought out. Jane and their other travelling companion were unable to even take a mouthful of the stew; it was so rank, but George unwilling to offend his hosts who in true village fashion were putting them up for 3 days and refusing to accept any payment, ate 3 portions. He spent the whole night outside in the privy and was unable to visit the local worthies the next day.
George Bean was a teacher of Ancient Greek at St Paul's in London before he was sent to Izmir by the British Council in 1944. He was seconded to Istanbul University and was head of the Classics Department. He travelled widely and as a fluent speaker of Turkish was able to question villagers and discover and map hundreds of ancient sites that other foreign scholars had not been able to find. His great frame did not suit him to travelling in Turkey, bus seats and beds were always too small and his travelling companion J.M. Cook writes that the luggage space at the back of local buses was the only place George would fit. But in his good natured way, he took everything in his stride and being a natural sportsman, once reaching the 3rd round in the doubles at Wimbledon and captaining Surrey at badminton, he was fit enough to walk where local transport didn’t exist. Once sleeping on a village roof, he forget where he was and getting up in the night to visit the outhouse, stepped straight off the edge and buckled his knee. The next day he had to be carried down a steep hill by a strong village youth.
George’s last travels in Turkey were in 1977 and his last volume was published a year after his death. His books are still of great use to travellers and I’m sure there are still a few who would welcome the opportunity to remember “Uzun Boylu” over a glass of tea.