Lieutenant-Colonel Graham Tullet, who has died aged 74, was the last Englishman to be elected president of the Royal Bombay Yacht Club.
Only about a dozen Britons are to be found among the 1,200 members today. But as a tall, popular local businessman who liked to sport an eyeglass and had the swagger of one born to command, Tullet was a natural choice to keep the peace between bickering Parsees, Sindhis and others. Agreeing to take control for 1974, he set about tightening up the way the club was run and reviving some of the glory it had known in the mid-19th century.
There were rumbles about the retention of its name after the doors were opened to Indians in 1957; but it was 30 years later that he and a predecessor as president, Major Frank Courtney, challenged the suggestion that the “Royal” of Royal Bombay Yacht Club, used since 1876, was redundant. They wrote to Buckingham Palace inquiring if it was still appropriate and were reassured to receive the Queen’s approval.
Few in Bombay/Mumbai now resent the club’s name, although one member insists on making his cheques out to the “Royal Mumbai”, without his bank objecting. Younger members enjoy the story of the upright Field Marshal Montgomery being asked to leave after dancing on tables as a subaltern, and approve of the sign declaring: “It is prudent to be attired appropriately for the time of day.”
Tullet ensured that the steak and kidney pie was properly cooked. A Christian choir still sings at the Christmas lunch. The Queen’s portrait retains pride of place in the Lounge, and the old trophies and sepia photographs were brought up from the basement to remind members of their 150-year history. Club staff showed their appreciation of his clear orders by presenting him, uniquely, with a silver salver on his retirement.
Looking out from his office at the Gateway of India in the Mumbai harbour, Tullet used to say that his most important task was to preserve the club’s artefacts – which included himself.
Among other activities he organised the annual Remembrance Day service at the Afghan Church, which commemorates the disastrous Afghan War and the bloody Sind campaign. About 300 ex-servicemen and their families attend, though only about a third are thought to be Christians. “I cut Christ out of all the prayers – you don’t notice,” he would explain. “But God’s OK.”
As a dedicated council member of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League, for which he was appointed OBE in 2003, Tullet was responsible for distributing, and contributing generously to, charitable funds for some 150 soldiers in Western India and Goa who had not transferred from the Crown to the Indian Army in 1947. In Bombay their number is now down to around 14, including the widow of a VC.
Graham Beverley Tullet was born on November 12 1941, the son of a probation officer and mayor of Chichester. After Christ’s Hospital, where he developed a romantic passion for heraldry, he went to Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Worcestershire regiment.
He was first sent to Germany then seconded as a political officer to the Trucial Oman Scouts for two years of continuing border skirmishing and tribal warfare. There he became friendly with Sheikh Za’id, the future ruler and later first president of the United Arab Emirates.
On returning to Britain Tullet no longer felt at home in his regiment and left the Army to become a contract officer with the Abu Dhabi Defence Force, for whom he built up a battalion.
He moved on, however, to hire some 200 men to plant trees in Abu Dhabi to create more moisture in the atmosphere, though the project failed to flourish owing to a combination of corruption and an unco-operative climate. After six months back in England he was bored, like many a returned colonial figure before him.
In 1969, on the advice of Za’id he headed for Bombay. With his brother officer John Cartwright, he launched a successful recruitment agency which found more than 30,000 skilled tradesmen and artisans for major building projects in the Gulf and North Africa.
This enabled him to travel home in grand style to attend meetings of the League’s council at Buckingham Palace and return to his smallholding in Somerset, where he enjoyed driving his daughter in a pony and trap to the local pub.
Tullet’s greatest boast was that he could drink at the Royal Bombay late on a Friday evening, then pick up a bag from his bearer to catch the 1am KLM plane to Amsterdam. He would then fly to Bristol and be driven to his Somerset house for breakfast before riding out with the Chipstable Hunt at 11am. It was an achievement echoing the spirit of Major William Hodson, the leader of Hodson’s Horse, whom Tullet played charging across the screen in Junoon (1978), a film about the Indian Mutiny.
He is survived by his daughter.
Lieutenant-Colonel Graham Tullet, born November 12 1941, died December 16 2015