Reginald Francis Orlando Bridgeman was born in London on 14 October 1884. The family was descended from Sir Orlando Bridgeman, the famous law officer, who died in 1674. Reginald was the eldest son of Colonel the Hon. Francis Bridgeman, the second son of the third earl of Bradford, and Conservative MP for Bolton, 1885-1895, and his wife Gertrude Hanbury. Reginald's unusual life saw him move from being a comfortably placed minor aristocrat, in an appropriate occupation, to a committed leftwing activist - a stance which he maintained from his 30s for the rest of his life (Bellamy and Saville, Dictionary of Labour Biography, vii, p.26).
Reginald Bridgeman was educated at Harrow, but left school at sixteen to study languages abroad. He began a diplomatic career in 1903, as honorary attache in the embassy at Madrid and in July 1908 he was posted to Paris as third secretary. He was in Paris until 1916 and counted amongst his friends Jean Cocteau and other members of the Paris avant-guarde. He was promoted to Second Secretary in 1911, and became Private Secretary to Sir Francis Bertie, the Ambassador to France, in 1912. He was briefly transferred to Athens but came back to Paris in 1917 as private secretary to Lord Derby, the British Amabassador. He was promoted to first secretary in 1918 and was transferred to Vienna in 1919, where he was briefly Charge d'Affaires. In November 1920 he was promoted Counsellor of Embassy and appointed to the British Legation at Teheran. On his way to Teheran he visited India and a number of Middle Eastern countries including Iraq (Bellamy and Saville, Dictionary of Labour Biography, vii, p.27).
Thus far Bridgeman's progress appears to have been smoothly upwards and typical of someone of his background. For reasons that remain unclear, he swiftly became a leftwing Socialist during the years 1919 to 1922. It is possible that this move was prompted initially by his observations in post war Vienna, where he acquired his first view of leftwing groups in action. His arrival in Teheran coincided with the coup by Reza Khan (later the Shah). He appears to have become particularly friendly with Theodore Rothstein, the Soviet Minister there, much to the annoyance of Eyre Crow, Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office, and Lord Curzon, the Foreign Secretary. Bridgeman's fraternisation with the enemy caused considerable alarm in London. Most significantly, in October 1921 he attended a Russian reception celebrating the October Revolution. This episode led to Bridgeman's removal from Teheran in March 1922, followed by a period of 'unemployment', and his early retirement (with a pension) from 1 July 1923. He maintained links with the Persian embassy and with exiled Persian intellectuals, most notably Syyid Zia ed-Din Tabatabai, and used the League Against Imperialism from the late 1920s to make political statements anout Middle Eastern affairs (Bellamy and Saville, Dictionary of Labour Biography, vii, p.28).
Bridgeman's shift to the Left was perhaps assisted, or reinforced by, his marriage in 1923 to Olwen Elizabeth Jones, a typist, and daughter of a retired chemist and active local politician. The Bridgemans lived in Pinner where, in 1924, Reginald became a founder and then secretary of the Hendon Divisional Labour Party. He was to remain active in local politics for the rest of his life.
His first prominent role at national level came in relation to China. The interventionist and violent reaction of the foreign powers (principally Britain, America and Japan) to the spread of the Kuomintang during 1925 and 1926 led to anti-Imperialist campaigns in Britain. The Chinese Information Bureau, based in London, was established in early 1925. One of the prime movers was Colonel L'Estrange Malone, who became a close friend of Bridgeman's: he had been a Coalition Liberal, then a Communist until his defeat in 1922, and later in the 1920s was to be a Labour MP. Bridgeman also became joint secretary of the British Labour Council for Chinese Freedom, which was established following a special meeting organised by the London Trades Council in December 1926. BLCCF members included Fenner Brockway, George Lansbury, and Bertrand Russell. The CIB concentrated on issuing statements and propaganda on behalf of the Chinese Nationalist cause. During 1926 and early 1927 the CIB provoked comment in the British and Chinese press. Interest waned after Chiang Kai-shek's counter-revolution of 1927 and Bridgeman turned his attention to the Soviet Union and the League Against Imperialism (Bellamy and Saville, Dictionary of Labour Biography, vii, pp.28-30).
Bridgeman was never officially a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. His most important activities were connected with the League Against Imperialism, of which he was secretary. For most of its 10 year existence the LAI was an organisation proscribed by the Labour Party because it was thought to be dominated by the CPGB. Although Bridgeman repeatedly denied this, the LAI does appear to have followed the Party line on most occasions. The LAI was most active in its early years, particularly those of the Meerut Conspiracy trial between 1929 and 1933. Bridgeman produced numerous articles and pamphlets in the general area of colonialism and racism, and on particular countries, such as Cyprus, Iraq, Egypt and India. He was especially strident in his writings against Zionism, and his concern for the Palestinian Arabs. He was equally forthright in his attacks on the anti-Semitism that developed during the 1930s.
Bridgeman's LAI connections did not help his political career. He became Chairman of the Hendon Divisional Labour Party in 1927, and was adopted as parliamentary candidate for the Uxbridge Division later that same year. In the 1929 general election the Labour vote doubled to 16422, and the Tory majority fell to 1348. He was re-adopted as candidate, but the decision of the Executive Committee of the Labour Party to proscribe the LAI made him ineligible to stand (Bellamy and Saville, Dictionary of Labour Biography, vii, pp.30-32). He was then adopted as the Workers' candidate, sponsored by the Southall Branch of the LAI. His election address in 1931 included the cry: 'To win power the workers must realise the nature of the present struggle. It is no mere party struggle. It is class war.' Bridgeman, in a poor election for all left candidates (including the Labour Party), polled only 2358 votes.
He became more involved in grass-roots politics in the early 1930s and represented unemployed workers before the Court of Referees. He spent his savings on building workers' houses which he rented out at income-related rates. He also became active in the anti-war movement, in the China and Spain Relief Committee, and as a Council member of the China Campaign Committee set up by the Union of Democratic Control in 1937.
On the closure of the LAI in 1937 Bridgeman was re-admitted to the Labour Party. He had in fact maintained close links with members and officials, and was a member of the General and Municipal Workers' Union from the 1920s. He also spoke and campaigned for Labour Party candidates during elections. After his re-admission in the spring of 1937, he was quickly adopted as parliamentary candidate for the Hendon division in early 1938. However, he continued to maintain links with individuals and groups on the Left and experienced difficult relations with several key members of the local Labour Party. He eventually resigned as candidate on 17 July 1940. The final break with the Labour Party came over the demand that he should withdraw his name from the document convening the Communist-inspired People's Convention in January 1941. This led to his expulsion from the Labour Party (Bellamy and Saville, Dictionary of Labour Biography, vii, pp.31-7)
At the time of his resignation as a Parliamentary candidate Bridgeman listed his membership of organisations, and this shows the great range of his interests:
The Abyssinia Association
The Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society
The China Campaign Committee
The Coloured Film Artistes Association
The Committee for West Indian Affairs
The Connolly Club
The India League
The National Council for Civil Liberties (he was treasurer 1949-51, and sometime chairman of its Overseas Committee)
The Royal Institute of International Affairs
The Society for Cultural relations with the USSR
The Society for West Indian Affairs
During the 1940s he also gave financial and moral support to the local Pioneer Theatre Society Ltd, of which he was made President. His renewed interest in China came with the victory of the Chinese Communists in 1949. In April 1949 a committee was established in Britain to promote improved relations. This was chaired by John Platts-Mills MP; Bridgeman was a committee member. A Conference was held in London in December 1949, and Bridgeman ended up on the Management Committee and the Executive Committee of what was named the Britain-China Friendship Association. The outbreak of the Korean War some months later did not enhance the new organisation's popularity. In addition, between 1949 and 1951 he was treasurer of the National Council for Civil Liberties, for a time being the chairman of its overseas committee.
By the mid-1950s, and now in his early 70s, Bridgeman's involvement in leftwing causes began to diminish. However, he was an active supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament from its foundation. His last published article, produced for Labour Monthly in October 1964, was entitled 'The National Liberation Struggle', and dealt with his usual anti-imperialist theme.
Despite spending most of his adult life as a man of the far Left, both his sons went to Harrow, and his two daughters were privately educated. He died on 11 December 1968, and was cremated at Breakspear Crematorium, Ruislip. He was survived by his wife, Olwen, and by one son (Clive, b.1946) and two daughters, Victoria and Valery. His eldest son was killed towards the end of the Second World War (Bellamy and Saville, Dictionary of Labour Biography, vii, pp.37-9)