V is for Chad Varah: His Work With The Samaritans


Chad was an Anglican clergyman who founded the Samaritans in 1953. Suicide was illegal at the time and he felt something could be done to help people in distress.

In the video above, his daughter Felicity Varah Harding, talks about her father and Prince Charles marking the occasion of the 60 year celebrations at the Central London branch.

Here is some more background about the Samaritans. The official site explains:

The first funeral Chad Varah took as a curate prompted his lifelong commitment to suicide prevention and education.

The funeral was for a 13-year-old girl who had taken her own life because she feared she was seriously ill; in fact she had started to menstruate.

Chad vowed at her graveside to devote himself to helping other people overcome the sort of ignorance and isolation that had ultimately caused the young girl’s death.

The Samaritans in the 70s

Chad was born in Lincolnshire and studied at Oxford before attending Lincoln Theological College.

He was ordained in 1936, then worked as curate in various parts of the UK before serving much of his working life in London.

Always daring to be different, he supplemented his early income by working as a children’s comic scriptwriter.

He helped to create Dan Dare, the spaceman, for The Eagle comic. The official Samaritans site continues:

An early proponent of sex education, Chad Varah alerted society to the approach of the permissive society, usually associated with the 1960s, with an article in the Picture Post in 1952.

Far more important to him than the outraged responses of conservative society were the 235 people who wrote in afterwards to bare their souls, 14 of whom showed signs of considering suicide.

The opportunity to act on his earlier promise to help people in emotional need came in 1953 when Chad was appointed Rector at the Church of St Stephen Walbrook in the City of London.

In the early 1950s, three suicides a day were officially recorded in Greater London; suicide was still an illegal act and sex education hardly existed.

Chad advertised in the press for people to help – not as trained counsellors, but as ordinary human beings offering a listening ear and emotional support. 

Inundated with offers of help, he opened the first drop-in centre where emotionally isolated and distressed people could go to find a sympathetic ear – and Samaritans was born.

Chad continued to run Samaritans until 1987, thereafter remaining an active member of the organisation and retaining a watchful eye over it even after his retirement.

The movement now has 202 branches in UK and Ireland, with 15,500 volunteers providing emotional support around the clock.

Its international arm, Befrienders Worldwide, works in more than 40 countries. 


Samaritans found that ‘providing a listening ear’ could enable people to take more charge of their lives.

Certainly some might use it as a constant emotional crutch, but it was still worth it, even if it helped only one person to live longer.

Chad’s pioneering work created a caring framework. This enabled many people to help themselves and live more fulfilling lives.

You can discover more about the Samaritans at:


Below is an interview with Duncan Irvine in which he describes his personal experience of being helped by the organisation. Duncan is now a volunteer with the Central London branch of the Samaritans.


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