WITH his Johnny Weismuller haircut – styled after one of the first screen Tarzan's – and usually driving a GGG reg. slightly dishevelled drophead Mercedes well before private plates became popular, Gerald Coates cut an unusual figure in the village of Hallow, just outside Worcester. But if you thought that was a bit left bank, you should have seen where he lived.

In fact Gerald did live quite near a river bank on the west side of the Severn, but his surroundings were unlikely to say the least for rural Worcestershire. His 65 acres were approached through grand entrance gates which had a passing similarity to those at the Palace of Versailles and it went more bizarre from there.

For he spent probably several million pounds creating his own Heaven on Earth. Nearly all of it without bothering to burden the local planning department.

Now the Gerald Coates story of eccentricity and generosity has been told in a book by Hallow author Brian Humphreys. Called The Gold Bench on a Yellow Brick Road, it revisits a remarkable gardening project carried out by a singular man most of his neighbours knew, but few really got to know.

Gerald, whose money appears to have come from his hairdresser grandfather’s substantial and astutely garnered property holdings in Kidderminster, which were compulsory purchased to build the ring road, bought a house and 65 acres of riverside farmland in 1989 and spent years and vast sums creating an arboretum and landscaped classical gardens as a tribute to his mother Irene Green, whom he adored. He referred to the whole as God’s Glorious Garden - hence the GGG of his number plate - although the postal address was Green Park.

Brian Humphreys explained: “The groundworks included a colonnade, an obelisk rising high near to the rear boundary, many sculptures and a pavilion perched on a high point at the rear of the property, tiled with Italian tiles. I was to learn this so-called pavilion was indeed a chapel that Gerald had erected as a memorial to his late mother.

“The necessary building equipment and specialist Italian tiles had been imported from a company in Naples and their workforce of three craftsmen spent some considerable time erecting it. Every detail was finished to perfection, including some of the images being laden with gold leaf.

“It was from here on the various anniversaries connected with his mother, such as birthdays and anniversaries of her death, he would play classical music so loud it could easily be heard by his few neighbours. He played other music such as Lucian Pavarotti in particular, which would go bursting through the lower valley and even echoing on the higher surrounding ground.

“Gerald was always getting into trouble because he did things without permission. This included the chapel and two monument-type pairs of gates, not to mention the conversion of a bridleway through his ground into a very wide pale tan concrete path which stretched for about a mile. It was expensively built to resemble block paving and became known locally as the Yellow Brick Road.

“The bridleway was so obviously a public right of way, but Gerald must have thought he was doing everyone a favour by converting what was a muddy, narrow slope, into what it became

“In addition, and not to mention the large fancy portico porch and Roman columns around the farmhouse, there was a huge sphynx-like statue on the hill. All developed without communication with or consent from the local community or the planning department.”

The amount spent on the Glorious Garden must have been immense, but Gerald Coates didn’t keep his money to himself. Essentially a shy man, he generously and anonymously supported several local causes, in particular helping sick children, and he was an important backer of projects at Worcestershire County Cricket Club.

However his peaceful and generally stress-free if somewhat lonely life, was thrown into turmoil in the early 1990s when the old chestnut of completing Worcester’s ring road reared its head again.

Pressure has always been on to complete the missing north west section from Crown East across the River Severn to Hawford and this time the preferred route ran straight through Gerald’s garden. “It would have been his Armageddon moment,” said Brian.

“All I have spoken to about this are absolutely sure if the road had been forced across his land the stress would have killed him.” As it happened opponents of the scheme won the day and the ring remains incomplete.

Gerald Coates eventually died aged 74 in Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham in 2008 from a brain tumour. His time in Hallow is mainly commemorated, ironically, by a golden bench he had built in memory of two other people, his best friends in the village Allan Powell and Ted Dolton. It has recently been renovated and forms the title of Brian Humphrey’s book, a wonderfully odd tale of English country life.

* The Gold Bench on a Yellow Brick Road by Brian Humphreys is available on Amazon at £10 or direct from the author via brianhumphreyso@aol.com for £8.