John Maynard Keynes was the elder son of a Cambridge academic marriage, between John Neville Keynes, lately of Pembroke College and Florence Brown, one of the early students of Newnham College. Maynard was born and brought up at 6 Harvey Road, where his parents lived for the rest of their lives.

After school at Eton, he was admitted to King’s College to read Maths, but his energetic mind sought and absorbed material from many other fields. He graduated in 1905 and turned to Economics, which had only recently become a Cambridge Tripos course. Then, after two years in the civil service in London, where his work included the study of finance and currency in India, he returned to Cambridge as a lecturer in economics and a Fellow of King’s. From 1909 until 1915 he taught, studied and wrote, becoming also editor of the Economic Journal. His influence and reputation spread, and in the early days of World War I he was invited to work in the Treasury, where he stayed for the duration of the war. His work brought him in contact with a wide and influential circle including successive prime ministers. At the close of the war, he was involved as Treasury representative with calculations of German reparations. He disagreed strongly with the final punitive terms, and resigned his post to write Economic Consequences of the Peace.

He returned to spend more time in Cambridge, but observed in a letter to his mother, ‘It’s amusing to pass from Cambridge, where I’m a nonentity, to London, where I’m a celebrity.’
During the twenties and thirties he engaged in speculation in foreign currencies. After an initial failure, he exercised greater care and enjoyed great success. He was appointed First Bursar of King’s College in 1924 and was able to employ his skill in investment to the benefit of the College. ‘His success in increasing the revenues of King’s was spectacular…’ To combine his various interests, he spent long weekends at King’s, short weeks in London. He was engaged in boards and committees for a number of commercial organisations, but continued to teach and write. He published A Treatise on Money in 1930 followed by the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money in 1936 which expanded further his international reputation and influenced President Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ in America.

From his early days he took an active interest in books, becoming a regular customer of David’s bookstall on Cambridge market, and the arts. He was one of the Bloomsbury group, a set of artists and writers which had its origins in Cambridge before coalescing in that area of London. In 1919 the Russian Diaghilev brought his ballet company to London, with the celebrated ballerina Lydia Lopokova. On a second visit, in 1921, Keynes fell in love with Lydia. She remained in London, was introduced to the Bloomsbury circle and danced in various productions. In August 1925 she and Keynes were married and their shared interest in the theatre remained an important part of Keynes’ life.

In the early thirties, Keynes’ interest in the arts focused on Cambridge, where he had discerned a lack of provision for the performing arts. He had all the resources and contacts needed to take action. He conceived the notion of a theatre that would accommodate drama, music, opera, dance and cinema, to be built on land belonging to King’s College. The Arts Theatre was opened in 1936:
‘Keynes was in every sense responsible – for the idea, for the execution, and for the finance.’ He had personal reasons too for the foundation. In a letter to the mayor, he said that the establishment of the theatre Trust, with the prospect of being of equal benefit to town and University, should also be a form of memorial to his parents, who had spent active and productive lives in the local community for over fifty years. (His mother was a Borough Councillor, mayor in 1932-3.)
Keynes was often at the theatre, not only for his own pleasure, but also because he was determined that the finances should not be endangered by a lack of attention to detail. Nothing was too trivial for him. ‘There was even an occasion when, by some mishap, the box-office clerk failed to appear and Keynes himself went into the box-office to issue tickets.’ From 1937 he and Lydia took a Cambridge flat at 17a St Edward’s Passage, looking across the churchyard to the theatre.
In November that year he suffered a very serious heart attack, and although he recovered and resumed a demanding life, lesser attacks followed.

At the outbreak of World War II Keynes returned to the Treasury. He was created a peer (Lord Keynes of Tilton) in 1942.
Despite the other demands made on him, he retained his strong commitment to the arts, as a force for good. He became Chairman of the Committee for the Encouragement of Music and Arts (CEMA) in 1942 and mapped out the national support for the arts, which then took long-term form as the Arts Council.

While still negotiating post-war financial agreements with America, he collapsed and died in 1946.