Until he left "Menlo," his white-columned home in Warrenton, Va., to drive to dinner Saturday night with his wife and guests, Peter Dixon was best known locally as the newcomer with the British accent.

That was before a reporter for the London Daily Mail leaped out at Dixon's car in "Menlo's" winding driveway, firing off a camera strobe and, according to Dixon's lawyer, "scaring them all practically to death."

The London Daily Telegraph, a Washington television crew and other journalists have followed, all eager to tell the world that a major figure in one of the biggest scandals ever to rock Lloyd's of London, the famous British insurance exchange, has been living quietly for almost two years in the rural Virginia town.

"He has not attempted to hide his identity or his whereabouts," said the lawyer, Alan Olson. Since the press ambush last weekend, however, Olson said Dixon has declined comment on the case. A woman with a British accent who answered the phone yesterday at Dixon's home said Dixon was out of the country. Olson said Dixon was in Warrenton.

Dixon is one of several defendants in two legal actions in London alleging that he and a second Lloyd's figure, Peter Cameron-Webb, misappropriated huge sums in the late 1970s and early 1980s belonging to Lloyd's "names." The "names" were wealthy investors in the PCW Agency run by Dixon and Cameron-Webb.

According to David Larner, chief spokesman for Lloyd's, Cameron-Webb and Dixon allegedly mishandled about $56.5 million, investing some of the money in the offshore islands of Guernsey and the Isle of Man and in Gibraltar and Geneva.

Other funds, Larner said in a telephone interview, allegedly went to support "very flamboyant life styles" -- yachts, executive jets and mansions.

Olson said Dixon's assets were frozen by court order in England. The couple purchased "Menlo," a stately residence once owned by actor Chad Everett, in the name of Dixon's American wife, Sherrill, according to the lawyer. He said Dixon has been "running some cattle" and pursuing other business interests during the past two years, but declined to give details.

"Everything is owned by his wife," Olson said.

According to Larner, Dixon was expelled from Lloyd's for his alleged role in the scandal, moving first to Marbella, Spain, and then to Virginia's hunt country. He was fined $1.45 million by Lloyd's and assessed $311,750 in costs. Dixon was served with a court order on Feb. 10 demanding payment of the fine and costs, according to a lawyer in a Washington firm representing Lloyd's.

Olson said Dixon would have no comment on the allegations while the cases are pending.

According to Larner, Cameron-Webb was permitted to resign from Lloyd's and was not fined. Such resignations are now prohibited under reforms in Lloyd's rules. Larner said Cameron-Webb is working in Miami for the Insurance Exchange of the Americas.

"Lloyd's is very disappointed that criminal fraud charges have not been brought against Cameron-Webb and Dixon," said Larner. He said that a "considerable amount of pressure" to do so is being placed on London prosecutors by Lloyd's, the "names" and members of Parliament.

Meanwhile, the question of who must pay for sizable insurance losses incurred by PCW is still being worked out in complex negotiations and legal actions in London. "Business Insurance," a U.S. industry newsletter, reported in its current issue that losses from 1979 to 1982 total $188.5 million. Losses may rise to between $290 million and $362.5 million when figures from 1983 are completed, the publication said.