Obituaries: Sir George Bishop

GEORGE BISHOP'S career can be seen as falling into three parts. The first, culminating in his appointment as the youngest ever Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, was devoted to government and the Civil Service. The second, culminating in his period as chairman of Booker McConnell, focused on industry, commerce and banking. The third, culminating in his presidency of the Royal Geographical Society, was linked to mountaineering, photography and travel. Of course, the three parts intermingled.

Bishop was proud of his Lancastrian roots, having grown up near Wigan and winning a scholarship to the Grammar School at Ashton-in-Makerfield before going on, again with a scholarship, to the London School of Economics where he studied Economics and Government under Harold Laski. During his time at the LSE he developed a strong social conscience, but he vigorously opposed the Communists who at that time had a prominent presence there.

On leaving the LSE in 1935, Bishop went to work in South Wales for a Quaker organisation which was helping the unemployed through the encouragement of subsistence production. In his spare time he climbed in North Wales, running the half-mile and driving fast cars. In 1937 he was the winner of the winter trials of the Riley Motor Club.

At the outbreak of the Second World War he was a statistician working for the Ministry of Food; to his deep disappointment he had been rejected for military service because his skills were needed in the Civil Service. During the war he ran the Emergency Services Division of the Ministry of Food which, along with the Women's Voluntary Service, was responsible for bringing food and refreshment to the victims of German bombing throughout the UK. The arrival of cups of tea and fresh bread did much for morale. Bishop was greatly helped in the anticipation of the bombing raids and consequent food needs by the code breakers at Bletchley.

After the war, Bishop was Private Secretary to two Labour Ministers of Food, Ben Smith and John Strachey. The improvement of food supplies, particularly fats and oils, was of paramount importance. The Government was persuaded to launch the ill-fated Tanganyika ground-nut scheme - growing ground nuts to help supplement the British fat ration - which was ill-prepared, inadequately planned and over-ambitious.

With his Minister, John Strachey, Bishop saw the impending disaster and later, as Under-Secretary, had responsibility for winding the scheme up. This experience left him with an abiding scepticism of grandiose agricultural projects justified by untested assumptions of yield, production and profit. Bishop's other responsibilities included milk, sugar and cereals, and he was involved in the international wheat and sugar negotiations where he led the UK delegations. In 1959 he was promoted to Deputy Secretary, at that time the youngest such appointment ever.

In 1961 a civil service friend and mentor, Sir Henry Hancock, introduced Bishop to Jock Campbell (later Lord Campbell of Eskan), the chairman of Booker McConnell, which at that time was mainly involved in sugar production in British Guyana. Bishop joined Booker the same year as a director, becoming vice-chairman in 1970 and chairman in 1972, until his retirement in 1979.

During this period Booker was transforming itself from a colonial plantation company to a diversified food conglomerate, mainly based in the UK. Bishop was proud of the fact that when the Booker estates and factories in Guyana were eventually nationalised in 1975, the financial impact on Booker was minimal. However, Bishop never neglected the outposts of the Booker empire, holding the firm view that he and his wife Una should visit any place where staff were serving.

In this context they spent many months in British Guyana during the emergency in the Sixties when the backlash from the political rivalry between Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham resulted in attacks on Booker staff and families. The sugar industry also benefited from Bishop's efforts in Washington where he was largely responsible for securing a US sugar quota. In the UK, his business interests widened with directorships of Ranks Hovis McDougall, Barclays International and Barclays Bank. His continuing public service included membership of the Nato Civil Supplies Agency, the Panel for Civil Service, Manpower Review and the Royal Commission on the Press.

George Bishop climbed his first mountain at the age of eight and climbed regularly thereafter in North Wales, the Lake District and Scotland. In the 1960s he and Una went climbing in the Alps. Realising that Kashmir was in the sterling area, and thus not subject to exchange control, they discovered the Himalayas, the destination of 18 subsequent expeditions, mainly to Nepal.

Some 12,000 photographs testify to Bishop's commitment to the Himalayas. The photographic archive went further, encompassing his travels for Booker and the Royal Geographical Society, of which he was President from 1983 to 1987. His achievements for the RGS included the restoration of the iron railings at its London headquarters and the mounting of a large, broadly based scientific expedition to the unexplored Kimberley area of Western Australia. With Una he made the first crossing of the King Leopold range and visited the unknown and untouched sites and caves.

George Bishop was a tremendous friend and colleague, particularly to that group of ageing executives at Booker whom he constantly referred to as "my young men". He was warm and loyal in good times and bad. He was properly concerned and involved with families. He believed in people.

George Sidney Bishop, civil servant and businessman: born Wigan, Lancashire 15 October 1913; Private Secretary to the Minister of Food 1945-49; OBE 1947; Under-Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food 1949- 59, Deputy Secretary 1959-61; CB 1958; director, Booker McConnell Ltd 1961-82, vice-chairman 1970-71, chairman 1972-79; Kt 1975; President, Royal Geographical Society 1983-87; married 1940 Marjorie Woodruff (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1961), 1961 Una Padel; died High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire 9 April 1999.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before