Obituary: Sir Robin Brook

THE OFFICES of Gordon Woodroffe & Co, merchants, were just off Regent Street, behind and above Garrards the Crown jewellers. Briefly (in 1957) I was a secretary to the chairman, Robin Brook. He had the best room there: yet he spent most of his time away from the office, and what he actually did in his fine room I never discovered. I had occasionally to type a letter for him - almost always on personal affairs, never significant. To me he was a mystery: a man whom I had been told was extraordinarily brilliant, with a first-class brain.

He was born in 1908, the son of a surgeon, and was educated, via scholarships, at Eton and Cambridge. He had a mind like lightning, seeing to the nub of any problem in a flash. He was Maynard Keynes's "star pupil" and went on to gain a Double First in Economics. He was a fine bridge player, which helped him, winning money, to survive his Cambridge years.

His sport was fencing: he became British Sabre Champion (the sabre having a sharp edge, with which one may "cut" against the chest or wrist of one's opponent). Brook was an elegant fencer, unhurried, timing being the essence of his skill. He took part in the Olympic Games of 1936 and 1948; at the Berlin Olympics (where the competitors' put-up "village" accommodation would later become Saschenhausen concentration camp), he avoided the "march past", thus also the salute to Hitler.

His war service began as one of three bright young men (Hugh Gaitskell and Christopher Mayhew being the other two) in the Ministry of Economic Warfare under Hugh Dalton. Brook was assigned to what would later be the Special Operations Executive, the clandestine organisation involved in subversive activities in enemy-held territory. His responsibilities lay in Western Europe - the Low Countries, but especially France; his dealings with de Gaulle required all his tact and skill. Brook knew the Resistance leader Jean Moulin, who would have become Brook's younger daughter's godfather had he not been tortured to death. Brook gave the daughter Lorraine amongst her names, in honour of the French Resistance.

Brook recruited and controlled agents; several hundred men and women passed through his department. They knew that, if caught, they might be subjected to appalling torture, and were supplied with a "suicide pill" which they should take rather than talk. Brook himself, more than once in personal danger (not least when trying to reach Buchenwald in search of an agent incarcerated there) once carried a suicide pill and reckoned he would take it if necessary.

In 1944 Brook worked "at Eisenhower's elbow", obtaining from agents the information from behind the enemy's lines that Eisenhower sought during the Allies' advance eastwards. He was showered with high decorations, the reference books nonchalantly listing the American Legion of Merit, the French Legion d'Honneur, Croix de Guerre and Bars, the Belgian Order of Leopold and the Belgian Croix de Guerre.

At the end of the war Brook, a brigadier with the British occupying forces in western Germany, was recalled by his former boss Dalton (by now Chancellor of the Exchequer) and made a director of the Bank of England (at 37 the youngest ever). In 1949, he became Deputy Chairman of the Colonial Development Corporation, and later would head many well-known public companies, become president of many chambers of commerce, and leader of trade missions to countries around the world. At the same time he continued for several years to advise the Intelligence services.

Brook was good at making money, and made much. And much of it went on charitable causes. His wife Helen was passionately involved in "family planning", working voluntarily in that field, and in 1963 founded the Brook Advisory Centres. Robin Brook strongly supported her and her work throughout, both in the committee of the Family Planning Association and financially. The aim - in the teeth of furious and ferocious opposition in the late Fifties and early Sixties (which nowadays it may be difficult, if not impossible, certainly by younger people, to understand) - was to make readily available to teenage girls and young women advice on contraception, in order to avoid the then shameful unwanted pregnancies and the appalling back-street abortions of those days. At the Brook family mealtimes the topic was frequently discussed.

Brook spent much of his working life in the public service. He was a member and, from 1975 until 1978, an influential Chairman of the Sports Council. He was Master of the Haberdashers' Company. He was also an enthusiast for 20th-century British painting, especially the work of Ivon Hitchens.

St Bartholomew's Hospital in the City of London was his main charitable interest, indeed passion. He was Chairman of the Governors and later the Special Trustees, and was also President of Bart's medical college. The last time I visited Bart's I noted the new Robin Brook Centre for Medical Education at the medical school, opened in 1980 by the Queen: marking the event was a photograph of the Queen, Brook standing laughing beside her, a rather more charming picture than is usual on such formal occasions.

Robin Brook was a doer, appearing ever confident. He got on well with people and was much liked. He thought of himself, albeit humorously, as a "team man", he always being, however, captain of the team.

Ralph Ellis ("Robin") Brook, merchant banker: born 19 June 1908; OBE 1945; director, Bank of England 1946-49; Deputy Chairman, Colonial Development Corporation 1949-53; CMG 1954; Governor, St Bartholomew's Hospital 1962- 74, Treasurer and Chairman 1969-74, Chairman, Special Trustees 1974-88; Chairman, London Chamber of Commerce and Industry 1966-68, President 1968- 72; President, St Bartholomew's Medical College 1969-88; President, Association of British Chambers of Commerce 1972-74; Kt 1974; President, Association of Chambers of Commerce of the EEC 1974-76; married 1937 Helen Whitaker (nee Knewstub, died 1997; two daughters); died 25 October 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

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.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...