Brigadier James Wilson

New Town administrator


James Wilson, soldier and public servant: born Irvine, Ayrshire 12 March 1922; Deputy Quartermaster General, HQ UK Land Forces 1974-77; Chief Executive, Livingston Development Corporation 1977-87; CBE 1986; Director, Edinburgh Old Town Trust 1987-90; married 1949 Audrie Haines (three daughters); died Gloucester 27 August 2006.

Labour members of the House of Commons and retired brigadiers are perhaps not thought to be the most immediate of soulmates. But the three Members of Parliament who represented the New Town of Livingston - Alex Eadie, miners' MP and administrator for the coal industry, the late Robin Cook, a stringent judge of officials, and I - were unanimous in having a high regard for the Chief Executive of the Livingston Development Corporation, so important to our constituents, Brigadier James Wilson.

"Give us the brigadier, any day," we said to each other, after Wilson had been in the post for a year - rather than a predecessor businessman chief executive, who took the view that there were two ways of doing things: the ICI way and the wrong way.

The brigadier, a man of six foot four and ramrod military bearing, took enormous trouble, every three months, to meet the leaders of community groups, alone, without officials present. We all felt we could be frank with him. At the same time, he won the loyalty and friendship of the New Town officials. Together with Brigadier Colin Cowan at Cumbernauld and Brigadier Paddy Doyle in Glenrothes, the leadership of the Scottish New Towns was deemed to be of high quality in Wilson's years, 1977-87.

My mentor Dame Evelyn Sharp, the dame of the Crossman diaries, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Housing, taught me that the chief executive of a New Town - she was responsible for all the English New Towns - should be an administrator. Wilson proved a superb administrator in the 10 crucial years of Scotland's biggest New Town.

James Wilson was born in 1922, the fifth and youngest of the five sons of Alexander Wilson, a solicitor in Irvine, Ayrshire, where he was educated at the Royal Academy. He had a scholarship to Pembroke College, Cambridge, in pure mathematics, but war intervened and he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery, never to take up his Cambridge place. He spent most of the war with his 71 (West Riding) Field Regiment in North Africa and Italy. He told me that those who had fought up the spine of Italy thought that they were undervalued and that the Italian campaign was as strenuous as anywhere else in the Second World War.

Not realising that the Army would be contracted, Wilson decided to make it his career, and, after a period as instructor in the School of Artillery in India, he served in Malaya from 1950 to 1953. "The problem was that none of us knew who our enemy was, friends by day and murderers by night." Returning to a series of War Office jobs, he became an instructor at the Staff College, 1959-61, and then, after staff jobs in Northern Command and BAOR, spent a year in Washington with the British Military Mission.

His last military job was as the number two, the Deputy Quartermaster General, at the Headquarters of British Land Forces, where he was responsible for service personnel housing, an immensely complex job. It was his military housing experience which commended him to the new Chairman of Livingston Development Corporation, the heavyweight businessman Desmond Misselbrook, with whom he was to have an excellent hand-in-glove working relationship.

Jim Pollock, the corporation's commercial director, says Wilson was "above all, responsible for making Livingston the centre of Scotland's Silicon Valley" and remarks on how well "this immensely tall Westerner" got on with the Japanese.

For three years after he retired Wilson was the Director of the Edinburgh Old Town Trust, which has played a major part in preserving the Scottish capital.

Tam Dalyell

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