Lives Remembered: Derek Broome

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The information technology expert Derek Broome was the only child of one of the famous Rolls-Royce engineers of the 1930s and '40s and a local Tory socialite. Born in Derby, from an early age Derek demonstrated he would be different. Sent away to a boarding school he hated in Ely, he discharged himself at 16 and turned up at the Rolls-Royce factory gate in Derby asking to be taken on as an apprentice. As works manager his father (who would continue in this post during the production of Merlin engines for Spitfires and Hurricanes taking part in the Battle of Britain) was consulted on whether the "young Broome" should be taken on. The old man gave his permission in full knowledge of the fearful row which would ensue at home that evening.

The post nearly proved his downfall in May 1941. Aged 19, he was taking instrument readings in the back of an Avro Manchester test aircraft when this underpowered and unreliable prototype of the Lancaster bomber, hit a tree on landing in Shropshire with an engine on fire. The pilot was killed, but while Derek was burnt on his hands and face, he and two others survived.

After a period of recovery that year, Derek once again confounded his parents, taking a commission in the Royal Navy, serving as a sub-lieutenant in the Fleet Air Arm on board the Aircraft Carrier HMS Formidable. He flew in Swordfishes and later Corsairs. During this time his ship took part in some of the most fearful naval action against the Japanese. On a number of occasions the Formidable was subjected to kamikaze attacks, which left Derek with a very pragmatic and practical view on life and how lucky he had been to survive.

At the end of the Second World War, Derek took the opportunity to go up to his beloved Oriel College at Oxford, where he acquired a lifelong love of reading and an MA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. On leaving college he started work in the engineering industry and in 1951, while working at ICI, met his future wife, Valerie, who he married in 1957.

After two unsuccessful attempts at winning the Clayton and then the Erdington constituencies for the Tories in 1950 and 1951 respectively, Derek started to forge what turned out to be a long and successful career in the telecommunications and electronics industry. In the early 1960s he played a key part in Arnold Weinstock's team at GEC which swallowed and dissected the larger and more conservative AEI. An aggressive takeover, it was regarded as groundbreaking in its time. The merger resulted in many plants being shut and jobs lost, but led to survival of the electronics industry in the UK, at least for a while. As a result of his efforts, Weinstock appointed Derek to be Managing Director of a GEC Subsidiary, Reliance Systems Ltd.

In 1965, Derek relocated with this company from London to Wellingborough, and he lived in Northamptonshire with his family for the rest of his life. Following five successful years at Reliance, Derek took up the position of Managing Director of Computer Technology Ltd, which made technically advanced micro-computers in this burgeoning new industry. He left CTL in 1979 to spend the rest of his career working with a series of medium-sized companies in the role of freelance company doctor.

In 1981 he helped establish the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee (PITCOM) to build understanding between the industry and politicians. He served as Programme Executive of this body for 12 years and actively participated in events for over 20 years, until he was into his early eighties. His challenges to the Conservative Party thinking on telecommunications helped shape the agenda to liberalise the market which he knew so well.

Derek and Valerie enjoyed the last years of his life sailing off the west coast of Scotland, a pastime they had enjoyed since the 1950's. Always the radical, he had time in retirement to ferociously champion the causes he believed in, whether it be open systems, protesting against the local airport or challenging his MP.

Derek Broome died on 8 June 2009 aged 86 from the complications of prostate cancer. He is survived by his devoted wife of 52 years, Valerie, and a loving family of four sons, four daughters-in-law, three grandsons and seven granddaughters.

Toby Broome

If you would like to contribute an obituary of a friend, family member or colleague, please send a piece of no more than 500 words to Obituaries, 'The Independent', 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF, by fax to 020 7005 2399 or by email to We reserve the right to edit copy for length and style