Neville Labovitch

Impresario for the Queen's Silver Jubilee
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The Independent Online

Neville Labovitch, businessman and events organiser: born Leeds 20 February 1927; director, Darley Mills 1954-82, managing director 1966-82; MBE 1977; LVO 1993; married 1958 Sonia Barney (two daughters; marriage dissolved 1986); died London 13 April 2002.

Neville Labovitch was a strange mixture of charm and wit, concealing a strong personality with an iron will and occasional outbursts of passion. One part of his life was that of a man of the City, a successful and able businessman. Yet it was the other side of his life which in the end established a lasting memorial for him in Great Britain.

He was one of the greatest impresarios of special occasions in 20th-century London. His work ranged from the Pavarotti concerts in Hyde Park to the greatest children's party ever produced, in 1979, during the International Year of the Child. The Queen relied upon Labovitch to stage-manage the great events of the Silver Jubilee year, 1977. Many special celebrations within the life of the Royal Family were a product of his artistic talents and the total discernment needed to create just the right touches in private and public celebrations.

As the driving force within the Queen's Silver Jubilee Committee, Labovitch organised the citizens and business people of London into a community effort to remove the rubbish, cleanse the grimy buildings and restore their façades. He persuaded the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral to give a much-publicised Silver Jubilee party for the dustmen and women of every borough.

In the same year, as the Chairman of the Trafalgar Square Association, Labovitch fought an attempt to demolish the east side of Trafalgar Square and replace it with unsightly concrete structures. As a result, 12 years later, a suitable new building complemented the original designs, and the corner of Trafalgar Square and Whitehall retained its original form.

Labovitch lead the Cleaner London Campaign (1978) and convinced borough authorities as far apart as Hammersmith and Tower Hamlets to work with volunteers to keep the communities clean. Their greatest success was in Westminster, which utilised his advice and that of American experts he brought in for a Cleaner London Conference.

He was deeply involved in the neighbourhoods where he resided. As Chairman, 1977-97, and then as President of the Knightsbridge Association, one of the oldest and most effective civil amenity societies in the country, he saw to it that its publications and advice to the Government were recognised by Members of Parliament and by Whitehall.

In 1983 he was appointed by the Minister of Education and Science to the Visiting Committee of the Royal College of Art, which he served for two four-year terms. In 1985 he was the Chairman of the Westminster Quatercentenary Committee, working with a team which included the Lord Chancellor, the Duke of Westminster, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Dean of Westminster and others who wanted to mark the 400th anniversary of representative government in Westminster through proper celebrations.

He was particularly concerned with all aspects of Hyde Park. With the Hyde Park Association, he helped in the restoration of the trees destroyed in the great storm of 1987. Prince Charles appreciated his efforts within the Prince of Wales Royal Parks Trees Appeal. Labovitch also became involved in plans for the future, notably the renovation of the Jubilee Walkway which had been established in London in the Silver Jubilee year, and which benefits many tourists as well as the London community.

Labovitch was appointed MBE in 1977, and in 1993, following the 40th anniversary of the Queen's accession, LVO. In 1991, after the State Visit to Britain of President Francesco Cossiga of Italy, Labovitch was made a Cavaliere Officiale of the Order of Merit.

Neville Labovitch was born in Leeds in 1927, the son of Mark and Anne Labovitch, and was educated at Whittingehame College before going up to Brasenose College, Oxford, to read History. In 1945 he served as the Treasurer of the Oxford Union. In a tribute on Labovitch's 70th birthday, Gerard Noel described him as "one of the most colourful characters at post-war Oxford", who turned into "one of the most considerable achievers of his generation in unusual fields whose importance he invariably played down".

In his business life, Labovitch was a director of the family textile business Darley Mills from 1954 until 1982, and its managing director from 1966. He was also director and then chairman of Brenta Construction (1987-91) and of Brenta Cogifar-Impresit (1990-91).

He married Sonia Barney in 1958; there were two daughters, Carey and Claudia, and their weddings at the Westminster Synagogue again gave Labovitch the opportunity to show his talents as a set designer manqué by designing astounding religious panoramas which practically redesigned the sanctuary.

His talent in art and music, and his meticulous attention to all detail, manifested themselves fully in a world which, it seemed to him, had lost its appreciation for excellence. His own high personal standards and sense of integrity in all aspects of his life never deteriorated. In his last years, he became quieter, more introspective, but enjoyed his five granddaughters (who included triplets). Life became harsher for him; but his charm and quiet sense of humour never left him.

Albert H. Friedlander

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