Sir Arthur Norman: Industrialist who helped lead the environmental movement

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The Independent Online

Sir Arthur Norman was a leading British industrialist who lent his talent for leadership and conciliation to the burgeoning environmental movement in the 1970s and '80s. He believed it was folly for the advancement of industry and the conservation of nature to be perpetually at loggerheads. They were, in his view, actually complementary, and should work together as partners. The protection of the environment, he pointed out, is in all our interests.

In that belief, Norman, together with Sir Derek Barber, the chairman of the Countryside Commission, set up a new non-profit foundation, the UK Centre for Economic and Environmental Development (CEED) in 1984, which he chaired from its outset until 1996, when he was nearly 80. Under his leadership, UK CEED won a reputation for foresight in spotting emerging issues and in its cross-disciplinary approach to research and policy development. The body was a significant forerunner in what is now known as sustainable development.

He was closely involved in conservation in Nepal as European chairman of the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, for which he received that country's highest award. Healso served on the board of the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC), and as board member and treasurer of the International Institute of Environment and Development.

His greatest contribution, however, was as chairman of what was thenthe UK branch of the World Wildlife Fund (now the Worldwide Fund forNature, but still best known as WWF). Its founder, Peter Scott, knew thatthe organisation needed better business expertise, and persuaded Norman to succeed him as chairman of trustees. He chaired that body for six yearsfrom 1977 to 1984, and again for afurther three after the sudden death of his predecessor.

George Medley, the WWF's then director, remembers Norman as being "a first-class chair, someone who could listen as well as lead, who was never overbearing, and always supportive of the WWF and its staff. He was on the ball, and knew a lot about conservation, as well as running a business. He gave the WWF a new lease of life by transforming it from a charity into a fund-raising business". As Norman put it, "environmentalism is not altruism".

The son of a Somerset farmer, Arthur, usually known as "Gerry", was educated at Blundell's School in Tiverton, Devon, where, in his final year, he was head boy. On his housemaster's recommendation, he was taken on by Bernard Westall, managing director of what was then Thomas De La Rue & Co, thesecurity printers. Norman joined the company in 1934, and was entrusted with a clandestine operation to print banknotes for Chiang Kai-shek'sNationalist government in China.Norman outwitted the Japanese occupiers by pretending to manufacture playing cards. The notes were smuggled out in dust carts.

During the war, Norman served with distinction in the RAF as a pilot of glider-towing Whitley and Halifax bombers, rising to the rank of Wing Commander. In 1943 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions after being attacked by a group of German Junkers Ju-88s while towing a Horsa glider from Britain to Morocco. He managed to shoot one of them down, before escaping into the clouds. Later on, he won a bar on his DFC while stationed in India.

Rejoining De La Rue after the war, Norman rose rapidly, becoming director in 1951, and managing director two years later. In 1964, he was appointed company chairman. Under his directorship, the company expanded into manufacturing, teaming up with the American company Cyanamid to produce Formica, and providing a security service for transporting valuables. He also established a subsidiary company for bank automation responsible for the world's first cash machine (at Barclays in north London).

In 1968, he was made president of the CBI (Confederation of British Industries), and for two years became rather unhappily involved with the industrial disputes of the time. He regarded the Wilson government's Industrial Relations Act as an abdication of direct responsibility for industrial harmony. He was appointed CBE for services to industry in 1966, and knighted in 1969.

At home in Dorset, Norman wasan enthusiastic gardener, golfer and countryman, and in later years bought what he called a leg or two of race horses. He met and married Peggy Harrington while stationed in Dorset in 1944, by whom he had two daughters and three sons, one of whom is the novelist Roger Norman.

Peter Marren

Arthur Gordon Norman, businessman and environmentalist: born North Petherton, Somerset 18 February 1917; President, Confederation of BritishIndustries 1968-1970; Chairman World Wildlife Fund 1977-1984, 1987-1990; Chairman UK Centre for Economicand Environmental Development1984-1996; DFC 1943 and bar 1944,CBE 1966, kt. KBE 1969; married 1944 Peggy Doreen Harrington (died 1982; three sons, two daughters); died 30 September 2011.


On the day he was born the actor Wallas Eaton was also born. He is best known for appearing in the BBC radio comedy 'Take It From Here' from 1949-60, and laterappeared in 'Up Pompeii!' on TV