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Sir Kenneth Bradshaw

Genial Clerk of the Commons

Kenneth Anthony Bradshaw, civil servant: born 1 September 1922; a Clerk in the House of Commons 1947-87, Clerk of Overseas Office 1972-76, Clerk of the House of Commons 1983-87; CB 1982, KCB 1986; died London 31 October 2007.

Kenneth Bradshaw earned the sobriquet of the "last of the bel canto Clerks" because of his melodious reading of titles of Bills in the House of Commons and his devotion to opera which, in his retirement years, was channelled into the project to build an opera house at Compton Verney. Always suave and charming, Bradshaw loved London life and was a familiar figure on the international circuit, but his contribution to parliamentary life was also considerable.

Kenneth Anthony Bradshaw was born in 1922 and spent his early years in Kenya, where his father was posted to the Colonial Film Unit. Returning to England he went to Ampleforth where he began a lifelong friendship with Basil (later Cardinal) Hume. From there he went up to St Catharine's College, Cambridge with an Exhibition, gaining a first class degree in history. His studies were interrupted by three years' war service from 1942 to 1945, during which he reached the rank of captain in the Royal Ulster Rifles, and saw active service in France and Germany. He received the Commander in Chief Certificate for Gallantry.

After a brief period in the Ministry of Supply, Bradshaw entered the Department of the Clerk of the House of Commons in 1947 where he made his way up the hierarchy, eventually becoming Clerk of the House in 1983. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Bradshaw found the minutiae of parliamentary procedure uncongenial. His forte was in skills connected with Select Committee work – amassing and analysing evidence to assist in drafting reports for committees such as the Nationalised Industries Committee.

This exercise, testing his historian's talents, brought him in touch with a wide array of civil servants and honed the essential Clerkly skill of knowing what will be politically acceptable to a diverse group of Members of Parliament if they are to agree to a contentious Committee Report. Meanwhile, with his colleague David Pring, he produced Parliament and Congress (1972), a book widely regarded as a seminal work comparing the two institutions.

Bradshaw flourished in two further areas of parliamentary life. One was in his surprisingly "modern" approach to human-resource management (then known as "personnel" management), where he managed to charm the trade unions into agreeing not to disrupt the work of a Parliament during industrial disputes. The other was as Clerk of the Overseas Office, where his considerable skills as host and raconteur made streams of Commonwealth visitors feel entirely at home at Westminster.

His qualities of geniality and kindness were experienced by many of his junior colleagues throughout the House Service and it was evidenced too in his private life, whether at parties, at the opera or in the deepest recesses of the Garrick Club. Golf, bridge and water-skiing were sports he practised.

Malcolm Jack