Sir Roy Shaw: Arts Council leader who fought right-wingattacks on public arts subsidies

 

Sir Roy Shaw, who has died aged 93, was secretary general of the Arts Council of Great Britain in some of its most difficult years, from 1975 to 1983, when it was under fierce attack from right-wing politicians who disliked public subsidy for the arts.

Roy Shaw's passion was adult education, or "second-chance" education, and he introduced to the Arts Council the idea of funding educational and outreach programmes. These are now common, but at that time there were many in the arts establishment who thought all that mattered was to make the best in the arts available. Shaw wanted to popularise the arts without dumbing them down – to have "the best for the most people", as he put it.

This passion came from a deprived childhood which taught him that those brought up without access to culture cannot know what they are missing unless positive efforts are made for them.His steelworker father left the family home in Sheffield when Roy was four, and died soon afterwards. His mother tried to make ends meet, sometimes by dressmaking. For a time she had the unpopular job of knocking on doors to collect the interest on small loans from a large money-lending firm. She found keeping Roy a great burden, and for a few years he lived with her parents, in a mining village near Mansfield. She later remarried, and he remembered his stepfather with affection, partly as the man who introduced him to music.

Roy passed the 11-plus and went to the local grammar school, where he blossomed under the tutelage of some intelligent teachers who saw his potential. He stayed on at school, though his mother said reproachfully: "So and so's son is your age and he brings home 30 shillings a week." But his later schooldays were overshadowed by the start of Crohn's disease, which was to be with him all his life. He had a major operation at 18 and later had six more, the last in 2002.

That first operation almost killed him, and he could not complete his Higher School Certificate qualifying him to go to University. He was working in Sheffield Library when the Second World War broke out, and he announced that he was a pacifist and a conscientious objector, although his health would have exempted him from military service anyway. The librarian told him that if he had his way, Roy would be shot.

He eventually obtained a scholarship to study German and philosophy at Manchester University. Graduating in 1946, aged 28, he married fellow student Gwenyth Baron, a happy partnership of equals that lasted a lifetime. That year he became tutor-organiser for the Workers' Educational Association, moving the next year to Leeds University to be a lecturer in the department of extramural studies. In 1960 he became director of the Leeds University Adult Education Centre in Bradford, moving in 1962 to Staffordshire as Keele University's professor and director of adult education.

He built Keele University's outreach work in the Potteries and the surrounding villages. He also became a national figure in the movement for second-chance education, and a key player in the creation of the Open University, the great achievement of Harold Wilson's 1964-70 governments. He rejected the idea, promoted by right-wing educationalists in what became known as Black Papers, that you cannot have both high culture and equality of access to culture. And he rejected snobbish definitions of culture – he championed theatre in the round at the Victoria Theatre in Stoke on Trent, and loved music hall and comedians (especially Ken Dodd) as much as the classics.

Parts of his inaugural address as a professor at Keele look in retrospect like a manifesto for his time at the Arts Council: "Mass democracy will mean cultural decay unless the state spends more money on education, including adult education, and unless it generously endows the arts."

It was to be the dominant theme of his time at the Arts Council. He rejected the criticism that the Council was using taxpayers' money to fund minority middle-class arts, telling an American magazine in 1981: "The arts do reach only a minority of the population, particularly the serious arts which we fund, but I believe you can extend the reach beyond the middle class... by education. What distinguishes the bourgeoisie is not a special gift from God but the fact that they've had an education and the opportunity to enjoy the arts."

But this was an increasingly unfashionable view. Some members of his board, including his chairman, Sir William Rees-Mogg, hardly seemed to understand it. Even less fashionable in the Thatcher years was his passionate conviction that funding the arts was the state's job – not that of private benefactors or commercial sponsors. At his retirement party in 1983 he asked the then arts minister Lord Gowrie whether he had read the paper Shaw prepared for him on developing wider access to the arts, which Gowrie had not even acknowledged. Shaw was profoundly depressed by the answer: "Oh, yes, but my main concern is to foster the growth of business sponsorship."

After he retired he wrote The Arts and the People (1987), telling the story of his Arts Council years and restating his most passionate convictions. He edited The Spread of Sponsorship (1993), a collection of essays on sponsorship in different fields – he asked me to write the essay on sponsorship in education. Business sponsorship, he pointed out in his introduction, carried the danger of censorship. "The excellent Theatre Royal at Stratford East was refused sponsorship by a bank on the grounds that it had put on a play satirising Mrs Thatcher and her government."

He was the theatre critic of the Catholic weekly The Tablet during the 1990s. He had converted to Catholicism in the late 1950s, left the Church after Pope John XXIII died in 1963, returned in the 1980s but was increasingly uncomfortable, attending Anglican services rather than Catholic ones. Two years ago he lost his faith entirely.

Roy Shaw was charming, intelligent, and erudite, with a well-stocked mind and firm beliefs which he wore lightly but pursued tenaciously. With his light voice, his easy laugh and his boyishdelight in elaborating his anecdoteshe seemed laid-back and relaxed,but the achievements of his life, in the face of a deprived childhood and adesperately debilitating illness, tell a different story.

Roy Shaw, educationalist: born Sheffield 8 July 1918; Secretary General of the Arts Council of Great Britain 1975–83; Kt 1979; married 1946 Gwenyth Baron (five sons, two daughters); died Brighton and Hove, East Sussex 15 May 2012.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Foundation Primary Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are looking for Founda...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?