Obituary: Arthur Propper

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The Independent Online
Arthur Propper, civil servant, born 3 August 1910, MBE 1945, Under- Secretary Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food 1964-70, Common Market Adviser Unigate Ltd 1970-73, Secretary Food Panel Price Commission 1973-76, CMG 1965, married 1941 Erica Mayer (one daughter), died 30 July 1992.

Arthur Propper was the most civilised of civil servants. His official prose reflected his love of literature. It was carefully crafted, elegant and precise. He read widely but also with discretion. Shakespeare, Proust and Henry James were among his favourites. He had a similarly deep appreciation of music and the visual arts. A love of all things Scottish and skill at Scottish country dancing were less well-known attributes.

His cultural interests were reinforced by a profound knowledge of European history. At Peterhouse he took a First in History and might well have swelled the ranks of Cambridge historians for which the college is famous. There was no doubting his intellectual ability and when it came to analysing any problem he had the sharpest penetration. A scholar at heart, he nevertheless chose to go into advertising. Then came the Second World War and he joined the Ministry of Economic Warfare to blacklist those who broke the blockade of Germany.

As the war came to an end, he transferred to the Ministry of Food and decided to become an established civil servant. He was happy in the atmosphere of Whitehall and among a number of friends who, like himself, had become brilliant civil servants more by accident than design. But he also trained and inspired many among the younger generations and all his life retained a keen interest in their progress.

His career in what had become the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food blossomed when that department became heavily involved in the great debate about Britain's relationship with the 'Common Market'. The differences in farm structure and agricultural support methods between Britain and the Continent were seen as major obstacles to Britain's becoming a member. When it was nevertheless decided to apply, Propper was the obvious choice to act as the ministry's representative in Brussels. He went in 1962 on promotion to Under-Secretary and stayed until de Gaulle's veto aborted the project, at least for some years. He had the difficult task of explaining Britain's position on agriculture to the Six and explaining to the Government and the agricultural constituency in Britain why they were so reluctant to accede to Britain's seemingly endless demands. His skilful work earned him the CMG, a rare honour for a home civil servant.

Like most people who have dealings with the European Community, Propper often questioned the ways of Brussels. But from the outset he favoured British membership and never wavered in his wish to see Britain as a part of Europe. On his return to London in 1964 he assumed responsibility for food policy in the ministry until his retirement from the Civil Service in 1970. The skills which he had acquired and his experience and knowledge of both the EC and the domestic food industry were too valuable to be wasted. They led to two further periods of employment, first as European adviser to the Unigate company and subsequently as secretary to the food section of the Price Commission. When he finally retired in 1976 it was to spend more time in the cultural pursuits he so much enjoyed and which he shared so intimately with his wife Erica.

A long series of illnesses in recent years left him physically weak and unsteady, but his personality remained to the end what it had always been, charming, modest, cultivated and full of warm affection for his family and many friends.

(Photograph omitted)

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