Obituary: Lord Franks

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The Independent Online
TO THOSE who knew Lord Franks as Provost of Worcester College, Oxford, nothing could have been further from the truth than the oft-quoted quip that when you had broken the ice with him, you would fine the water underneath still pretty chilly, writes G. H. L. Le May (further to the obituary by Keith Middlemas, 17 October). On the contrary, what is remembered are the warmth of his personality and his capacity for giving and receiving friendship.

Some fellows wondered whether it was not a traumatic anti-climax, after having played a role very close to the peaks of world affairs, to be constrained within the small theatre of an Oxford college. If Franks ever felt such sentiments, he never gave any sign of them. He did not, when he came to Worcester, abandon his other activities, both in government and in the private sector, but he was meticulous in informing the college whenever there might be a conflict of obligations. There never was: he gave his full mind to the college, and he did so with evident relish. He seemed to enjoy meetings of the Governing Body; certainly, he showed no eagerness to curtail discussion nor to abstain from dialectics. He regarded it as the business of a chairman to allow the sense of the meeting to emerge. The result was that decisions were taken with a minimum of rancour - not an invariable characteristic of academic politics.

He consulted very widely. It was his habit to call on fellows; there would be a tap on the door, a hesitant entry, and the words 'Am I intruding?' If I happened to be in the middle of a tutorial, I used to invite him to take part; sometimes he did. He liked teaching, and he added, as Provost, Modern History to the other two honour schools - Greats and PPE - in which he had given tutorials. He was a generous man, with his time, his counsel, and in more direct ways: more than one impoverished undergraduate found his condition relieved from the Provost's pocket, unbeknown to any but the recipient and his tutor.

That Worcester escaped most of the undergraduate disturbances of the 1970s must be ascribed in part to Franks's wisdom, and his personality. He had the capacity, when he chose to use it, of making a truism sound like hitherto-unrevealed truth. There was an occasion when he was faced with 'non- negotiable demands' to be enforced by a rent strike, from a militant deputation from the Junior Common Room. Franks remarked, in the most amiable of tones: 'Of course you must act as you see fit. But do remember that actions have consequences.' This statement, hardly breathtaking in its originality, was received as cosmic revelation. There was no rent strike.

When suitably encouraged, Franks was an excellent raconteur; he enlivened many a dinner- party. He was remarkably accessible - to fellows, to the undergraduates, and to the staff of Worcester. He was generally regarded not with awe, but with respect, with admiration and with affection. We knew that he was a great man. We knew, too, that he was great fun.

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