Obituary: Oliver Roskill

Oliver Wentworth Roskill, industrial consultant: born London 28 April 1906; senior partner, OW Roskill Industrial Consultants 1930-74; chairman, OW Roskill & Co (Reports) Ltd 1957-74; chairman, Roskill Information Services 1971-74; died Beech Hill, Berkshire 25 May 1994.

OLIVER ROSKILL had an extraordinary gift for friendship. He would quiz even casual acquaintances about their life and work with such a genuine desire to understand what made them tick that, more often than not, they would become friends for life - friendship which might thereafter embrace their whole family through four generations.

For many people, their abiding image of this wholly lovable man is of a twinkling-eyed, moustachioed figure standing beneath the great copper beech-tree at his annual garden party hoarsely demanding that his guests cease their gossiping so that the music could begin.

Born in 1906, Oliver was the third of the four remarkable sons of John Roskill KC and Sybil, daughter of Ashton Dilke MP. His two elder brothers predeceased him: Sir Ashton Roskill QC, who was chairman of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, and Stephen Roskill, the distinguished naval historian. Eustace, the youngest brother, recently retired as a Law Lord.

Oliver cut his own furrow, virtually inventing a career as one of this country's first management consultants, establishing OW Roskill Industrial Consultants in 1930. He was primarily a scientist but was master of two cultures. Educated at Oundle and Lincoln College, Oxford, he gained a First in Chemistry in 1928. He was also passionately interested in the arts, especially music, and was a more than competent violinist.

On coming down from Oxford, he worked for Brunner Mond in Germany as an industrial chemist, occasionally playing the fiddle in the evening in the orchestra for silent films. His knowledge of the German chemical industry was employed during the Second World War in various areas of economic warfare. He was particularly proud of having developed for the Ministry of Supply an alternative to balsa wood for the frame of the Mosquito plane.

After the war he pioneered industrial market research, produced many innovative reports, particularly on the building industry, and published valuable directories - notably, from 1958, Who Owns Whom. He travelled the world advising on a huge variety of industrial projects, mostly designed to better ordinary people's living standards. Roskill had the highest moral standards and was never afraid of sounding priggish in his insistence on personal and public probity.

Long before it was fashionable to do so, he believed that small was beautiful and deliberately kept his own company small enough to provide a personal service. Even very late in life, he still gained great satisfaction from encouraging initiative, nurturing new projects and helping infant companies take their first steps.

In 1941, Roskill bought from the left-wing lawyer DN Pritt an ancient and beautiful priory near Reading, in order to house his wartime staff. The house and gardens were to be the love of his life. Before arthritis crippled him, visitors might expect to be greeted by Roskill wielding a chainsaw high up some unfortunate tree. The gardens he tended so assiduously were both graceful and productive: guests at the Priory sometimes complaining that Roskill too often preferred to sell his vegetables - especially the asparagus - than eat them himself.

Oliver Roskill relished challenges - he liked to say he had always taken risks and that they had usually paid off. With his encyclopaedic memory and agile mind, he never ceased inquiring how the world worked and teasingly used to wonder how it was possible to find nourishment in novels when there were so many books about the 'real' world to be read. His great charm and his delight in human diversity ensured that he was very much loved although he never married. Jaguar-loads of nieces, nephews and godchildren were swept through Europe on adventurous holidays to be introduced not only to architectural treasures but also to belching chemical plants whose owners were his clients.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
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 People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits