Obituary: Roger Toulmin

Roger Toulmin, journalist, radio producer, civil servant: born London 4 August 1926; died London 27 July 1993.

ROGER TOULMIN, outstandingly well-educated, well-read and well-

informed, enriched the lives of his many friends through his ability to communicate and to comment aptly and wittily. His catholic taste in reading included medical texts, obscure French philosophy, opera scores and 19th-century novels bound in multiple elegant volumes, courtesy of the London Library.

Born in Hampstead, north London, in 1926, the third of four children in a businessman's family, Roger was the younger brother of the philosopher Stephen Toulmin, and just as clever, though burdened with difficulty in making himself conspicuous or in committing himself finally to anything. This made him a bachelor and something of a polymath and prevented him from becoming publicly outstanding in any field covered by his many talents.

He was a scholar at Winchester, where a classical education enhanced his gift for writing concisely, precisely and elegantly. While there, he converted to Roman Catholicism. Later he lapsed and, much later, reconverted. When dying, he said he felt comforted by knowing that he had an immortal soul.

During war service with the Royal Navy, Toulmin studied History for six months at Magdalen College, Oxford, and completed his degree after the war. He became correspondent for the Times, first in Paris then in India, where his career faltered when he was one of the few survivors of a big air crash at New Delhi in 1958. Typically (for he was exceptionally vigilant and observant) he believed that he was the first passenger to detect that the aircraft was going to crash. This memory, together with that of fellow-

passengers screaming as they burned, haunted him for the rest of his life. A long psychoanalysis neither laid its ghosts nor solved his other difficulties and in some ways compounded them.

He joined the BBC and produced programmes of serious or intellectual content, including some about psychoanalysis and its insights. He never felt that he was suited to the Corporation and he became a civil servant in the Department of Health and Social Security, where he was also often ill at ease.

Among other things, he worked on premature babies and was at one time requested to rethink, on his own, the whole of Britain's social security system. This he did with enthusiasm and, knowing him, the results and ideas were probably of considerable potential value. However, as he acknowledged wryly, he finished the project in record time but by then policies and politicians had changed and none of his ideas was adopted. Everything he did was done beautifully but perhaps he saw and analysed too clearly to suit politicians and civil servants. He was at his wittiest when commenting on them.

There were other sides to his character, not least his resourcefulness. I was once with him in a car stuck in the sand in the Sahara desert: he organised our rescue with precision and, despite lack of Arabic, without being ripped off. I was also stranded with him and other Brits at Casablanca airport during an air strike. We were told that there was no possibility of getting away for several days, but Roger did not accept this. He found the manager's office and 'borrowed' a world air timetable and other papers from which he inferred that a plane of an obscure airline would be coming up the coast of Africa that afternoon and would land for a brief period in a remote part of Casablanca airfield. Overcoming bureaucracy, he climbed into the hold of our official plane, now idle on the tarmac. He removed all British luggage and had it transported across the airfield. As he had predicted, the small plane from West Africa landed briefly and took us all to London. He even persuaded the pilot to accept our tickets.

He also felt at home with children and young people in both his own and other families. This year, as before, he had organised an 'apple-tree party' to celebrate his birthday. He would provide junk food and prop-up ladders in his small London garden which little children loved to climb between the races and explorations that he organised. Unfortunately he died before the date of this party.

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

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game