Obituary: Sir Harry Campion

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The Independent Online
Sir Harry Campion was the first director of the Central Statistical Office (CSO), the forerunner of the recently created Office for National Statistics. He held the post from 1941 until he retired in 1967.

At the beginning of the Second World War the need for detailed statistics was not recognised, and indeed steps were taken to cut down on the collection of official statistics. But this attitude soon changed and by the middle of 1940 it was realised that as the government was responsible for the war effort it must have accurate and up-to-date statistical information to help it make decisions. Accordingly, the CSO was established within the Offices of the War Cabinet at the beginning of 1941, and Campion was made its head.

During the rest of the war the main framework of the national income accounts was established and statistics of pro- duction, consumption, stocks, employment and so on were developed, which provided a basis for the subsequent development of economic statistics in the post-war period. Campion was responsible for supervising all these developments.

He was born in Worsley, Lancashire in 1905 and attended Farnworth Grammar School and Manchester University. His early career was as an academic, from 1933 to 1939 as Robert Ottley Reader in Statistics at Manchester University. Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the Cabinet Office to oversee the collection of statistics for the war effort.

After the war, he produced the monthly Digest of Statistics, which was published for the first time in 1946. He also played a prominent role in drafting the Statistics of Trade Act of 1947 which has provided the general legal basis for the collection of official statistics and for obtaining information for the appreciation of economic trends.

During the 1950s the CSO was a small organisation with about 10 professional statisticians, but Campion made sure they were the best. He was not an empire builder but did much to encourage his staff to develop a range of macro-economic and financial statistics. There were criticisms, however. First there was the famous Bradshaw Speech in 1950 by Harold Macmillan, then Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said: "Some official statistics were too late to be as useful as they ought to be and we were always as it were looking up the train in last year's Bradshaw."

This resulted in a great drive to speed up the development and publication of quarterly national income accounts. A year later the first set was published.

In 1959 the Radcliffe Committee's report on the working of the monetary system emphasised the need for financial and monetary statistics. Campion dealt with this by per- sonally chairing the official committee looking into the matter. Three years later the first issue of the monthly Financial Statistics was published.

Towards the end of his career in the CSO, the report of the Estimates Committee on the Government Statistical Services was published (1966). This criticised the statistical services. It said that there were organisational problems and that existing statistics were insufficiently detailed, reliable or up to date. Some of the criticisms were unfair as there had been a big increase in the range of statistics available, and there were problems with resources and the attitude of businesses to form- filling.

It was unfortunate that Campion retired from the Civil Service in 1967 soon after the report was published. He was 62 and it was time for him to go, so he left on a somewhat sour note. There had in fact been a substantial improvement in statistics during the 1960s which was not adequately recognised by the committee. Nevertheless there were serious gaps and deficiencies and it was left to Campion's successor Sir Claus Moser to expand the statistical services and steadily make the desired improvements.

Campion was a very respected statistician both in the United Kingdom and internationally. He was at various times president of the Royal Statistical Society, The International Statistical Institute and the United Nations Statistical Commission. He was also for one year (1946-47) the first director of the UN Statistical Office.

Harry Campion was a very private person who remained a bachelor and lived with his sister. He was fond of football and it is believed that he played as an amateur for Bradford when he was young. He regularly lunched at the Reform Club where he had many acquaintances and friends.

Lawrence Berman

Harry Campion, statistician: born Worsley, Lancashire 20 May 1905; Director, Central Statistical Office, Cabinet Office 1941-67; CBE 1945; Director of Statistical Office, United Nations 1946-47, Member of Statistical Commission, UN 1947-67; Kt 1957; died Wembley, Middlesex 24 May 1996.