Obituary: Sir John Rodgers Bt
Friday 16 April 1993
JOHN RODGERS will be remembered by many friends and colleagues not just for a long and distinguished career in business and politics but above all as a good companion with a zest for life which for many years belied his age.
He was convivial with a great sense of fun, but his purposes remained serious. He was an innovator with ideas and objectives often ahead of his time.
His early venture into the university world as a lecturer at Hull University was soon replaced by a more stimulating life as a pioneer in advertising, joining J. Walter Thompson in 1931 when it had a tiny staff and at a time when advertising was regarded with considerable suspicion.
John Rodgers's innovative drive in his new field was fully utilised when he undertook important duties during the Second World War first as Director of Commercial Relations in the Ministry of Information and then in increasingly important positions in other departments in disseminating industrial information and planning or post-war export trade.
One way and another he did much to make advertising an acceptable occupation both directly and through his leading role in such bodies as the British Market Research Bureau, the Administrative Staff College (of which he was a founding governor) and the Institute of Directors, whose Parliamentary Panel he chaired until Harold Macmillan persuaded him in 1958 to enter the Government, at considerable financial sacrifice, as Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Trade and minister responsible for regional development and employment. He was extremely proud of his work there but he did not attach particular importance to political office and it was his own decision to return to the back benches and business life after he felt he had completed the particular task he had been given.
Subsequently he did not envy the promotion of others and he had malice towards none. Indeed he had many friends on both sides of the House and enjoyed a rare capacity for bringing together many people serving a wide variety of causes, both at home and abroad.
The truth was that John Rodgers had a remarkable range of interests which made him reluctant to be tied down to any one line of activity.
He was a great communicator, serving at various times on the General Advisory Council of the BBC, as a governor of the British Film Institute, and as chairman for many years of Radio Luxembourg in London. This experience made him an early and powerful advocate of independent television.
He maintained throughout his life all his intellectual interests, whether doing book reviews for the Criterion when is was edited by TS Eliot, writing books and pamphlets or founding History Today with Brendan Bracken.
The work of the British Council, the National Trust and the New English Library, which he chaired for nine years, all commanded his active support. Nor did he ever forget that he came from York, of which he wrote a history, and he valued becoming President of the Society of Yorkshiremen in London.
When he entered the House of Commons in 1950 as MP for Sevenoaks, he played a much more active and positive role than is perhaps generally recognised in the creation and development of the policies of the One Nation group - a set of new members, including Iain Macleod, Enoch Powell and Robert Carr, who were determined to modernise the Conservative Party and bring its ideas into line with the second half of the century. Rodgers was one of the founders and a prime mover in the early days and remained a most assiduous member, contributing at meetings, always bubbling with ideas and encouraging new members as they came along. He had a gift for inspiring and there were many fledgling members like myself who were befriended and helped by him in the early stages of their careers, including Kenneth Clarke, John Gummer and Kenneth Baker.
Rodgers was one of the first to campaign from the time of the Messina Conference and the subsequent signing of the Treaty of Rome, for Britain's membership of the European Community. His vision, however, embraced the wider Europe, which he saw stretching from the Iberian Peninsula to Finland. In this connection, through the Conference of European Documentation and Information (CEDI) and other organisations, he did much to bring together Conservative thinkers and politicians in many European countries. It was fitting, therefore, that he should serve for 10 years as leader of the UK delegation to the Council of Europe and the Assembly of Western European Union.
While he pursued all these manifold activities, the bedrock of his life was his family; Betsy, to whom he was married for 63 years, and his two sons, Tobias and Piers.
I remember him as a happy man who in a long life did many good things.
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