Obituary: Sir Percival Griffiths

Percival Joseph Griffiths, colonial civil servant, businessman, writer, born 15 January 1899, ICS 1922-37, member Indian Legislative Assembly 1937-47, central organiser National War Front India 1942-44, honorary publicity adviser Government of India 1942-47, CIE 1943, Leader European Group Indian Central Legislature 1946, Kt 1947, adviser to Indian Tea Association / Pakistan Tea Association 1947-63, KBE 1963, married 1924 Kathleen Wilkes (died 1979; two sons, and one son deceased), 1985 Lady (Marie) Shirley Smith, died 14 July 1992.

THE WORKING life of Sir Percival Griffiths, the writer and former Indian civil servant, fell into three distinct stages.

Born in Middlesex in 1899, he took his degree from Peterhouse, Cambridge, and entered the Indian Civil Service in 1922. He was posted to the troubled province of Bengal and went through the normal stages of a young officer's career, trying at first petty cases of assault and theft, with increasing powers and responsibility as his experience grew, inspecting village records and the work of village committees and outlying police stations. He became in the natural course an officiating and then a permanent district magistrate and stepped into the limelight in the early Thirties when he was appointed District Magistrate of Midnapur. At this time, nationalist feeling ran high in Bengal and among the students in particular there was for a short time a cult of violence. There were several assassinations of British officers and in Midnapur no less than three district magistrates in succession had been murdered. It was to this post that 'the lion-hearted Griffiths' - to quote a recent autobiography - volunteered. He held it for the usual tenure, surviving as he said later because he was too small a target for the terrorists to hit.

He seemed set for a successful career in the Indian Civil Service but resigned in 1937 after only 15 years. This was just when the Government of India Act (1935) was about to come into operation. It introduced provincial autonomy which meant that in most of his functions the district magistrate - who had once been virtually ruler of his district - would be under the orders of an elected Minister. There was naturally some apprehension in the service and Griffiths, though no die-hard, decided that a more rewarding career was open to him in the private sector.

He accepted the post of political adviser to the Indian tea industry and became a member of the Legislative Assembly, the central legislative body in Delhi, which at this stage of development included a block of nominated official members and the small European Group, representing British industry. Of this group Griffiths became leader in 1946.

During the war he acted also as publicity adviser to the government of Lord Linlithgow and as Central Organiser of the National War Front, and was arguably more useful and influential than he might have been in the Indian Civil Service. As leader of the European business group in the central assembly at the end of the war, he was an outspoken critic both of Government and of the two parties of opposition, the Muslim League and the Congress. But though his criticism was fearless and his manner often distinctly aggressive - the chin thrust out, a defiant cocksparrow of a man - he was popular on both sides of the house because of his obvious integrity and goodwill.

The third stage of his life began with the independence of India in 1947. Griffiths stayed on in India for some time representing British business and business interests in a variety of ways and constantly travelling between London, Delhi and Calcutta. He was a director of several companies and active in many voluntary bodies becoming, as one example, President of the India Pakistan and Burma Association.

He was an Honorary Fellow of the School of Oriental and African Studies but during this period his considerable energies were directed increasingly to writing. His numerous books were of two kinds. There were a number on general political and historical subjects, such as: The British Impact on India (1952); Empire into Commonwealth (1969); The Changing Face of Communism (1961). There were also a number of specialised works for a more limited readership, such as a history of the Indian police (1971) and histories of English chartered companies (1975), of the Indian tea industry (1967) and of the Inchcape Group (1977), all meticulous in industry and accuracy and marked by a pragmatic liberalism and balanced judgement.

His life was devoted to the British connection with India, which had begun in the 17th century with trade, and it was perhaps appropriate that for the greater part of his long life it was with the business connection that he was concerned, both as an influential adviser and as historian.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'