OBITUARY : The Rev Arthur Morton

Shoved aside in old vegetable crates, shut away in broom cupboards, strung up in gloomy galleries - much of the best of Britain's visual heritage has been kept out of sight, and out of mind, for far too long. Now, in his six-part series A History of British Art, to be shown on BBC2 this month, Andrew Graham-Dixon (above), the Independent's art critic, argues that our island story can only really be told in pictures
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For nearly a quarter of a century, from 1954 to 1979, Arthur Morton was the public face of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

As the NSPCC's director he became known through frequent radio broadcasts and television appearances. He was also much in demand as a speaker, not only at meetings of the society's branches throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but at many outside bodies as well.

His time at the helm coincided with major changes in the way charities were run. Among other achievements, he fought hard to obtain realistic funding from the Government, turned round a Home Office recommendation that the NSPCC lose its ability to initiate proceedings in the juvenile courts, and in the early 1970s brought staff pay in line with salaries in local authorities - to prevent the continual poaching of the NSPCC's well-trained, but poorly paid staff.

Born in Bakewell, Derbyshire, in 1915, Morton was educated at the Imperial Service College at Windsor and Jesus College, Cambridge, where he read History. Before joining the NSPCC he served as a chaplain for 10 years with the Missions to Seamen in Manchester. It was an appointment more suited to his undoubted talents than the two to three years he had spent as a curate following training for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and ordination. At Manchester he was the cricket-loving parson with a robust sense of humour and an easy rapport with the seamen he was there to serve.

The chance to move to the NSPCC came in 1951 when he was appointed Assistant Director. Just three years later, following the death on holiday in Switzerland of the then director, the Rev Wilton N. McCann, Arthur Morton was elected to succeed him and only retired in 1979 following the onset of Parkinson's disease.

The first director of the society, and one of its founding fathers, was the Rev Benjamin Waugh (1839-1908), a congregational minister. He had ensured that, from its beginnings in 1884, the society was not linked to any religion or denomination, and so was free to go to the help of any child of whatever creed or of none. Morton, another clergyman, shared Waugh's sentiment to the full, sometimes referring to the NSPCC as a secular charity.

The years from 1954 to 1979 were difficult ones for the NSPCC. Early on, there were delicate negotiations to be handled which were to lead to the branches in the Republic of Ireland leaving the parent body in 1956 and setting up as the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

In October 1960 the Departmental Committee on Children and Young Persons set up by the Home Office under the chairmanship of Viscount Ingleby reported. The committee had been given the task of considering the working of the law as it related to the powers of the courts in respect of juveniles brought before them. One of the recommendations in the Ingleby Report was that the NSPCC should lose its status as an Authorised Person to initiate proceedings in the juvenile courts. In the months following the report's publication, Morton travelled the country, putting forward the society's case, and, ultimately, the government of the day decided not to proceed with the recommendation.

There was a price to pay. There had been criticism, some of it justified, of the indifferent training given to the society's inspectors, as they were then called. Arthur Morton recognised the inadequacy and was successful in initiating a specialist training department geared to the needs of the NSPCC.

In collaboration with Anne Allen, Morton wrote This Is Your Child, published in 1961, an outline of the history of the NSPCC, and that same year was appointed OBE.

He travelled widely throughout his time as director of the society. In the early Seventies he went several times to the United States and was very keen that the society should be in the forefront of the work needed to counter what became known as the "battered baby syndrome", the identification of which had been largely undertaken in the US by Brandt Steele and Henry Kempe, both doctors. His initiative led to the society's setting up the National Advisory Centre on the Battered Child in 1974, followed by a number of special units.

In the years that followed, Arthur Morton set out with some success to obtain from central government a realistic level of financial support for the society, something it had lacked from its founding because, unlike other children's charities, it had never run children's homes, and therefore did not have children in care for whom a charge could be made.

When in 1979 he retired, Arthur Morton was appointed CVO. The years since then were spent quietly as the disease took its grip. To the end, however, his memory was unaffected. His lively conversation was enhanced by wide reading and a delicious sense of humour.

John Low

Arthur Morton, priest and charity worker: born Bakewell, Derbyshire 29 June 1915; ordained deacon 1938, priest 1939; Curate, St Catherine's, Neasden 1938-41; Chaplain, Missions to Seamen, Manchester 1941-51; Assistant Director, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children 1951- 54, Director 1954-79; OBE 1961; CVO 1979; married 1940 Medora Harrison (died 1995; two daughters); died Hill Head, Hampshire 25 March 1996.