Dictatorial approach by Stevens that rarely leaves feathers unruffled

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The Independent Online
THE radical shake-up of English Heritage announced yesterday will not surprise anyone who has ever worked with its chairman, Jocelyn Stevens. He is a man who rarely leaves feathers unruffled.

Typical horror stories about the ferociously energetic Mr Stevens are already emerging from Fortress House, the Savile Row headquarters of English Heritage. Staff there have nicknamed him 'Terminator 3.'

He earned the nickname through his dictatorial management style, although as the reorganisation will cost 480 staff their jobs within three years, the title is apt.

One senior official at English Heritage is said to have lost more than a stone in weight since Mr Stevens became chairman last April. The two events are apparently not unconnected.

One source said yesterday: 'Staff morale is appallingly bad. This plan is entirely Stevens's scheme and he has repeatedly redrafted it and changed his mind. Basically he has a whim of iron, that is the way he works.'

Those who experienced Mr Stevens's regime at the Royal College of Art, where he was rector from 1984 until this year, found working alongside him a bruising experience, although it was certainly never dull.

He launched a series of pre- emptive strikes against the attitudes and practices which had comfortably governed the running of the RCA for decades. He aimed to turn what he saw as a moribund institution into the artistic equivalent of a city technology college.

Staff assessment was introduced, courses were changed and decisions were bulldozed through. Within five years two-thirds of the staff had moved on and 14 out of 21 department heads had resigned as he brought the RCA's scattered departments together onto one site and increased the number of students and courses.

His supporters believe that he dragged the RCA, kicking and screaming, into the real world. His detractors argue that his reforms lowered the college's academic standards.

Mr Stevens, 60, could not care less what his opponents think. He relishes his image as a 20th century Attila the Hun sent to wield the axe without mercy in sleepy organisations.

When he was made deputy chairman of the Independent Television Commission, one newspaper published a picture of him under the headline 'The Charmer'. He promptly rang up to lodge a strong complaint.

He told a bemused newspaper executive: 'I haven't spent my whole life building up a reputation to have it destroyed by being called a charmer. I've got all my best jobs by being a monster.'

For much of his life, those jobs were in journalism. His mother was a member of the Hulton Press dynasty from which he inherited an enthusiasm for the printed word and a pounds 1m fortune.

He started as a pounds 4-a-week trainee at Hulton Press but on his 25th birthday bought Queen magazine. He turned it from a run- down publication into a successful glossy magazine and sold it 11 years later.

He then went to work for Lord Beaverbrook at Express Newspapers where he became managing director of the London Evening Standard and then of the Daily Express. In 1981 he was sacked for attempting a management buy out.

But 13 years amid the savage office politics and labour negotiations of Fleet Street did nothing to lessen his domineering manner with which staff at English Heritage are now attempting to come to terms.

(Photograph omitted)