Obituary: Jim Rose

Dipak Nandy
Thursday 03 June 1999 23:02

JIM ROSE was a man of dazzling and diverse gifts - a member of the legendary Bletchley Park intelligence team in the Second World War, a journalist of distinction, creator single-handedly of an internationally influential institute dedicated to the development of freedom of the press, director and co-ordinator of a massive six-year survey of race relations in Britain, and joint founder of an institute to educate young people whom he nurtured to fulfil their promise.

His achievements were perhaps most notable for their least obtrusive characteristic. He was a distinguished manager of people because he so transparently cared, not only for the enterprise but also for the people who needed to be encouraged, disciplined, but mostly inspired if the enterprise was to succeed.

Rose was born in 1909 into the Anglo-Jewish elite of Edwardian England, and was an embodiment of the values of courtesy, culture, courage, civility and an unceasing generosity. He went to Rugby and then to New College, Oxford, where he read Greats. Late in life, he recalled that the book that had made the most profound impression on him - at the age of 14 - was Zola's J'Accuse, that potent indictment of anti-Semitism and intolerance. What it taught him, he used to say, was the power of the written word.

Although his Jewishness was undemonstrative, he was profoundly one of the "People of the Book". Having spent the years before the outbreak of war in 1939 helping to resettle refugees from Nazi Germany, he served the war years in the Air Intelligence section at Bletchley Park and emerged after the war as Wing Commander Rose. He never spoke about what he did during those six years.

He joined David Astor's Observer - at the time the only newspaper worth reading - as Literary Editor in 1948, and in its Review section orchestrated the vast array of talents Astor had gathered round him. But his special gifts came into their own when he moved en famille to Zurich in 1951 to become the founder director of the International Press Institute, which in his hands became a powerful global force in the emergence of a free press not only in Europe but especially in the newly emerging countries. By the time he came to leave, there could hardly have been a distinguished editor or journalist anywhere in the world who did not regard him as a friend.

He returned in 1963 to an England which had only uncomfortably begun to recognise the existence of a race relations problem, at the invitation of Philip Mason, the formidable Director of the Institute of Race Relations. Mason had chosen him as the only person with the freedom from little-England insularity to direct a comprehensive survey of race in Britain; Rose observed modestly that he doubted whether he had the stature to measure up to the challenge.

The collaboration between Rose and his gifted assistant director, Nicholas Deakin, can scarcely have been matched since and it resulted, six years later, in the publication of Colour and Citizenship (1969), a monumental 800-page survey of race relations remarkable as much for its wealth of detail as for its sweep of vision. It represented the powerful voice of an unsentimental liberalism which dared speak its name - with no ifs or buts. Thirty years later, although this or that detail may seem dated, it remains a towering landmark of post-war Britain. Jim Rose saw it as his greatest achievement.

Shrewdly he never failed to keep his feet on the ground he had chosen: journalism and publishing. From 1970 to 1974, he was Editorial Director of the Westminster Press Group, and then chairman of Penguin Books until 1980. But his adolescent commitment to combat intolerance and the experience of directing the Survey of Race Relations to its conclusion in 1969 strengthened his belief that, somehow, principles had to be put into practice.

The man who had the idea he was looking for was Anthony (now Lord) Lester, who had been musing to friends of the need for a British institute combining the best of the Anti-Defamation League and the Potomac Institute in the United States, and who brought with him a commitment of $5,000 a year for three years from a liberal East Coast foundation, provided it was matched by British foundations.

It was Jim Rose who personally persuaded the Rowntree Trusts to take up the challenge. They were the "onlie begetters" of the Runnymede Trust, set up in 1968. He became the chairman of its Advisory Committee but was, in truth, as much a member of its board of trustees as any of the other luminous figures - Lord ("Jock") Campbell, Sir Edward (later Lord) Boyle, Sir Peter Medawar or Archbishop Trevor Huddleston.

He took an enthusiastic interest in its work, but the man who had taken dozens of promising young people under his wing and helped them to grow was too wise to get under their feet. In 1980, he took over from Lord Campbell as chairman of the trust for the next 10 years.

There were other involvements which he entered into with equal passion, such as the Inter-Action Trust, but he took very nearly as much pride in the success of the Runnymede Trust as in the completion of Colour and Citizenship. It, after all, was the agency for sustaining the public education in toleration which he had attempted to begin with his and Nicholas Deakin's magnum opus.

Them were many other assignments he took on - membership of the Swann Committee, a Unicef consultancy, trusteeship of the Writers and Scholars Educational Trust. Jim Rose never retired.

Sometime in the 1940s, in those huts at Bletchley Park, he met Pamela Gibson, then in the Naval Intelligence section. They married in 1946 and had two children. It was a marriage of true minds, and Jim would have been the first to acknowledge that without Pam he would have been an immeasurably lesser man than he became. With all his undertakings, he was a devoted family man and besotted with his grandchildren. He crammed three or four careers into one long life, and yet always found time to care for his innumerable friends.

If there is one word which captures the essence of Jim Rose's personality, it is kindness. It was an unstinting, unsolicited generosity of spirit. He belonged, like Jock Campbell, Peter Medawar and Edward Boyle, to a generation which breathed an air of ample and generous liberalism nowhere to be found today.

Eliot Joseph Benn ("Jim") Rose, journalist, publisher and writer: born London 7 June 1909; Literary Editor, the Observer 1948-51; Director, International Press Institute, Zurich 1951-62; Director, Survey of Race Relations in Britain 1963-69; Editorial Director, Westminster Press 1970-74; chairman, Penguin Books 1973-80; director, Pearson Longman 1974-81; CBE 1979; married 1946 Pamela Gibson (one son, one daughter); died London 20 May 1999.

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