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Tributes to Lord Hussey

December 2006

 

We received the news of Lord Hussey’s death with great sadness. During his time as the Chairman of Cadweb we benefited immeasurable from his erudition, experience and knowledge. His was always supportive and encouraging, steering the ship through some interesting and exciting times as we found ourselves caught up in the middle of the ‘Dotcom’ storm. He was always calm and rational with a tremendous sense of humour which allowed us to keep a perspective on the otherwise daunting task of deciding the best policies to counter competitors with up to US$100m of funding.

He is a tremendous loss and our deepest sympathies and thoughts go out to his family.  

 


The Guardian Obituary 27 December 2006.

Marmaduke Hussey

Management roles at Associated and Times newspapers prepared Duke Hussey for a controversial career as BBC chairman


Lord Hussey, who has died aged 83, was a shining example of the widespread belief among the "great and good" of the British establishment that corporate management is a profession which can be practised without technical knowledge.

Marmaduke James Hussey, as he was born, was generally known as "Duke" but was called "Dukey" by family and friends at his own request, a cloying soubriquet for a man of six feet five inches and 17 stone.

The massive physique was accompanied by a booming and not infrequently bullying bonhomie, underneath which lay the permanent pain of terrible war wounds.

All he ever did professionally was manage; many would say mismanage. He started his working life as a management trainee without a shred of editorial experience at Associated Newspapers. Eventually, as managing director of its Harmsworth Publications subsidiary, he almost destroyed the Daily Mail.

Then he moved on to Times Newspapers, masterminding the catastrophic 1978-79 lockout which cost £40m and opened the way to the takeover by Rupert Murdoch - who, with unlikely gratitude, kept him on the board. As a staff journalist on the Mail and later the Sunday Times and then the Times, I got a worm's eye view of the Hussey management style twice over.

After that, Duke Hussey climbed his highest mountain as chairman of the BBC, wrecking its confidence and morale and appointing the egregious John Birt as director general. The playwright Dennis Potter described them as "a pair of croak-voiced Daleks".

Duke's father, Eric Hussey, an Olympic hurdler, was in the colonial service. And thanks to the overseas postings, the athletic young Hussey was educated at Rugby at the taxpayer's expense, winning a scholarship to Trinity College, Oxford, where he studied for a year and won a cricket blue.

The next gilded milestone was the Grenadier Guards, the army's senior and socially supreme non-cavalry regiment. Status was always of maximum importance to the middle class Hussey, who turned himself into a caricature of a Wodehousian aristocrat.

But his active service with the Grenadiers was tragically short. As a freshly appointed platoon commander, Hussey in February 1944 went ashore at Anzio, the bungled allied landing in Italy. After just five days he was cut down by German machine gun bullets, at least one of which lodged immovably in his spine. His leg was amputated in captivity and the Germans later repatriated him on mercy grounds.

He spent the next five years and more in hospitals, his leg requiring daily dressing throughout. If there is one virtue that stood out in Hussey's postwar life it was his courage in coping with his handicap and the unrelenting pain.

He managed to complete his Oxford degree and in 1949 joined Associated, soon making himself indispensable to the second Lord Rothermere as a personal assistant.

Ten years later he married the striking, 20-year-old Susan Katherine Waldegrave. She was 16 years younger and impeccably connected, the fifth daughter of the 12th Earl Waldegrave (and elder sister of William, the future Tory cabinet minister).

In 1960 she became a lady in waiting to the Queen, who occasionally graced the Husseys' dinner table. His wife was thus a source of immense, sometimes indiscreet, pride - and of contacts in the highest reaches of the establishment. They had a son and a daughter.

Hussey became a director at Associated in 1964, and managing director of Harmsworth three years later.

His time on the board was marked by the costly failure to dent the mid-market supremacy of the Daily Express. Having failed to beat it he tried to join it, but merger efforts collapsed, plunging the Mail group into even greater losses.

When he left, the company shut down the ailing Daily Sketch and merged the London evening papers, founding Associated's revival, and the eventual trouncing of the Express group.

Nevertheless, the Duke was headhunted in 1971 by the Thomson Organisation, then owner of the Times and Sunday Times. He became managing director of Times Newspapers Ltd (TNL).

As deputy chairman of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association he worked with Bill Keys, head of the print union Sogat, on a "Plan for Action" aimed at revamping industrial relations in Fleet Street and paving the way for new technology.

In house, Hussey's apparent determination to tame the rampant print union chapels, egged on by decades of beggar-my-neighbour deals with the ineptly competing managements at the Express and the Mail, among others, was set down in a letter to all staff. It proclaimed that "no newspaper can stand such losses".

But it did, somehow, for several more years, amid steadily worsening disputes, guerrilla strikes and management inertia. Nothing came of the letter of the "Plan for Action".

The fate of the Times as Thomson's flagship, and ultimately of the group's waning interest in Britain and concomitant apotheosis of Murdoch, was sealed when Hussey's board decided to move the daily from Blackfriars to the Sunday Times building in London's Gray's Inn Road in 1974.

It was an accountancy exercise in which the bean-counters overlooked the fact that the best printers in Fleet Street (and about the lowest-paid) were now to be exposed to the indifferent rapacity of the casuals who came from elsewhere to print the Sunday paper (when it suited them).

The disputes intensified. The second Lord Thomson lost patience after six years and demanded drastic action. Hussey announced that the two titles would shut down on November 30, 1978, unless agreement was reached by then on new technology, manning levels, disputes procedures and wages. Negotiations dragged on.

The genial giant became a TV personality, exuding misplaced good cheer as the talks foundered on the inability of the leaders to control their chapels.

Only on October 21 1979, 50 weeks after the lockout began, there was an agreement on resumption of publication - without progress on any of the management's main aims.

Legends emerged about the Hussey approach to negotiation. On one occasion he sought to disarm his interlocutors by taking his leg off and standing it, trouserless but with sock and shoe, in full view against a wall.

On another, he broke off discussion to take a telephone call. He returned to announce: "Gentlemen, my wife has just informed me that HRH Princess Anne has been safely delivered of a son. You are among the first to know." The presses immovably failed to record the happy event.

Sir Denis Hamilton, then editor-in-chief of TNL, compared Hussey to Haig in the first world war - a one-tactic general obsessed with frontal assault.

More tellingly, Louis Heren, then deputy editor of The Times, described Hussey as a "good company commander" unfit to be a general: "He had no battle plan."

This was the nub of the disaster at TNL. The new technology issue was entrusted to Harvey Thompson, a manager whose plan was still inside his head when he died suddenly (he had received anonymous death threats by telex and was under huge stress) before the ultimatum expired. So when Hussey went ahead anyway he had no strategy for achieving his main objective.

Less than 18 months after the return, Thomson sold out to Rupert Murdoch for £12m (30% of the closure bill).

Hussey stayed on the board, kept there by Murdoch to oversee the royally favoured Times bicentenary binge at Hampton Court in 1982 and duly leaving in 1983.

Fortunately for him he had several other directorships to keep him warm, as well as much voluntary work for the Royal Marsden Hospital and the limbless to keep him busy.

Hussey's surprise can be imagined when in September 1986 he received a call from the then home secretary, Douglas Hurd, offering him the chairmanship of the BBC governors.

The corporation was in a bad way, financially stretched, massively overmanaged, mired in a messy libel case, under constant attack from right wing politicians such as Norman Tebbit and Jeffrey Archer and apparently a constant goad to Margaret Thatcher, infuriated daily by the alleged "pinkoes" running the Today programme.

An anonymous briefer at Conservative Central Office said at the time that Hussey's job was "to make it bloody clear" that change was urgently required; he was "to get in there and sort it out". Hurd denied issuing a brief, telling Hussey he would find out what he had to do when he got to the BBC.

The first trick was to find the place. He said at the time: "I know so little about the organisation that my wife and I had to go through the telephone book to find out the address where I will be working."

Soon after he found it, Hussey said: "The BBC is in danger of becoming a fossilised relic."

A technician who wired his new suite was bemused to be asked why the TV needed an aerial or his office a socket.

Sir Michael Checkland, whom he made director general after he sacked Alasdair Milne, remarked in exasperation when he fell from grace in his turn, that he expected a BBC chairman to know that FM "means frequency modulation, not fuzzy monsters".

He had some experience of broadcasting management, having merged two West Country commercial radio stations and turning loss into profit by "downsizing" staff. Despite his aggressive record Hussey's instinct was to compromise and do deals personally over a lavish meal.

This may explain why he made so many mistakes when adopting a hawkish mode on the bidding of his masters. He shocked BBC management by sacking Milne a few months into his first five-year term; but protested loudly when the special branch raided BBC Glasgow and seized material for a programme on a government spy satellite.

He chose Sir Michael Checkland, the first accountant to run the BBC, as director general, with John Birt as his deputy. Checkland's gradualist approach to winnowing the massive BBC bureaucracy, whose scope is most readily revealed by a glance at the thickly impenetrable, internal telephone book, was not good enough for Hussey and his hawkish deputy, Lord Barnett.

Birt - who had come from LWT and whose main claims to fame had been the popular if undemanding London's Burning and Blind Date - impressed them with his reorganisation of news and current affairs.

Hussey gave Checkland an extra, sixth year while simultaneously appointing Birt as director general designate, a recipe for chaos.

He saw this as a decent compromise and could not understand why Checkland took a rather different view.

Hussey saw the BBC through to the renewal of its charter in 1996 and a form of financial stability whereby the licence fee kept pace with general inflation (but not with the higher rate of technological inflation).

Out-of-favour broadcasting liberals saw Hussey as Frankenstein and Birt as his monster. They were devastated by the chairman's lack of interest or skill in intellectual argument and his readiness to make big decisions on a basis of ignorance or prejudice.

He never lost his belief, derived from his own courage in personal adversity, that sheer willpower could overcome all obstacles and resistance, despite a lifetime's evidence to the contrary.

Hussey turned the chairmanship into a full-time job, demanding full secretarial services and a car. Barnett also moved into Broadcasting House. After five years Hussey was given an unprecedented second term. He was a consummate survivor.

Inclined to quote Machiavelli, Hussey was undoubtedly cleverer than he looked but almost certainly not as clever as he thought. Secretive, sly and smug as well as patronising, charming and physically overwhelming, Duke Hussey, quintessence of the British patrician amateur, managed to cut a unique swathe through the British media, which have never been the same since.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2006/dec/27/pressandpublishing.broadcasting1

 


Obituary: Lord Hussey of North Bradley, BBC News. 27 December 2006.


Marmaduke Hussey, who has died aged 83, was appointed chairman of the BBC at one of the most difficult times in its history.

Mr Hussey was given a life peerage in the 1996 Birthday Honours
 
It was 1986, and the corporation was being subjected to continual criticism from the Conservative government, and some newspapers, over its programmes and an alleged left-wing bias.
 Within three months of taking over, he had forced the resignation of the director-general, Alasdair Milne.
 
Two days after that, the BBC's offices in Glasgow were raided by the Special Branch, when a series was broadcast concerning secret intelligence matters.
 
This brought a strong protest from Mr Hussey and a warning that the BBC would take appropriate legal action.
 
War injury

Marmaduke James Hussey went to school at Rugby, was commissioned into the Grenadier Guards, and was severely wounded at Anzio in 1943, losing a leg.
 
He was taken prisoner by the Germans, but was eventually repatriated because of his wounds.
He went up to Oxford, and in 1949 joined Associated Newspapers as a trainee. Fifteen years later he was a director.
 
He joined the Thomson Organisation, and from 1971-80 was chief executive and managing director of Times Newspapers.
 
He led efforts to secure a national agreement with the unions for new technology in Fleet Street, but failed, and in 1978 the Times and Sunday Times ceased publication for nearly a year.
 
After that, the newspapers were sold to Rupert Murdoch, which resulted eventually in the move to Wapping. Mr Hussey ceased to be chief executive, but remained on the board.

 
'Sort out' BBC

His appointment, in October 1986, as the BBC's chairman, followed the death of Stuart Young.
 
It was a surprise and caused something of a storm at the time; there was talk that he was being put in by the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, to "sort out" the BBC.
 
 
Labour's home affairs spokesman Gerald Kaufman called the appointment "provocative". Mr Hussey said he was astonished to have been offered the job, and endured two sleepless nights before accepting.
 At the time, the BBC was in a sea of troubles. Just over a year earlier, the Real Lives programme on Northern Ireland had been banned by the governors - it was later broadcast, slightly amended.
 
Then there was criticism about the way the BBC had publicised The Monocled Mutineer, a drama about the Great War, as a true story.
 
There were suggestions that a play about the Falklands conflict had been shelved because it showed Mrs Thatcher as a compassionate person.
 
And then there was a libel case brought by two Conservative MPs accused in a Panorama programme, Maggie's Militant Tendency, of being right-wing extremists. The BBC, after first deciding to fight the case, apologised, and paid damages and costs, said to have been half a million pounds.
 
High-profile resignation

As soon as Mr Hussey actually took over, he had to deal with a dossier presented by the Conservative Party chairman, Norman Tebbit, complaining about the BBC's television coverage of the American bombing of Libya the previous April.
 
The BBC denied almost all the charges, and Mr Hussey rejected Mr Tebbit's call for an independent inquiry. He said the governors were responsible for ensuring programme standards.

 
The resignation of Alasdair Milne as director-general, at the end of January 1987, came at a time of tension with the Conservatives over a series called Secret Society, which dealt with government policy, official secrets, security and law and order.
 Mr Hussey and the vice-chairman, Lord Barnett, saw Mr Milne and, it is generally believed, gave him an ultimatum - resign for "personal reasons" or be sacked.
 
Mr Milne quit, and Mr Hussey then gave the news to BBC governors and managers having lunch at the BBC's Television Centre.
 
Two days later - on a Saturday - the Special Branch raided the BBC's headquarters in Glasgow, and took away material for the other five programmes in the Secret Society series.
 
The Labour Party and the Alliance protested vigorously in Parliament, and the Speaker allowed an emergency debate.
 
Mr Hussey wrote letters of protest to Home Secretary Douglas Hurd and Scottish Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, saying he had followed the weekend's events with "mounting dismay", adding that the programmes dealt with matters of legitimate public interest.
 
He also criticised the timing and manner of the Special Branch operation and said the BBC would take whatever legal action might be appropriate. The material was later returned.
 
Pain

Marmaduke Hussey was a tall (1.95m, or 6ft 5ins), friendly man, who inspired loyalty.
 
Throughout his life, he continued to suffer pain as a result of his war wounds.

Outside his work, he was chairman of the Royal Marsden Hospital and of the National Advisory Council on the employment of disabled people.
 
He married Lady Susan Waldegrave, a lady-in-waiting to the Queen and godmother to Prince William. They had a son and a daughter.
 
In June 1996, Marmaduke Hussey was given a life peerage in the Queen's Birthday Honours. He became Lord Hussey of North Bradley.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/5263816.stm

 


Obituary: Lord Hussey of North Bradley
Patrician chairman of the BBC
The Independent Thursday 28 December 2006


Marmaduke James Hussey, media executive: born 29 August 1923; managing director, Harmsworth Publications 1967-70; chief executive, Times Newspapers 1971-82; joint chairman, Great Western Radio 1985-86; Chairman, Royal Marsden Hospital 1985-98; Chairman, Board of Governors, BBC 1986-96; created 1996 Baron Hussey of North Bradley; married 1959 Lady Susan Waldegrave (one son, one daughter); died London 27 December 2006.
 

Of the public appointments made by Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister, few surprised the cognoscenti more than when, in 1986, she made Marmaduke Hussey chairman of the board of governors of the troubled and troublesome BBC. Only those close to the newspaper business had heard of this former chief executive of Times Newspapers, notable for leading the company into a showdown with the trade unions that ended in ignominious defeat, and eventually to the acquisition of The Times and Sunday Times by Rupert Murdoch.
 
At 63, Hussey, a large and bluff man who walked with difficulty after losing a leg in the Second World War, seemed to be drifting towards placid retirement. Then, out of the blue, came the call from Douglas Hurd, Thatcher's Home Secretary. Hussey's first reaction was that nothing in his experience had prepared him to run a large and notoriously fractious broadcasting organisation; but he was persuaded to accept. "What about a briefing?" the shocked Hussey enquired nervously. "You'll find out when you get there," Hurd replied.
 
It did not take him long to find out that the BBC was disorganised and poorly led, and only four months after his appointment he fired the Director-General, Alasdair Milne. His initial five-year term as chairman was marked by further controversy and rancorous disputes, both internal and external. Yet he was asked to stay on for another five turbulent years, until he was well into his seventies. He believed that his great achievement was to leave the BBC as a more stable organisation than when he arrived, with its future reasonably secure. When he stood down in 1996 he was created a life peer, Baron Hussey of North Bradley.
 
If staff at Broadcasting House identified in him the stern but patronising manner of a colonial governor dealing with unruly natives, it was because it was in his blood. His father Eric Hussey, an Olympic hurdler, made a career in the Colonial Service, principally in Africa. By the time he was six the young Marmaduke, although born in Surrey, had spent four years of his life in Uganda. But when his father was posted to Nigeria he remained in England, living mainly with relations. He was sent to a boarding school in Hampshire and then to Rugby, where he excelled at sport and won a scholarship to Trinity College, Oxford.
 
He went up to Oxford in 1942 but, after a year, left to join the Army as an officer cadet, becoming a lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards. In January 1944 he was posted to Italy and almost immediately saw action at the Battle of Anzio. In an assault on enemy trenches he was badly wounded in the legs, hand and spine by machine-gun fire, and taken prisoner by the Germans. At a field hospital a German doctor amputated his right leg because the wound had become infected. After several months in hospitals and prison camps in Germany, he was repatriated in an exchange of injured prisoners with a poor chance of survival.
 
The bullet in his spine proved a greater long-term problem than his amputated leg, and on his return to Britain he spent six months at an orthopaedic hospital in Roehampton. Not until 1946 could he return to Oxford. He graduated in 1949.
 
Joining Lord Rothermere's Daily Mail as a management trainee, he worked his way through most of the paper's commercial departments until he became a director in 1964 and managing director three years later. In 1959 he had married Susan Waldegrave, the daughter of Earl Waldegrave. She was 16 years his junior and in 1960 was appointed a Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen, a post she held to the end of his life.
 
As managing director at Northcliffe House he gained a reputation in the industry as a tough negotiator. It was a necessary skill for dealing with printing unions which still had the ability to halt the presses on a whim to negotiate increasingly unrealistic deals on pay and manning levels. In 1971 he was recruited by Lord Thomson of Fleet, who a few years earlier had bought the Sunday Times and The Times and was losing far more money on the latter than he was making on the former. Hussey was appointed chief executive of Times Newspapers, with the long-term aim of introducing modern computerised production techniques that would slash costs and mean heavy job losses for printing staff.
 
By the mid-1970s the computers had been installed but lay idle, because the unions were determined to resist their introduction. In 1978 Hussey and his fellow directors - with the support of William Rees-Mogg, Editor of The Times - decided on a "big bang" solution, shutting down the newspapers in an effort to bring the unions to heel. Convinced that such shock tactics would cause almost instant capitulation, Hussey and his colleagues had devised no strategy on how to proceed if that did not happen. The closure lasted 50 weeks and, when the papers did finally return, the basic issues remained unresolved. A few months later, when journalists on The Times went on strike over pay, the Thomson Organisation decided to sell out. In a controversial bidding process, Rupert Murdoch bought the papers.
 
Most of the Thomson executives lost their jobs but Hussey was kept on as a full-time consultant - to the surprise of many, because his patrician, aristocratic manner seemed sure to alienate the no-nonsense Australian tycoon. He played no central role in the direction of the papers, though. His principal task was to organise The Times's bicentenary celebrations in 1986, where his royal connections came into play: the Prince of Wales agreed to be the principal guest at a banquet at Hampton Court. Hussey also became chairman of GWR, a West Country commercial radio station - his only involvement in broadcasting until the call came from Douglas Hurd asking him to head the BBC Board of Governors.
 
Hussey's own surprise at the summons was at least as great as that of media commentators when his appointment was announced. Just why Thatcher and her colleagues chose him to replace Stuart Young, who had died in office, has never been entirely clear. Did Rees-Mogg, who had just stepped down as the BBC's vice-chairman, suggest his name? Or was it perhaps his wife's brother William Waldegrave, a junior minister in the Government?
 
The Prime Minister and some of her colleagues were angry about aspects of the BBC's reporting of controversial issues, especially the conflict in Northern Ireland. There were suggestions that the licence fee, on which it relied for its revenue, might be cut or even scrapped. In any event, it was clear to them that the over-mighty corporation must be cut down to size. That was what Hussey had been appointed to do.
 
Firing the Director-General was the obvious place to start; but the new chairman could not get his way over Milne's successor. He pressed the case for the broadcaster David Dimbleby, but the governors defied him and appointed Milne's former deputy Michael Checkland, an accountant who had come up through the ranks as a financial controller rather than a programme-maker. A more significant appointment was that of John Birt, an executive with London Weekend Television, as Deputy Director-General. Birt, a hard-headed Liverpudlian, quickly made himself unpopular with the staff by introducing radical changes in news-gathering procedures. But he was supported by Hussey and the governors, who could see that his tough approach would find favour with the Government.
 
Having completed the restructuring, the ambitious Birt was keen to remove the word "deputy" from his title. Moreover Hussey was growing disillusioned with Checkland, who he believed was doing too little to control the BBC's high costs. The governors feared that this profligacy would count against them when the corporation's royal charter came up for renewal in 1996. Hussey, whose contract as chairman had been renewed for a further five years in 1991, paved the way for the more ruthless Birt to take over.
 
Hussey worked well with his new director-general for a time. The 1995 White Paper on the charter review guaranteed the BBC's continued independence and licence-fee funding beyond 1996. Thus both men could be said to have succeeded in protecting the future of the corporation against political forces that had at one time seemed bent on destroying it. But the last two years of Hussey's second term were marred by an increasingly bitter rift with Birt, who has a talent for making enemies.
 
Their most ferocious argument was over an interview with Diana, Princess of Wales broadcast in 1995, in which she criticised Prince Charles and the rest of the Royal Family. Birt told Hussey about the interview only a few hours before it was aired, recognising that the Chairman's sympathies and connections with the Royal Family would lead him to try to prevent its broadcast. Hussey never forgave him, and both men were harsh on each other in their post-retirement memoirs. Hussey believed that Birt lacked judgement and interpersonal skills. Birt, for his part, wrote of his former chairman:
 
He was more of a 19th- than a 20th-century man, more colonial administrator than modern manager, and he distrusted analysis, preferring to live on his wits and instincts.
 
In his book Chance Governs All (2001), Hussey wrote of himself:
 
I have always enjoyed being thought a fool - at least not to be clever. It gives you an immediate advantage over those around you.
 
A 1992 profile in The Independent probably got it about right. While conceding that some saw him as Monty Python's Upper Class Twit of the Year, the anonymous writer concluded: "He is cleverer than he looks but not as clever as he thinks."
 
Yet, although some found "Dukie" Hussey a Woosterish figure, his personal courage in the face of physical disability was never in question. He walked with a stick, with a curious gait emphasised by the circling motion of his natural leg, itself partly paralysed. Sometimes, if he wanted to disconcert a visitor to his office, he would remove his artificial leg and prop it against the wall behind him. He refused to be confined to a wheelchair and, although often in pain, hardly ever took painkillers. He said he would drink a glass of whisky if the discomfort threatened to become unbearable - and a second if the first didn't work.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/lord-hussey-of-north-bradley-429971.html  

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