Obituary:
William Clarke 1922-2011

William Clarke

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William Clarke was the author of several books on the Romanovs

William Clarke, who died on April 23 aged 88, was the doyen of London’s financial journalists and the progenitor of the idea that “invisible” exports represent a hugely valuable contribution to the British economy.

A writer of exceptional clarity, Bill Clarke was gifted with an ability to make the inner workings of finance comprehensible to the non-specialist reader. He was City editor of The Times in 1958 when he published a paper, The City’s Invisible Earnings, which sought for the first time to estimate the positive contribution of financial services provided by British companies to the rest of the world. At a time when politicians and the press were obsessed by negative balances of external trade in raw materials and manufactured goods, this came as a revelation.

The debate it provoked led in 1966 to the establishment of the Committee on Invisible Exports, under the auspices of the Bank of England, with Clarke as its “director of studies”. Its report, Britain’s Invisible Earnings, was followed by the creation in 1968 of a permanent body which became the British Invisible Exports Council, charged with promoting British services and encouraging understanding of their value. Clarke was its director until 1976, and deputy chairman and director-general from 1976 to 1987.

Under his energetic leadership, the Council was highly effective both in educating domestic audiences and offering a coordinated marketing platform abroad. This was achieved by a programme of convivial “missions” — beginning in 1972 in Kuwait, when the denizens of the City and the Gulf were still unfamiliar with each others’ ways.

Having fended off a sheikh offering a string of camels in exchange for his long-serving assistant Gaye Murdoch, Clarke was puzzled to see audience numbers rising as the event went on, only to realise that the attraction was not the agenda but the rare opportunity to consume free liquor, courtesy of British Airways’ sponsorship.

A first delegation to China in 1980 was another venture into largely untrodden territory. In later years the missions were often allowed to make use of the Royal Yacht Britannia for receptions. Though some Japanese bankers misunderstood “yacht” and arrived dressed for dinghy sailing, there could hardly have been a more impressive venue for a City sales pitch — and the work of the Council was credited with drumming up large volumes of business for Britain.

William Malpas Clarke was born in Lancashire on June 5 1922 and educated at Audenshaw Grammar School. He went on to study History at Manchester University and to become a lifelong Manchester City supporter. But when the war intervened he joined the RAF, in 1941, and was a flying instructor in western Canada from 1942 to 1944.

On demobilisation he returned to university, switching to Economics and graduating in 1948. He then joined the City office of the Manchester Guardian, where he came under the tutelage of the financial editor Richard Fry, a Central European émigré with a broad international view and very high journalistic standards — he once refused a job to the future Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

Clarke moved to The Times in 1955, became City Editor two years later and was financial and industrial editor from 1962 to 1966. His unassuming manner cloaked an independent mind and a fierce resistance to corporate spin: telephoned by a company chairman complaining that coverage had not been sufficiently favourable, he was overheard to say: “Sir George, this is a newspaper, not a post office.”

He was briefly editor of The Banker magazine before taking up his role with the Committee on Invisible Exports, and continued to contribute interviews with financial and political leaders — one of which, with the president of Mexico, was conducted with the weapons of the presidential guard trained on him throughout the encounter. He went on to be a founder director of Euromoney Ltd, the magazine empire created in 1969 by The Daily Mail’s former City Editor Patrick Sergeant.

He was also chairman from 1971 to 1992 of the Harold Wincott awards for financial journalists, and was a kindly mentor to some of the leading financial writers of the generation that followed him — among them the former Euromoney editor and Daily Telegraph columnist Christopher Fildes.

Clarke was a non-executive director of Grindlays Bank from 1966; after Grindlays was taken over in 1984 he was a director of its Antipodean parent ANZ Holdings and chairman of the group’s London merchant bank. He also sat on the boards of Trade Indemnity and the UK arm of Swiss Reinsurance, and was chairman of Central Banking Publications. In parallel with his Invisibles work, he set up and was deputy chairman of the City Communications Centre, which sought to coordinate public relations efforts for the Square Mile.

He was a trustee of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and chairman of its highly successful Wishing Well appeal from 1985 to 1995.

Besides his work on invisible earnings, Clarke was the author or editor of numerous books which explained the financial world: titles included The City in the World Economy (1965), How the City of London Works (1986) and The Golden Thread (2001), an analysis of the role of gold in global markets.

He was appointed CBE in 1976.

Clarke married first, in 1946, Margaret Braithwaite; they had two daughters. The marriage was dissolved and he married secondly, in 1973, Faith Dawson — a great-granddaughter of the Victorian novelist Wilkie Collins. The connection inspired him in retirement to write The Secret Life of Wilkie Collins (1988, revised 2004) and to edit an edition of Collins’s letters.

Having enjoyed that project, he was prompted towards another by a director of Barings who told him that there was no truth in the rumour that the bank’s vaults were full of unclaimed Tsarist gold. Inferring that Barings wanted the story suppressed, he embarked on an investigation which tracked treasure from a looted train in Siberia to a siding in the Vatican gardens — although not to Barings’ strongroom. He published The Lost Fortune of the Tsars (1994) and, when he was 86, Hidden Treasures of the Romanovs: Saving the Royal Jewels (2009).

Source and Copyright: The Telegraph
27 May, 2011