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Last Word
Listen to the latest editionFriday   16:00-16:30
Sunday 20:30-21:00 (rpt)

Radio 4's weekly obituaries programme
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This week
Friday 12th September 2008
(Rpt) Sunday 14th September
Matthew Bannister
Matthew Bannister tells the life stories of people who have died recently: Vernon Handley, Dame Alison Munro, Robert Giroux, Sir Denis Rooke and Anita Page.
Vernon “Tod” Handley
Conductor who has died aged 77

Vernon Handley was a passionate champion of English music who made celebrated recordings of Elgar, Bax, Vaughan Williams, Arnold and Delius amongst many others.

He was born at Enfield in Middlesex into what he described as a very working class family – his father was a Welsh factory worker. Both his parents were musical – his father sang in Llandaff Cathedral Choir and his mother was a piano teacher, but they told him there was no money for him to take music lessons. So the young Handley taught himself by listening to recordings and following scores. Handley was educated at Balliol College Oxford and the Guildhall School of Music where his performing instrument was the double bass. He wrote to Sir Adrian Boult who eventually became his mentor.

Tod’s first full time appointment was as musical director to the Borough of Guildford where he transformed the semi professional orchestra into a full time ensemble. He decided that at least a quarter of the music included in his concerts would be English and stuck to this rule for the rest of his career. Handley went on to conduct many of the world’s leading orchestras, had a long term relationship with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and became principal conductor of the Ulster Orchestra.

Matthew Bannister talks to the cellist Natalie Clein who made a much praised recording of Elgar’s cello concerto with Vernon Handley and to his agent Nicholas Curry.

Vernon Handley  was born on November 11th 1930. He died September 10th 2008.
Dame Alison Munro
Former Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Aviation and High Mistress of St Paul's Girls' School who has died aged 94

Dame Alison Munro was the high flying civil servant who became High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls in West London.

Her steely determination was apparent even when Alison Munro was very young. Orphaned at the age of thirteen, when both her parents died within a few months of each other, Alison was determined to study at St Paul’s School which she saw as a way to get into Oxford University.

During the war Alison worked as an assistant to the radar expert Sir Robert Watson-Watt. Even though she had only gained a third class degree, in peacetime she passed the civil service exams and went to work at the Ministry of Civil Aviation. There she rose to the rank of Under Secretary and had the task of negotiating international air routes.

Matthew Bannister talks to Dame Alison Munro's former colleague Patrick Shovelton, to her grandson James Munro and to Judith Portrait who was a student at St Paul’s when Alison Munro arrived as High Mistress in 1964.
Dame Alison Munro was born February 12th 1914. She died September 2nd 2008.
Robert Giroux
Publisher who has died aged 94

Robert Giroux was one of the most respected publishers of the twentieth century. He worked with no less than seven Nobel Laureates including his friend TS Eliot, Seamus Heaney, William Golding and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The New York publishing firm he established with his partner Roger Straus attracted many of the most distinguished American writers of the mid twentieth century, among them Jack Kerouac, Robert Lowell and Flannery O’Connor.

Robert Giroux was born in New Jersey and studied at Columbia University where he developed a love for literature. He broke into publishing as a junior editor at the firm of Harcourt Brace. After war service in the US Navy, Robert rose to become Editor in Chief. But when the company – by then under new management - refused to publish JD Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”, Giroux decided it was time to leave. In a tribute to his reputation, 15 writers made the move with him to the firm of Farrar Straus which was renamed Farrar Straus Giroux.

Matthew Bannister talks to the Nobel Laureate and poet Derek Walcott, to one of the company’s senior editors, Paul Elie, and to its current President Jonathan Gallassi.
Robert Giroux was born April 8th 1914. He died September 5th 2008.
Sir Denis Rooke
Chairman of British Gas who has died aged 84

Sir Denis Rooke was chairman of British Gas when it was one of the most successful British nationalised industries, being lined up for privatisation by the Thatcher government of the nineteen eighties.
Denis Rooke was the son of a commercial traveller from South London. A childhood illness meant he spent four years in and out of hospitals and couldn’t read or write when he was seven. He battled to catch up, passed the eleven plus and went on to take a degree in mechanical engineering and a postgraduate diploma in chemical engineering at University College London. Denis rose through the ranks at British Gas, finally becoming its chairman in 1976. Lord Walker, as Peter Walker, took over from Nigel Lawson as Energy Secretary in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet.
Peter Walker had a great admiration for Sir Denis Rooke’s vision for the future of British Gas, particularly his insistence that the company switch from coal gas to North Sea natural gas.

When privatisation of the company was put forward, Peter Walker backed Sir Denis’s argument that British gas should remain a single entity, because only a unified company could handle the enormous challenges facing the industry. As a result Sir Denis was won over to support the privatisation policy. He received the Order of Merit from the Queen and became a Fellow of the Royal Society.  

Matthew Bannister talks to the BBC’s former industrial relations correspondent Nicholas Jones who covered the story of British Gas in the seventies and eighties and to Lord Walker.

Sir Denis Rooke was born April 2nd 1924. He died September 2nd 2008.
Anita Page
Actress who has died aged 98

Anita Page was one of the last surviving Hollywood stars who had appeared in both the silent and the early talking pictures. At the height of her fame in the nineteen thirties she was said to be receiving ten thousand fan letters every week.

She was born Anita Pomares in New York. She made her first movie at the age of fifteen and, having moved to Hollywood, landed a contract with MGM studios. In 1929, Anita starred in “The Broadway Melody” which was billed as the first “one hundred per cent all talking, all singing all dancing movie” and won that year’s Oscar for best picture. Anita went on to make two comedies with Buster Keaton and seemed set for a long career when she suddenly announced her retirement at the age of twenty-seven. She claimed this was because she had refused to sleep with the studio head Louis B Meyer who had blacklisted her throughout the industry. In 1936, she married a naval officer and lived with him in California until he died in 1991.

Matthew Bannister talks to the actor Randal Malone who she lived with at the end of her life.

Anita Page was born  August 4th 1910. She died September 6th 2008.
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