John Barnes, Historian


Although he was a highly successful businessman and a long-serving Conservative MP, who put in a brief stint as a junior minister in the Department of Industry, there must be more than a slight suspicion that Michael Marshall would have given anything to be a first-class cricketer. He once said that had he played as an amateur he would have been able to list Harvard and Nepal after his name in Wisden. He played cricket for both and later captained the Lords and Commons Cricket XI. Some of his happiest moments were spent as a cricket commentator for the BBC and while he was working in India, he became a member of the All India radio Test Match Panel. Latterly he confined his cricket commentating to annual commitments to the Arundel Castle Cricket Club, but he was active also in the Sussex branch of the Lords Taverners, of which he was the founder Chairman. In addition to publishing in 1987 a fascinating account of the matches between the Gentlemen and Players between 1919 and 1962, based on more than a hundred conversations with former cricketers and well-known commentators on the game, he contributed to A Celebration of Lords and Commons Cricket (1989) and to My Lords (1990), and in 1995 wrote Cricket at the Castle.

His career as an author was not confined to cricket. In addition to writing five television plays and various radio biographies, he published Top Hat and Tails, a biography of Jack Buchanan in 1979, and edited two volumes of Stanley Holloway monologues (1979, 1980). The Book of Comic and Dramatic Monologues followed in 1981. His last book, More Sussex Seams, was published in 1999.

Marshall was also a passionate advocate of the live theatre and a fully paid up member of Equity and BAFTA. He had set up an all party group in May 1978 to advocate its cause and among his later campaigns fought hard for the establishment of the Theatre Museum in Convent Garden.. He believed strongly in the importance of theatre to the tourist industry and acted as parliamentary advisor to the Society of West End Theatres. He was a Trustee of the Theatres Trust from 1987-99 and in 1997 became Chairman of the Chichester Festival Theatre Trust.

Robert Michael Marshall was born in Sheffield on 21 June 1930, the son of a Master Printer and a Cabaret artiste. Educated at Bradfield College, he joined United Steel in 1951. Subsequently he studied at both Harvard, where he took an MBA in 1960 and at Stanford University. After serving as a branch manager in Calcutta 1954-58 and as Managing Director in Bombay 1960-64, he returned to Workington as Commercial Director 1964-6. He moved to Head Wrightson Export Co as Managing Director 1967 -9 and then joined Urwick Orr as a management consultant 1969-74.

He had joined the Young Conservatives in 1950, but it was not until 1970 that he first embarked on a political career, fighting the safe Labour seat of Hartlepool. He was adopted for the new and very safe Conservative seat of Arundel in 1972 and it was there that he met and married his wife, then Vice Chairman of the local Conservative Association. Elected to Parliament in February 1974, he speedily found himself joint Secretary of the Conservative backbench Industrial Committee and its Vice Chaiman 1976-9. He also served as Vice Chairman of the all party Committee on management. He put his experience and knowledge to good effect in fighting for protection for the independent steel industry and he helped expose the flaws in the Ryder plan for British Leyland. After two years investigating the British Steel Corporation as a member of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, he concluded that it needed drastic reconstruction if it was to survive, lessons that he strove to put into practice when he went to the Department of Industry as a junior minister. He was a staunch advocate of Japanese investment in British industry and warned of the dangers if industry did not invest in computers even if that led to short-term unemployment.

Nevertheless he was not seen to be a hard line Thatcherite. He served on the Party’s Industrial policy group and there were dire suspicions that he was among those voices reluctant to abandon the National Enterprise Board, suspicions that seemed justified when the incoming Government chose not to abolish it. Mrs Thatcher nevertheless had no hesitation in appointing him to be Under Secretary of State in the Department of Industry. Since the Department had two Ministers of State working to Sir Keith Joseph, his influence on policy was not likely to be great. He approved of the pragmatic and measured way in which Joseph approached the job of disengaging the Government from industry and was particularly supportive of the decision to continue investing in INMOS. He also favoured the Finniston Committee’s recommendations on technological education, and was perhaps disappointed with subsequent proposals for a watered down Engineering Council, which, he announced in 1981, would take them forward. He was a strong advocate of talks between the nationalised steel industry and the private producers to rationalise production and it can be assumed that he was on the side of those who argued for the retention of the NEB and its eventual merger into the British Technology Group.

When Joseph was moved from the Department of Industry in 1981, Marshall found himself relegated to the backbenches. He was immediately elected Chairman of the Parliamentary Space Committee and campaigned for satellite television, British participation in the Ariane space launcher, and long-term financing of the space industry. He put his own money and time into the industry, serving from 1982 as Parliamentary adviser to British Aerospace’s space and communications division and chairing Direct Business Satellite Systems Ltd 1985-90. He was also an enthusiast for the spread of information technology, serving as Vice Chairman of the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee 1982-7 and Vice President of the Conservative Computer Forum. In 1982 he produced The Timetable of Technology and two years later wrote No End of Jobs, in which he set out powerful reasons for believing that technological advance would produce some three million jobs.

A major disappointment was his failure to secure election as Chairman of the Defence Select Committee in 1984 when the whips campaigned actively to secure the job for Humphrey Atkins, but his membership was subsequently called in question because of his role as an adviser to BAE. Michael Jones described him in the Sunday Times as “part of the network that once prompted the comment ‘the Church of England may be the Tory party at prayer but the aircraft industry is the Tory party at work’.”

In 1985 Marshall became Vice Chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. On becoming its Chairman in 1987, he stood down from the Defence Select Committee. During a three year term, he presided over the IPU’s Centenary Conference in 1989 and pressed hard for British assistance to foster democracy in East Germany. He also did much to foster democracy in central and eastern Europe and was knighted in 1990. Two years earlier he had successfully introduced a bill to register publicly financed international Parliamentary organisations. In his final Parliamentary term, he served on the Procedure Committee 1994-7.

Boundary revisions to his seat seem to have prompted his retirement from the Commons in 1997, although it remained safe Tory territory. He continued an active business career, adding a non executive directorship of the Catholic Herald as late as 2003. But in recent years he was fighting a long and ultimately unsuccessful battle with cancer.

He married Caroline Oliphant in 1972. She had two daughters by a previous marriage. He died at Chichester, West Sussex on 6 September 2006.