OBITUARY : Lord Goodman


Like the best kind of judge, he handled the disputes which came before him with equal delicacy and emphasis, whether the protagonists were one of his intemperate newspaper proprietors of whose Association he was chairman or a trade union or one of his undergraduates – he was Master of University College, Oxford, from 1976 to 1986 – or a landlady.

Lord Goodman had a few failures – Biafra, Rhodesia, the closed shop in journalism; and the cost of litigation (the theme of his maiden speech in the House of Lords), thanks partly he used to say ”to an absolutely demented professional structure” did not diminish during his lifetime. But for most of that, and from early days, he walked hand-in-hand with success to the acclamation of all; for Arnold Goodman had no enemies.

He was born Aby Goodman in 1913 into a middle-class Jewish family in London who ”doted on him and increasingly admired him”. He had an invalid brother and ”any money my family had went properly to him and was enough to satisfy his modest needs to the end of his days” – a very Goodmanesque sentiment. There was also in South Africa an uncle who was ”extremely rich and the most unpleasant man it has ever been my misfortune to encounter”. Although much loved, Arnold Goodman was a great and outspoken hater.

A friend and confidant of the powerful, he was ever champion of the weak and if he smelt arrogance or injustice his indignation was splendid to behold. When Sir James Goldsmith arrived unannounced at his office wanting to buy the Observer, Goodman told him he did not think he was a suitable man to own a national newspaper. He would even champion causes and people of whom he did not wholly approve, like Private Eye in its early days, and young and admittedly usually well-born dope addicts.

Goodman was educated at University College, London, and Downing in Cambridge and as a young solicitor made a mark by successfully suing the municipality of Croydon on behalf of the parents of children who had died from typhoid caught in their Baths.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, he volunteered as a Gunner and became, according to his CO, Mortimer Wheeler, ”the best Battery Quarter Master Sergeant in the army”, where he met another warrant officer destined for distinction, the future Lord Wigg. He retired as a major in 1945 and joined the firm of Rubinstein, Nash as a partner, with his friend Mr Derrick, an amateur organist of independent means whom Goodman had persuaded to take up law, as his clerk.

Stanley Rubinstein was chairman of the Performing Rights Society and the practice had clients in publishing and the arts, for which Goodman developed a natural sympathy and affinity. As he rose in fortune and men’s eyes, collecting as clients for his new firm – Goodman, Derrick – famous performers in the arts, and theatrical companies, together with rich men he induced to become their patrons, he never forgot the less fortunate of his earlier acquaintance. He was, for instance, the only person to attend the funeral of the publisher Charles Fry, who, broke and jobless, had killed himself.

Through Col George Wigg MP, Goodman met Hugh Gaitskell, Harold Wilson, Aneurin Bevan and Jenny Lee, who led him to his first dramatic role in public life – Chairman of the Arts Council in 1965: in the same year he became a life peer in the style of ”Baron of the City of Westminster”.

Lord Goodman became the totem and oracle for the great and the good, and when at 63 he was elected Master of University College, Oxford, he held 19 chairmanships of public significance and many more private, from race tracks to childhood trusts.

His portfolio swelled but his head never did. He was valued and venerated by the upper reaches of the aristocracy (which he held in contempt, though he supported a line of distraught marchionesses), who called him ”Goody” as much as the jazz musicians he supported at the Arts Council, where he once consoled an infuriated feminist who had been complaining of the age of its members with the words: ”It’s the light, my dear, don’t let it worry you.”

Goodman’s wit, his shape ”like a polar bear”, his orotundity, his monumental tact, his energy, his omniscience and august common sense made him the living legend of which he was aware. ”A ship is built for you,” he said. ”The Almighty,” whom he often referred to as a sort of senior partner, ”provides a vehicle, you steer it.”

At an anniversary of his firm, three prime ministers, Wilson, Heath and Home, were present. For many years, Goodman was possibly Britain’s most distinguished citizen outside government and certainly its most famous Jew, in which role he met the Egyptian President, Anwar al-Sadat, in Paris in 1978. Such intense public activity, which began at breakfast interrupted by telephone calls from famous people in trouble, with asides demonstrating his belief in Churchill’s private maxim, ”Always be indiscreet”, and might end with a public dinner or a night at the opera, left Arnold Goodman little time for private life. Once or twice he came ”perilously close” to marriage but he preferred the state of an amiti amoureuse, as with Ian Fleming’s widow Ann, whose predecease so grieved him. He was perhaps too grand to enjoy intimacy with other men. His time was too precious for pastimes; the world was his playground.

The publication of his memoirs, Tell Them I’m On My Way, to the sound of trumpets, was an event in the annals of the chattering classes in August 1993, celebrated in their presence, and generated yards of reviews, only one notably hostile, from Ian Aitken, former political editor of the Guardian, animated by Goodman’s revelation – there were a few – that he had advised Gaitskell to sue his paper for breach of copyright.

Aitken also cited Goodman’s reaction to the news that in the election of 1945 he would have become an MP had he stood for the constituency he had been offered – ”thus history might have been changed”. Aitken wonders, ”in what way?” Others might think, in many ways.

The autobiography is surprisingly waspish and unsurprisingly self-laudatory, granted Goodman’s capacity for the acceptance of oodles of praise, but it also reveals, charmingly, the author’s concern and preoccupations. While in the Artillery, he has to deal with the dietary problems of Sergeant Lazarus (”who became pre-eminent in his profession of chartered surveyor”) who cannot stomach bacon for breakfast. Battery Quarter Master Sergeant Goodman procures him kippers, so many and so frequently that the Sergeant begs to be relieved of them. Then Gunner Cohen – ”from humbler origins, although with the Jewish community your social position is usually where you can contrive to place yourself” – wants to observe the Day of Atonement. BQMS Goodman kitted him out for the event from a local draper whose shop he had spotted in Northampton, called Rosenbloom. Gunner Cohen took days off but his future is not recorded.

On the last page Goodman glorifies Dollie de Rothschild, who gave Waddesdon, her house in Buckinghamshire, to the National Trust, and encouraged his Zionism. She also had a great cook. The last paragraph of Tell Them I’m On My Way says a lot about the author:

It was certainly with a light tread of expectation that I made my way to the frequent luncheons to which she was kind enough to invite me. There was no more agreeable way of spending a couple of hours than chatting with Dollie deux over the table, regaled by those quite exceptional delicacies.

Goodman’s most powerful hours were from 9pm to midnight, weekly or fortnightly, talking and listening to Harold Wilson, in Wilson’s first administration at No 10, sitting in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s chair. Such access, which he seems only to have exploited for good causes, like the Arts Council and the Open University, made him more influential than any Cabinet Minister, two of whom, Dick Crossman and Barbara Castle, disliked him. But he failed, by his own account, to loosen the grip of Marcia Williams (later Lady Falkender), of whom, he says, the Prime Minister was terrified. (Goodman claimed to have reduced James Goldsmith from a peerage to a knighthood, but one has heard that Jimmy was quite happy to become Sir James.)

Arnold Goodman, encouraged by an adoring mother who overindulged him, and never discouraged by a sibling who was as weak as he was strong, had a spoilt-boy side to his nature which made it difficult for him to take criticism. He could never be wrong. He would disrupt an entire day’s schedule to refute inch by inch adverse comments in any profile of himself – and there were many – made by journalists, which he insisted on seeing before publication. Yet he understood the grandeur of apology.

Once he telephoned me in my capacity – incapacity would have been a better word — as a director of Private Eye to say that he had been seriously libelled by that journal and was thinking of suing. I replied that such an action was undignified, imprudent and fruitless and worse (since the editor had as great a knowledge of the workings of libel in the courts of England as he), was likely to be unprofitable, and that he owed it to himself to forget the matter.

There was a long pause, then he said: ”Anthony, I never thought I would live long enough to accuse you of being wise.” I glowed.

There are many to whom Arnold Goodman was a hero, significantly to his housekeeper, his secretary and his chauffeur. He was, finally, an overwhelmingly good man and was often told so. One cannot blame him for agreeing.

Everyone who knew him, and they are many, has an Arnold Goodman story. He once attended an event arranged by the Defence of Literature and the Arts Society, called An Evening of British Rubbish, at the Festival Hall. When the evening began to go off the rails, he indicated I should follow him. He moved rapidly backstage and began switching off the lights. ”We can’t,” he said, ”let them miss the last bus home.”

Anthony Blond

Who is the most resourceful man in public life? Few active in the 1960s would have failed to answer this question with a chime, “Arnold Goodman”, writes Tam Dalyell.

Originally coming to the notice of Harold Wilson and Richard Crossman from his position as George Wigg’s solicitor in many a scrape, Goodman was the lifeboat to whom a swatch of incoming Labour ministers turned in stormy seas.

Crossman records in his diary, for Sunday 1 November 1964, that he became worried as he looked at the draft of his Protection From Eviction Bill.

I was anxious to find some way of making the bill retrospective or at least effective on the day of publication. I rang up first of all the Under-Secretary at the ministry, who said no lawyers were available on a Sunday, and I then tried to get the Attorney-General, Elwyn Jones, who was not available. And I finally rang Arnold Goodman.

That resourceful man was once again full of ideas and by the end of the morning I had got a number of these clear in my head and I talked them over with the ministry and at least had worked out a possible device for filling the gap. It was rather a thing, I suppose, for a new untried minister to intervene at this late stage in the drafting of a bill and clearly the ministry didn’t expect it. I dare say I shall find some difficulties tomorrow morning when I get back.

Not only difficulties. All hell was let loose. As the PPS, I was in Crossman’s room, No 18 on the committee corridor of the Commons, at the time, and can vouch for the accuracy of Crossman’s following passage.

My behaviour on Sunday had caused Dame Evelyn [Sharp, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Housing] absolute consternation. This evening [Monday 2 November] she stayed behind and said that she had never been so insulted in her life and had very nearly resigned when she heard of my conduct. The very idea of consulting Arnold Goodman when she said she should have been consulted was intolerable.

I said I was angry with her because I thought that the ministry had let me down very badly. The bill was entirely unsatisfactory. Since I tried everybody around and there was no legal advice available I had to go outside and she would have to get used to the idea that I would always regard Arnold Goodman as an invaluable adviser and be bound to use him. She said nothing except that she would have to have a quiet talk with me about her future. I am not sure what her future will be.

Reflecting at the end of the week, Crossman wrote, “I have, I think, made them realise that Arnold Goodman is the centre point of my outside advisory group on rent reform.”

Goodman was to be a centre point for many people on many occasions.

Lord Goodman believed that every problem had a solution, writes John Calder. He would work out in his mind in advance what it should be, and he did not like it if others came to a different conclusion.

I approached him to defend Calder and Boyars when a Tory MP brought a private obscenity case against the publication of the novel Last Exit to Brooklyn. He wanted Lord Hailsham as leading counsel, was angry when I refused him, and handed the case over to his partner John Montgomery. We lost in our second trial at the Old Bailey, by which time it was a crown, not a private, prosecution. When, against Goodman’s advice, I appealed, with John Mortimer as our counsel, Goodman said we had no chance, but we won.

Out of that long, two-year ordeal came The Defence of Literature and The Arts Society, which fought the many censorship cases of the Sixties with money donated by its members, and many MPs supported it. We approached Goodman to head a campaign to reform the law on censorship, and he then set up the Arts Council Working Party on Obscenity, chaired by Montgomery. We were divided into two groups, one to examine the case for the abolition of all censorship, and the other, heavily weighted by Goodman, who was Chairman of the Arts Council at the time, to find for his solution, that a committee of the wise and the good should have power to decide what could be published and what could not.

We deliberated for a year, took much evidence, each party writing a report. When the group favoured by Goodman heard the abolitionist case, they unanimously adopted it, scrapping their own. Goodman refused to accept the report and the issue died.

He was a great negotiator, but did not understand that on matters of principle a compromise is sometimes not possible.

Arnold Goodman’s contributions to and support of humanitarian causes are well documented. His interest in medicine and his role in the establishment and success of a number of medical research charities are less well known, writes Professor Roger Williams.

In 1971, introduced by a mutual friend trying to help raise funds for research in my liver unit at King’s College Hospital, in London, I met Lord Goodman for the first time. Soon we had a charity in place and donations coming in. These came from a wide circle of acquaintances in the business and charitable worlds. His was a marvellous touch and fund- raising functions were always good fun. I remember the breakfast meetings at his flat in Portland Place, in central London. I was bidden for 9.30am with one or two others, and the next hour or so passed rapidly with conversation ranging over many areas of politics and contemporary affairs, along with consumption of a full English breakfast. Then, at about 11am, he would turn to me, ”What was it you had in mind?”

It was through him that I met my wife, when she was asked by him to stand in for the Honorary Secretary of the Liver Research Trust. He was an unlikely Cupid, but nevertheless liked to recount his role. Our friendship and involvement in charitable activity became closer and more enjoyable with each passing year.

South of the river Thames was another world for him: ”Surely you don’t live there?” But he never failed to get to King’s College Hospital in time for a particular function or meeting. He had clear views on how doctors should behave, namely that they should keep to their patient work and to their research and learning and should not meddle in politics. He disliked publicity around their work and it was he who settled what he regarded as a particularly unseemly squabble between the consultants and Barbara Castle.

In recognition of his success in raising funds for the Royal College of Psychiatrists he was awarded an honorary fellowship, an honour he greatly cherished. His quite extraordinary perception of people, their emotions and problems, gave him a natural empathy in this area.

Aby (Arnold Abraham) Goodman, lawyer: born London 21 August 1913; Senior Partner, Goodman, Derrick & Co 1954-95; created 1965 Baron Goodman; Chairman, British Lion Films 1965-72; Chairman, Arts Council of Great Britain 1965- 72; Chairman, Observer Editorial Trust 1967-76; Chairman, Newspaper Publishers Association 1970-76; Chairman, Jewish Chronicle Trust 1970-95; CH 1972; Chairman, Charter Film Productions 1973-84; Master, University College, Oxford 1976-86; Deputy Chairman, British Council 1976-91; Chairman, Theatres Trust 1976-87 (President 1987-95); Chairman, English National Opera 1977- 86 (President 1986-95); died London 12 May 1995.

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