top of page
< Back

Reviews: Unplanned Journey: from Moss Side to Eden (2014), Alcon Copisarow

Malcolm Brown

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Unplanned Journey:/rom Moss Side to Eden, Alcon Copisarow (Huddersfield: Jeremy Mills Publishing Ltd, 2014) isbn 978-1- 909837-21-8, pp xv + 403, £20. Too seldom do our Reviews cover autobiographies as engaging as this. Sir Alcon has a fascinating story to tell. Thanks to a seemingly photographic memory, he has left it until his mid-nineties to set down, which makes it the more remarkable an achievement. His early years were spent in Manchester where his father, a chemist</page><page sequence="2">186 REVIEWS at Owen's College, was a research assistant to Chaim Weizmann. His family were members of the South Manchester Hebrew Congregation, whose Hebrew classes Sir Alcon and his sister attended. At home, the Children's Encyclopaedia proved a magnet: his barmizvah presents were all books. He followed his father's suggestion to read geology at Manchester University, specializing in petrology and mineralogy. He then joined the raf, specializing in radar, before being transferred to the Royal Navy, his service of preference, as a staff instructor. A few months before the war ended, the Navy sent him to Washington to address members of the National Research Council. Demobilized, he obtained a post in the Ministry of Defence. This, he mentions almost parenthetically, was the last time he ever applied for a job. Few of his contemporaries can have been able to say the same at this stage of their careers. Desk-bound as duty demanded, he managed to return to sea three times, to the Arctic, the North Sea, and the Atlantic. In 1947 he joined the Joint Intelligence Bureau (jib), his introduction to intelligence work proper. As he says, "The Cold War was essentially a conflict of intelligence" but, loyal as he was to the jib, he could see no clear prospect of promotion. A chapter entitled "Family Matters" describes his introduction to the London community via Norman Bentwich and Ewen Montagu. He joined the New West London Synagogue, the Council of the aja, and the Hebrew University's Humanitarian Trust. He married Diana Castello in 1953 and the following year became Scientific Attaché and then Counsellor at the Paris Embassy where his brief extended to Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, and Italy, exploring opportunities for collaboration abroad between uk institutions, government, and business. He and his wife maintained a sometimes hectically busy social life between diplomatic highlights. Then in i960 the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research called him back to the uk where he was appointed the Director of the Forest Products Research Laboratory at Princes Risborough. Although knowing nothing of timber, he quickly achieved a turnabout in productivity. In 1962 he transferred to the National Economic Development Council (or Neddy), joined the Scientific Manpower Committee, and in 1964 moved across Whitehall as the Chief Scientific Officer in the new Ministry ofTechnology. He left in 1966 for McKinsey, the firm of management consultants, who appointed him their first non-American senior partner. There he gathered valuable experience, helping to reorganize the Bank of England and the Colonial Government in Hong Kong, among many institutions. In his mid-fifties, he branched out into a portfolio of business, regulatory,</page><page sequence="3">Unplanned Journey: /rom Moss Side to Eden, Alcon Copisarow 187 social, and charitable responsibilities, actively contributing over the next fortyyears to a broad range of fields. The Duke of Edinburgh, whom he had met on the Royal Visit to Paris in 1957, had recently launched the Award Scheme and its first director, Sir John Hunt, Sir Alcon also knew slightly. He offered to examine the scheme's performance to date (c. 1975), an offer enthusiastically accepted. Prince Philip called a press conference in 1976 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the scheme where the "Copisarow Report", as the Prince designated it, was presented. The press welcomed it and the Prince invited him to join the Board of Trustees. During his trusteeship, he encouraged overseas participation in the scheme and his Report was summarized in the us Congressional Record. He joined the Royal Jubilee Trust, set up the Youth Business Initiative, and, when Prince Charles gave it his patronage, re-established it as the Prince's Youth Business Trust, which he chaired. Later, he served as the Chairman of the Athenaeum and the first Chairman of the Eden Project in Cornwall. As one might expect, these memoirs are dotted with vignettes of many celebrities encountered, the great, good, and notorious, from Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, and Isaiah Berlin to Roald Dahl, Paul McCartney, and Richard Nixon. The book is dedicated to his wife of more than 60 years and contains a foreword by Lord Woolf. Sir Alcon's self- portrait will become essential reading for anybody concerned with British public life in recent times, and is itself witness to the stamina of one of our community's most distinguished sons. Malcolm Brown</page></plain_text>

bottom of page