Sir James Cleminson: Industrialist, soldier and head of Reckitt & Colman

Sir James Cleminson, a war hero who was often credited with saving Norwich's Theatre Royal, has died aged 89.

Sir James, of Loddon Hall, Hales, was a world-class businessman and his career included nine years as chairman of Reckitt and Colman and appointments as chairman of the British Overseas Trade Board and president of the Confederation of British Industry.

Born in Hull and educated at Rugby, he served with the Parachute Regiment during the war and won the Military Cross at Arnhem.

He was played by an actor in the great war film A Bridge Too Far and his war service in Europe and Africa included escape from capture in Italy, and being wounded at Arnhem, where he was in the first wave of parachutists dropped over the Dutch city.

He was renowned both for his bravery and leadership and for the impressive moustache he sported in his army days.


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Sir James was the only son of a former chairman of Reckitt and Colman and joined the 'family firm' after the war. In 1960 he moved to Norfolk and from that day forward, wherever in the world his work took him, he thought of himself as a Norfolk man.

His Who's Who entry listed fishing, shooting and golf as his leisure interests and in a 1986 interview with the EDP he is quoted as quipping: 'I don't allow what I'm concerned with in the CBI or Reckitt and Colman to interfere with my concentration on trying to catch fish!'

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He was knighted in 1982 and in 1990 made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

He was a vice-chairman of Norwich Union, a Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk and also served as president of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, chair of the nurses independent pay review body and a director of Eastern Counties Newspapers, publisher of the EDP.

A huge champion of British business and industry, he was keen to see schools teach the skills pupils would need in the workplace. He was president of Endeavour Training and his charity work included serving as a trustee of the Army Benevolent Fund, the Airborne Forces Security Fund and Norwich Cathedral.

In 1990 he took over as chairman of the trust running Norwich Theatre Royal. The theatre was closed and an appeal to raise funds for its renovation appeared to have foundered.

Peter Wilson, chief executive of Norwich Theatre Royal, paid tribute to Sir James as 'a great human being, and a model of citizenship'.

He added: 'When the call came to save the Theatre Royal in 1989 he had no hesitation in accepting what many people considered an impossible task. He raised the necessary funds, reconstituted the board, put the construction project back on its feet, and gave unstinting leadership in every department.

'He never spoke a rash word or did an unconsidered deed. Everyone who cares for the arts in Norfolk, and every single person working at the Theatre Royal in any capacity, owes him an enormous debt.'

Sir James died on Tuesday in the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and leaves a widow, Judy, two daughters, Sarah and Hester, a son Stacey, six grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

His daughter, Sarah Floyd, said: 'He was a real family man.'

She said he loved the countryside and would be much missed by his family, friends and people who had known him throughout his illustrious career.

Richard Jewson, Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, said: 'He made a significant contribution to Norfolk life in many ways. He combined shrewd intellect with friendly charm and will be much missed. Our thoughts and sympathies are with his wife and family at this sad time.'

A private family funeral has been held but a memorial service celebrating his life and work is being planned for later this year.

Rowan Mantell

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