BORN BERLIN, NOVEMBER 24, 1922. DIED SWITZERLAND, SEPTEMBER 4, 2015, AGED 92
AMAN whose political influence equalled his standing in the arts, Claus Moser was born and bred into European culture and was a devoted supporter of many Jewish organisations. With academic honours heaped upon him, the government statistician considered music his overriding passion. Moser was an accomplished pianist whose gifts could have led to a professional career. Instead he became an influential chairman of the Royal Opera House.
With an astounding catalogue of experience and talents, Moser was a polymath who combined politics and the arts with supreme finesse. His 20 years at the London School of Economics from 1940 brought him a professorship in social statistics, but he held many other visiting professorships at British universities. He was an academic governor of Israel’s Technion and chancellor of Keele University.
The LSE offered concert opportunities for his piano renditions of Mozart and Bach and he also played chamber music at home with friends. Moser was in every sense a highbrow achiever of the old school, a reflection of the high culture of his German background. Like others of his era, he brought to Britain the intellectual and aspirational qualities that Hitler tried to destroy.
One of the three sons of Lotte, a pianist, and banker Ernest Moser, the young Claus was surrounded by musicians in their home, and studied piano from the age of seven. But he was affected by the Nazi torchlight procession on the night Hitler came to power, witnessing the breaking of Jewish shop windows and the enforced wearing of yellow stars. Exempted with a Jewish classmate from having to give the Hitler salute, both children were subsequently bullied.
In 1936 the family left Berlin for Britain. Moser was sent to a progressive, co-educational boarding school, Frensham Heights in Surrey, where he was happy until he, his father and brother were arrested in May, 1940, and interned in Huyton, near Liverpool. They enlivened their dour experiences by founding a “university of Huyton”, giving classes and concerts in Viennese style cafés.
Moser became assistant to a maths professor who conducted a survey of the inmates, which triggered his developing interest in statistics. But despite these distractions, Moser could never forgive the humiliation his father suffered at the hands of petty officials.
Moser’s status as enemy alien prevented him joining the RAF, so he enrolled at the LSE in 1943 and took the top First in his year. After further rejections by the RAF they eventually made him a flight mechanic, later sergeant and finally an interpreter touring Europe to inspect RAF bomb damage.
In 1947 Moser took British citizenship and became professor of social statistics at the LSE in 1961. There he met Mary Oxlin who he married in 1949. He published a standard textbook on social survey methods in 1958 and a statistical study of British
Lord Claus Moser: European culture vulture who moved between the worlds of national statistics and opera towns in 1961. At the LSE Moser became statistical consultant to the Robbins Committee on Higher Education (196164) and subsequently monitored the Higher Education Unit that developed the committee’s work.
In 1967 he left the LSE to direct the Central Statistical Office (now Office for National Statistics) and head the government statistical service. His professional insight brought several influential studies into being, as he grasped the need to place economic forecasting on more solid ground. His highly developed mathematical skills made him attractive to both Conservative and Labour governments; he served three prime ministers — Harold Wilson (whose Huyton constituency was ironically the scene of Moser’s internment), Edward Heath and Jim Callaghan. He was knighted in 1973.
But in June 1970, Wilson blamed Moser for losing him the General Election over the purchase of jumbo jets that month, which distorted the bal- ance of payment figures by several millions. Moser refused to allow the expenditure to be spread over the year, and as a result the published figures, showing Britain £33 billion in the red, swept Ted Heath’s Tories to power.
In 1978 Moser left Whitehall to become vice chairman of N M Rothschild. He set up links with the Central Bank of Singapore, and represented the bank on the board of Octopus publishers, run by his childhood friend Paul Hamlyn. From 1984 to 1993 he was warden of Wadham College, Oxford, and was appointed pro-vice chancellor of Oxford University from 1991-93.
Moser chaired the Royal Statistical Society, the Economist Intelligence Unit and the British Association for the Advancement of Science. His firm belief in stronger links between the arts and sciences was reflected in his chairmanship of the Royal Opera House, succeeding Lord Drogheda, which he held from 1974 to 1987, and attended nightly performances with his wife. He also served on the Royal Academy of Music’s governing body, the BBC Music Advisory Committee and the London Philharmonic Orchestra and was also a devotee of the Amadeus Quartet.
But all arts institutions were hit by a tsunami of cuts by the Thatcher government and union clashes, which played into the hands of Covent Garden critics, as standards were compromised. Leaving the ROH, Sir Claus oversaw the appointment of Jeremy Isaacs as general director, who praised his responsiveness to staff concerns.
Although he moved in élite circles, Moser was a Labour supporter, apart from a brief flirtation with the Social Democrats. He struggled to make opera accessible to the many by keeping ticket prices down in the midst of financial turbulence. He could not suffer small talk but his charm and wit put people at ease. He is survived by Mary, his son and two daughters.