The Scotsman

Tony God­den

Em­i­nent civil ser­vant who worked in Scot­tish Of­fice from 1961 to 1987

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Tony God­den, C.B., civil ser­vant. Born: 13 Novem­ber, 1927 in Barn­sta­ple, Devon. Died 24 Au­gust, 2020 in Dart­mouth, Devon, aged 92.

Tony God­den has died peace­fully at a nurs­ing home in Dart­mouth, Devon, a few months short of his 93rd birth­day. In his time he was one of the most im­por­tant and highly re­garded civil ser­vants in Scot­land. De­scribed as hav­ing “a brain the size of Mars and a sense of hu­mour some­what drier than the Sa­hara desert”, his was a metic­u­lous and safe hand on the till er of Scot­tish af­fairs through­out the six­ties, seven­ties, and eight­ies.

He was born in the north Devon town of Barn­sta­ple in Novem­ber 1927, an only child. His fa­ther was a commercial trav­eller for the bis­cuit man­u­fac­tur­ers Hunt­ley & Palmers, which fre­quently proved use­ful to Tony. Like many coun­try boys of the time he liked to go poach­ing for rab­bits, but after one such ex­pe­di­tion made the mis­take of cy­cling back through Barn­sta­ple with a gun stick­ing out of his sad­dle bag. His promis­ing school ca­reer might have ended abruptly had it not been for his fa­ther, who deftly bought off the lo­cal po­lice with sev­eral boxes of bis­cuits.

The oc­ca­sional episode of this kind aside, he was a stu­dious boy and an avid reader of the news­pa­pers. He be­came in­creas­ingly in­ter­ested in eco­nomic af­fairs and the chal - lenges Bri­tain would face in re­build­ing its shat­tered post­war econ­omy.

Just too young to fight in the war, he left school in 1945 and took ad­van­tage of the new sys­tem of stu­dent grants to go into higher ed­u­ca­tion, the first in his fam­ily to do so. The Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics was the ob­vi­ous choice, and he grad­u­ated in 1948 with one of the high­est marks ever recorded. He was also the coxswain of the Row­ing Club, and the LSE shield, show­ing a beaver and the motto “Rerum Cognoscere Causas” (to Know the Causes of Things) hung in his hall ever af­ter­wards. After Na­tional Ser­vice in the RAF, he re­turned to civil­ian life and sat the Civil S er vice ex­ams, achiev­ing what he un­der­stood to be the sec­ond high­est mark in the coun­try. He and some friends then went on a cy­cling tour of war-scarred France. There was very lit­tle money, but once again hav­ing con­nec­tions in the gro - cery trade came to the res­cue. Be­fore he left, his fa­ther gave him a large bag of cof­fee beans, then al­most un­ob­tain­able in Europe .“That’ ll open ev­ery door in France ,” his fa­ther said, and so it proved. The cof­fee beans en­sured free board and lodg­ing from de­lighted land­ladies all over the north of France, and the trip only ended when the bag even­tu­ally ran out.

In 1951 he en­tered the Colo­nial Of­fice in White­hall with the rank of As­sis­tant Prin­ci­pal. One of his main as­sign­ments through­out the1950sw as trav­el­ling to Ja­maica, Trinidad, Tobago, and Bar­ba­dos, help­ing to over­see the is­lands’ grad­ual moves towards in­de­pen­dence.

It was not all work, how­ever, and he found time to fall in love with the vi­brant ca­lypso mu­sic of the Car­ribbean, re­turn­ing with a stack of 78s he was to play for the rest of his life. He was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed with the up to date top­i­cal­ity of the ca­lyp­sos, re­mark­ing that if the Gover­nor’s wife was seen wear­ing an ex­trav­a­gant hat in the morn­ing, there was prob­a­bly a ca­lypso about it in the bars that af­ter­noon.

But work­ing in Lon­don in those days meant not only Mon­day to Fri­day, but Satur­day morn­ing as well, and the in­ces­sant com­mut­ing from his home in Red­hill was ex­haust­ing. In 1960 he heard about a va­cancy in the Scot­tish Of­fice, based in Ed­in­burgh.

Against the ad­vice of sever al se­nior civil ser­vants who told him that Scot­land was a re­mote back­wa­ter and the grave­yard of promis­ing ca­reers, he ac­cepted the post and moved him­self and his fam­ily to Ed­in­burgh in S ep - tem­ber 1961.

From then on he rose rapidly through the ranks (al­though he was al­ways amused by the unin­spir­ing job ti­tles), go­ing in a few years from As­sis­tant

Sec­re­tary to Un­der Sec­re­tary, and fi­nally Deputy Sec­re­tary, the sec­ond high­est rank in the Scot­tish Of­fice at that time. One of his ma­jor projects was the devel­op­ment of the A9 and the open­ing up of the High­lands, which in the early six­ties could take longer to reach than Lon­don.

Com­pletely ded­i­cated to his work, he was never home be­fore 6.30pm and after din­ner with the fam­ily would van­ish into his study, sit­ting down to his desk as though start­ing a new day. Col­leagues re­mem­ber him as un­fail­ingly kind, par­tic­u­larly to younger staff, sev­eral of whom chose to fol­low him from depart­ment to depart­ment.

At home, he was a keen gar­dener and model rail­way en­thu­si­ast. Kindly and ap­proach­able as he was, yet the care­ful habits of the civil ser­vant never en­tirely left him. His chil­dren and their friends will never for­get the rules of The Mouse trap Game and Mo­nop­oly be­ing ex­plained to them in fear­some de­tail be­fore they were al­lowed to play, and hav­ing to wait in an agony of sus­pense while he read the in­struc­tion book from cover to cover be­fore let­ting them loose on some new toy.

He re­tired in 1987. He was for many years the Sec­re­tary (again that in­evitable job ti­tle amused him) of the Friends of the Royal Scot­tish Academy, and a loyal mem­ber of the New Club. He sat on the ap­point­ments board of the civil ser­vice, and never lost his in­ter­est in civil ser­vice af­fairs. He was dis­mayed by Brexit, which for him epit­o­mised ever y thing he de­spised most – flashi­ness, in­com­pe­tence, and a cav­a­lier dis­re­gard for facts. He pitied the civil ser­vants who had to deal with it.

In 2015 he and his wife re­tired to the South Hams of Devon, where his last years were happy and peace­ful.

He is sur­vived by his wife Marjorie, who he mar­ried in 1953, also by two of his three chil­dren Ju­lia and Richard, and nu­mer­ous grand­chil­dren and great-grand­chil­dren. RICHARD GOD­DEN

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