Comedian turned share forecaster who accurately and wittily predicted the gyrations of the markets
BRIAN MARBER, who has died aged 84, was one of the City of London’s best-known forecasters of share prices and currency movements – and an actor-comedian manqué who had starred in the Cambridge Footlights in his undergraduate days.
For well over half a century, Marber pursued the arcane disciplines of the technical analyst or chartist – predicting price movements purely on the basis of the behaviour of buyers and sellers and the resultant balance between supply and demand, rather than the underlying performance of companies or economies.
“More buyers than sellers, price rises; more sellers than buyers, it falls,” he wrote in 2007. “Why do people buy? They think price is going to rise. Why do people sell? They think it’s going to fall. ‘People’ and ‘think’ are what matter; to forecast, all you need know is what people are thinking.” Elsewhere he added: “As a chartist it helps not to be too well informed. Too great a knowledge of the fundamentals can only distract the chartist from the message of his charts.”
That message was often right, spectacularly so in relation to the bear market that began in 1972: after Marber called the turning point on January 8 1975, the FT index tripled in three months. Using a chart pattern called the Coppock Indicator, he also spotted the right time to re-enter the market after the 1987 crash. And during the financial crisis of 2007-8, one commentator called him “uncannily precise” in forecasting the gyrations of currencies and stocks.
Markets being capricious, the charts’ messages were also sometimes completely wrong, but were always delivered by Marber with wit, eloquence and a passionate self-belief that led to regular fallings-out in a career in which he worked for or with at least 14 companies.
After the “epiphany” of a seminar by an American investor in 1966 that drew him to technical analysis, Marber’s roll-call of employers included the Swiss-based Investor Services Overseas, founded by the high-rolling financier Bernie Cornfeld, for which he became a star fund manager in the late 1960s. From there he moved to the merchant bank NM Rothschild, where “the food in the lunch room was magnificent” and he learnt to eat fish with two forks before being painfully fired.
He found a happier berth with the stockbrokers Simon & Coates, where his bulletins to clients included “Great Lies of the City” such as “I know that I can rely on you to keep this to yourself ” and “I am feeling completely relaxed about the situation.”
Perhaps the least successful of his engagements was with Bloomberg, the financial news network, where his first and last assignment was to comment on the market impact of a total eclipse due that day. His report was: “It’s been so dark, I can’t see a thing.”
In 1979 he left the Stock Exchange – “which I’ve never liked anyway” – and thereafter devoted more attention to foreign exchange markets. His consultancy Brian Marber & Co offered the advantage of being the only firm from which he could not be sacked. In later years his advice was highly valued by professional investors ranging from the hedge fund manager Crispin Odey to the stockpicker Jim Slater – a “value” investor who focused intensely on company performance but nevertheless sought Marber’s guidance on the best time to buy or sell.
Like many natural entertainers, Brian Marber was a complex personality. His son Patrick Marber, the playwright, described him as “funny, pugnacious, loving, moody, generous, prickly and, in his way, romantic”. Of himself, Brian observed: “To be my friend all you have to do is laugh at my jokes and dislike the people I dislike.”
Brian Stewart Marber was born in Cricklewood on March 5 1934, the younger son of Abraham Marber (who later changed his given name to Albert) and his wife Lily, née Grossman. Abraham, a womenswear manufacturer, had been born in Antwerp into a family that migrated from Poland; Lily’s father was an immigrant from Russia.
At the beginning of the Second World War, the family was evacuated to Bermuda, returning in 1942. After a succession of prep schools, Brian was educated at Clifton College – where he was in Polack’s, the Jewish boarding house – and went up to St John’s College, Cambridge. He wanted to read French but his father insisted on economics.
When he arrived, the grandees of the Footlights – the Cambridge drama club – were the future screenwriter Frederic Raphael and the composer-lyricist Leslie Bricusse. The rising star, also at St John’s, was Jonathan Miller.
Raphael recalled Marber as “a genuine droll” who could sing and dance and shared with Miller “the supposedly typical Jewish talent for solo mimicry and clowning”.
Marber was also notable for the fact that he “owned a great many suits and knew how to drive” – and was an unlikely athlete who won a half-blue for fencing, but was denied membership of the university sportsmen’s Hawks’ Club.
The Footlights 1954 revue Out of the Blue, featuring Marber, Miller and Raphael and directed by Bricusse, transferred to the Phoenix Theatre in London – and the four of them also took part in the BBC panel show What’s My Line?, hosted by Peter West.
“Whether or not we were put up to it by the producer,” Raphael recalled, “we demonstrated Cantab insolence by lifting West’s chair from behind his desk and carrying him offstage.”
The following year Marber succeeded Bricusse as Footlights president. John Cleese, one of a celebrated Footlights cohort five years later, credited him with raising the club’s ambitions. “It used to be very Cambridge based, all jokes about Petty Cury and King’s Parade and bedders. And then when Marber became president, he said this has got to stop … we want to be able to do stuff that could be done in the West End.”
Marber duly directed the 1955 summer revue Between the Lines which transferred to the Scala Theatre in Charlotte Street – where Miller’s monologue “Our Island Heritage”, mocking Nelson and Churchill, provoked critical harrumphing.
After Cambridge, Marber began his working life as a junior producer at the BBC – until he was fired and turned his attention to the financial world. All his life he retained a hankering for the stage, which partly explained his great pride in being a member of the Garrick, the actors’ club. For a while he more or less lived there, acquiring the nickname “Monsignor Marber” in reference to the elderly Monsignor Gilbey who resided in the attic of the Travellers’.
In 1987 Marber became a non-executive director of Next, the clothing chain, whose mercurial founder George Davies was a friend. When Davies was ousted in a London boardroom coup in late 1988, Marber was on business in the Far East: attempts to contact him for the crucial vote foundered when it turned out the telephone number he had left was that of Hong Kong’s notorious Bottoms Up nightclub.
He published, in 2007, Marber on Markets. By way of relaxation he was an enthusiastic but loquacious golfer: one playing partner recalled “an interminable round during which Brian never once stopped to draw breath and would only with difficulty be persuaded to turn his attention to the matter of hitting the ball”.
Brian Marber married first, in 1959, Janise Julius. The marriage was dissolved and he married secondly, in 1963, Angela Benjamin, who worked in television and was later personal assistant to the playwrights Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall. Brian and Angela were divorced in 2001, but remained close in later years; he is survived by their sons Patrick and Andrew.
Brian Marber, born March 5 1934, died June 9 2018
Marber: retained a hankering for the stage