Brian Mar­ber

Co­me­dian turned share fore­caster who ac­cu­rately and wit­tily pre­dicted the gy­ra­tions of the mar­kets

The Daily Telegraph - - Obituaries -

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

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