From Crowded Hours by Eric Roll

Faber and Faber, London-Boston, 1985]

1 Early Days

In the midway of this our mortal life,

I found me in a gloomy wood, astray. Gone from the path direct.

Dante, Inferno, Canto I, v. I, trs. H. K. Cary

I was not conscious of it at the time but for me, too, midway marked a sharp turn from what I had until then considered the path direct, that is an academic career. The wood, however, turned out not to be so gloomy.

Soon after I had turned 30 there was a significant change in my life: from teaching economics for London external degrees in a small, new university college in north-east England to the world of Lend-Lease and wartime planning in Washington, DC, which was to become the nerve centre of the Allied war effort; from there to Paris for the Marshall Plan and post-war European reconstruction, for NATO and for European integration; back home to British economic policy as it evolved during the first twenty-five years after the war; and finally to the City of London. Yet through these varied post-academic experiences in governmental and in business affairs there ran, I now think, a common theme: the need to negotiate constructively not only with one party, but more often than not as part of a group, the members of which had many diverse interests but could - if all went well- be united in the pursuit of one overriding common goal.

What may perhaps be of interest to others are my reflections on men and events after I moved from university life. But, in 1939, I had already come a long way from my starting point. As that earlier journey may be relevant to later events and to the way I now recall and assess them, I start with my beginnings in the small south­eastern crownland of Austria, the Duchy of Bukowina (land of the beeches) where I was born on Sunday, I December 1907, in Nowosielitza near the provincial capital Czernowitz. The import­ance of Nowosielitza (there were two neighbouring villages of that name, an Austrian and a Russian one) lay in its geographical position. It was at the meeting point of Austria, Russia and Romania, an important transport and trading point, particularly for timber, grains and other food stuffs-an 'economic bridgehead' as my father described it in one of his occasional articles in the Vienna Neue Freie Presse.

The Bukowina, and with it Czernowitz, had old Romanian roots.

It had been part of the Moldavian principality which in the fifteenth century had come under Turkish suzerainty and, until the later part of the nineteenth century when it had a total population of about 70,000, it had remained extremely poor and backward. In 1775 the country became part of Austria and within a relatively short time, particularly after 1848 when it became a duchy, it had developed to a remarkable degree. From 1875 it had an important university with, from time to time, distinguished professors, such as J. A. Schumpeter, the great economist, who had his first chair there. The Duchy also had no less than five girls' secondary schools (against two in Tyrol and one each in Upper Austria, Salzburg and Styria) and ten grammar schools for boys. Economically the province had developed. Apart from agriculture, there was a flourishing timber industry and incipient manufacturing in textiles and leather. By 1910, the population had risen to 700,000, 41 per cent Ukrainian, 32 per cent Romanian, 20 per cent German and 7 per cent others. About 10 per cent were classified as Jewish. This was a religious classification, though it was not a rigorous one and included practising and non-practising Jews alike. By language and culture they were generally included in the German group, as in most other parts of the Monarchy. Contrary to what is sometimes believed, they were not only prominent in trade, finance and the liberal professions, but provided substantial numbers of artisans and craftsmen and played an important part in industrial development.

My father Mathias, who was 35 years old when I was born, had studied at the Commercial Academy in Vienna, and having started his career in the distinguished Bodenkreditanstalt (the bank of the Emperor) was manager of the local branch of the Hypothekenbank, an old-established agricultural mortgage bank which was also active in financing trade. I learned much later that he had invented some new negotiable instruments for financing goods in transit by rail.

When the First World War broke out in August 1914 we were on holiday in a small mountain village in the Carpathians, Jacobeni, renowned for its sulphur springs. I have few memories of the holiday itself, mainly fog and rain and steaming sulphur baths in primitive wooden tubs, and astonishment at the number of books my parents carried with them. I do remember very clearly, however, the yellow volumes of the German translation of Romain Rolland's Jean Christophe, which had recently come out. But above all I remember the horror of my parents when they heard that our village had been occupied by the Russians immediately after the outbreak of war and had been almost totally burned down. They both cried. We never went back, although Nowosielitza changed hands several times thereafter. First we went briefly to Czernowitz, but this too had become unsafe and my father's bank ordered him to go to Vienna as soon as possible. My memory of the long trek through the mountains, mostly in a horse-drawn cart, is very clear though I cannot now say how long it lasted. After a brief stay in a small Carpathian town where my father's eldest brother had a sawmill, we crossed over the Mogura Pass going through what I later learned in England was 'Dracula' country. We went through Transylvania, with several brief stops, eventually boarded a train to Budapest, where we spent only a day or two and, finally, with hordes of other refugees from various parts of the Empire, arrived in Vienna.

After a brief stay in the Ninth District in furnished rooms, we graduated to the better-class Eighth District in a flat off the Josefstaedterstrasse, very near the famous theatre and not far from my father's younger brother Max, who had lived in Vienna for many years. Here, my parents had to start refurnishing, a long and costly process. My brother went to the Schottengymnasium in the First District, founded-like the church of the same name-by Irish monks but for some reason misnamed by the Viennese. I was kept nearer home and went first to the Piaristenschule, then to the Piaristengymnasium, both part of the complex round the local church, the Maria-Treukirche, and its abbey. The basic curriculum of the Austrian secondary schools, part of the great educational reform of Maria Theresia, went back to 1776 and had been worked out, as it happened, by a member of the Piarist order, Gratian Marx (also known as a Sancta Barbara). Even in my day, although the school had become 'the State Gymnasium in the Eighth District', with a distinguished lay mathematician at its head, many of the teachers were still members of the order. I particularly remember my form master, Father Aschauer, a little bearded figure who taught both Latin and German, and to whom I owe in large part my abiding interest in the mysteries of language.

My father was one of seven children. After the death of his mother in childbirth, his father, a toll-keeper in Czernowitz, married again and had more children. I did not know my grandparents on my father's side, but I just remember those on my mother's. She was the youngest of three, two girls and one boy. Her father was a grain trader in a fairly big way. I remember him only as a very tall man with an impressive long, blond beard. My mother's brother had, it seems, a brilliant career in the Law Faculty at the University of Vienna and won some coveted prize. He was a much sought-after practicing lawyer, but died young.

I have only fragmentary memories of my first seven years: occasional visits across the Russian border where the chocolate was especially attractive; an attack of diphtheria, cured by a serum injection administered by a Russian medical colonel hurriedly summoned in the absence of the local doctor; the tiny village school where the other children were nearly all Ukrainian peasants; and the wet-nurse, a sturdy village girl, Marie, whom we saw from time to time for many years afterwards.

I don't think I learned much from the feared, though kindly, peasant schoolmaster who taught us. But I learned a lot at home. My mother Fany was a trained teacher although, having married young, she had not had much practical experience. The village had an active intellectual group, of which my father was a leading member, together with the local doctor, lawyer and some of the younger grain importers. Our house was also full of visitors from Vienna, Prague and other parts of the Habsburg Empire, as well as from Russia. It was also full of books. I recognized later, hardly at the time, the liberal atmosphere, political and cultural, in which my brother Josef - five years older - and I grew up. The orientation was strongly towards Vienna: even in our small village there was that irrepressible tendency to create in every possible way a micro­Vienna in which the Austrian version of the German language and culture predominated, a characteristic of many parts of the Empire.

Obituary from:


(Filed 01/04/2005)

The Lord Roll of Ipsden, who died yesterday aged 97, had three full careers: as an economist, as a civil service mandarin and as an international banker.

In the third of these roles he was chairman, and later president, of SG Warburg, the investment bank which is now part of Union Bank of Switzerland, where he remained remarkably active until the last days of his life.

An emigre from a remote former province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and partly educated in Vienna, Eric Roll was very much at home in the middle-European intellectual hot-house of Warburgs. With an iron constitution and an appetite for 15-hour working days acquired as a young civil servant, he also shared the austere work ethic of its founder, Siegmund Warburg.

He relished the role of the financier as a kind of discreet family doctor to his corporate clients, and the internal discipline of rigorous self-criticism, both of which were part of the distinctive Warburg ethos.

In pursuit of the firm's business as an adviser to governments on the management of their currency reserves and external borrowings, Roll travelled the world almost continuously. Consequently, he was as well-known and respected in the ministries of Beijing and Tokyo as he was in the corridors of Brussels and the conference halls of Washington.

After Siegmund Warburg's death in 1982, Roll and the veteran Warburg partner Henry Grunfeld fulfilled the role of "uncles" within the organisation, advising on its day-to-day business, maintaining an overview of every detail of the bank's activities and guarding its eminent reputation.

Siegmund Warburg, no flatterer, said Roll was "one of the most civilised men around. I loved his warmth and wisdom, his sense of humour, his intellectual vitality, which shows itself in the way he knows the great men of English, French and German literature ... I always teased him and said, 'The only thing that I sometimes have reservations about is that you're an economist. But in spite of the fact that you're an economist, I'm devoted to you.' "

When SG Warburg was acquired by Swiss Bank in 1995, in due course to be subsumed into Union Bank of Switzerland and to drop Warburg from its name, Roll - unlike some of his senior colleagues - took a positive and forward-looking view of the opportunities presented.

In extreme old age, he still travelled constantly on behalf of the bank - even surpassing Grunfeld, who worked until his death, aged 95, in 1999. Roll's network of contacts remained unrivalled: colleagues young enough to be his grandchildren would receive regular e-mails from him detailing private conversations with Alan Greenspan and other notables of the financial world. He went to his office for the last time at the beginning of this week.

Eric Roll, the son of a bank official, was born on December 1 1907 at Nowosielitza, a village near Czernowitz in the duchy of Bukovina, a small south­eastern crownland of Austria. His early education, in German, was at the village school and at home (his mother had trained as a teacher).

For the duration of the First World War, the Rolls lived in Vienna, where Eric went to a local gymnasium. Then in 1918 the family returned to Czernowitz ­which soon became part of Romania. Eric attended a private school, where classes were now held in Romanian - "a relatively simple language," he recalled, "which I acquired quickly".

By 1925 Eric's parents had decided that their son's education should be completed abroad, preferably in England, whose social and political system and cultural climate they admired. So at 17, with a smattering of English (at school he had learned French), Roll went to Birmingham University, where he read Economics.

Subsequently, he completed his doctorate in 1930, took British citizenship, and became an assistant lecturer at the University College of Hull - where, in 1935, he was appointed Professor of Economics and Commerce.

In 1939 Roll travelled to America, on a Rockefeller fellowship. He was offered a professorship at Texas University - "You should have stayed," Lyndon Johnson said to him many years later. "We might have made something of you" - but swiftly found himself drafted into the Second World War effort, as deputy head of the British Food Mission in Washington.

This was the first of an extraordinary list of assignments. He was a member of Ernest Bevin's team negotiating post­war aid for Britain under the Marshall Plan; and he took part in the Schuman Plan discussions on the future of the European coal and steel industries ­regretting that he could not persuade his political masters to bring Britain into the communal arrangements which followed.

He led the British delegation to the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (forerunner of the OECD) and was deputy head of the British delegation to Nato in Paris in 1952. As an official of the Ministry of Agriculture, he was seconded for two years to be executive director of the International Sugar Council.

The first peak of his Whitehall career came in 1962, when he was one of Edward Heath's team of "flying knights" - a group of senior officials who bore the weight of the long, detailed and frustrating negotiations over Britain's entry into the Common Market.

Unlike other observers at the time, Roll ­who was deeply committed to the European cause - did not believe that breakdown of the talks was inevitable, and was later obliquely critical of Heath's negotiating tactics.

Next he considered retiring to the vice­chancellorship of Liverpool University, but instead was dispatched by the Treasury to Washington, as Economic Minister and British director of the IMF and World Bank.

He returned to Britain in 1964 to become Permanent Under-Secretary at the short-lived Department of Economic Affairs. There his ministerial boss was the volatile and emotional George Brown.

The two men had fierce disagreements, but Roll described Brown, with perfect mandarin understatement, as "exceptional" and "a most sensitive person ... one who, except in moments of personal stress, was mindful of the sensitivities of others".

Among the many posts for which Roll's name was touted at various times were those of secretary-general of Gatt, director of the London School of Economics and, in 1966, Governor of the Bank of England.

He was thought to have been disappointed when the latter job went to the then Deputy Governor, Leslie O'Brien (later Lord O'Brien of Lothbury).

Roll, then aged 58, resigned from the Civil Service a few months later, becoming deputy chairman of Warburgs the next year. He was chairman (and with Sir David Scholey, joint-chairman) of the bank from 1974 to 1987, and then president until 1995. Thereafter, he held the post of Senior Adviser (latterly to UBS).

Despite the rigours of his schedule on behalf of Warburgs, Roll accumulated a plethora of other posts. He was a member of the Court of the Bank of England and of the NEDC, and sat on the boards of Times Newspapers and the Rootes car company, among others. He was chairman of the Book Development Council and, from 1974, Chancellor of Southampton University.

He also maintained a prolific output of books, academic papers and speeches on economic topics, in which he propounded views, set in a wide philosophical perspective, which were essentially Keynsian and interventionist - he was a firm believer in incomes policies long after they passed out of fashion.

The most successful of his earlier works was A History of Economic Thought (1954). Later volumes included The World After Keynes (1968) and The Uses and Abuses of Economics (1978). His autobiography, Crowded Hours (1985), dwelt principally on the intellectual themes of his career.

Roll's recreations were music - he was a castaway on Desert Island Discs in

2001 - and reading. For years after the Second World War he could not bring himself to read, or to speak, German. Eventually, he returned to Goethe and Heine, and Goethe's Faust was his chosen book for the desert island. Poetry was always a great love; of poets writing in English, Yeats was a special favourite.

Eric Roll was appointed CMG in 1949, CB in 1956 and KCMG in 1962. He became a life peer in 1977. He held many foreign honours.

He married, in 1934, Winifred (Freda) Taylor, who died in 1998; they had two daughters.