It all began at Brathay. This was a multi-activity residential centre in the Lake District, and Mark was an outdoor man who fitted well into this scene.
But more important than the activities was, what they called Character Training – or Personal Development in the new currency. Four weeks with a wide-ranging bunch of tough young men, mostly from our manufacturing industries, must have been an exciting career start for an athletic Etonian, recently down from Cambridge and success at rowing.
I was fortunate to see him in action in the role since his bosses got me to make their first publicity film. Through the camera lens I saw him not just as a good communicator; it was clear that he had a first-rate staff to keep everyone on their toes in these four-week courses. I also saw him caring for his young men, some of whom had never before been in such a challenging environment.
In one instance (in my role as a school headmaster) I had a particularly troublesome boy who was at risk of being expelled. But Mark took in on, and I won’t say ‘transformed’ him., but at least he did a better job than ‘us teachers’! Treating all who come as individuals with individual needs has always been a strong point at Brathay.
Mark’s career soon took him into the mainstream, but still in a form of Youth Work. He went to work for the Industrial Welfare Society, and on one occasion I understand that he managed to fill the Albert Hall for a National Youth Conference! Here was a fine example of his pulling power. All this was of course in the days before he became an MP. His early work here, as Principal, had given him a background knowledge of working with kids of all ages. So, despite leaving us professionally, he kept a keen interest in our work.
We knew little of his parliamentary work, nor of his dealings in Hambros. To us, he was a well-connected man of the world who understood what we, in our lovely corner of the Lake District, sought to do.
Our Governing Body, to which he was soon elected, drew on people of many backgrounds: business, academic and financial. Mark had great skill in relating to them all and contributing his views with care and sagacity. He soon found himself again in a position of leadership and able to harness their skills to the greater good of the place. The fact that he was soon voted Chairman indicates the respect which people had for his skills in that role. And I was, by now, one of his team.
He must have found it quite a pain-in-the-somewhere when I, as an anxious fellow-trustee, wrote to him and said that I thought that, of late, there had been two much vagueness as to what Brathay was all about and that we needed a thorough overhaul of where we were going. Surrounded by businessmen and senior academics those of us with direct experience of the young felt that we were losing out. A few trustees supported me and the result was that he convened what we called our working party.
For four months we met, often in London (in a room just off Westminster Hall – one of the most awesome historic buildings in London – that’s what you get when you work with an MP). In true parliamentary style he called witnesses from all sides, staff, trustees, businessmen, and educationalists. Under his leadership they were all patiently and respectfully questioned as to how they saw us and our place in youth education.
Two key issues were included: first, what was the extent to which Brathay used the wonderful outdoors environment of the Lake District as its ‘classroom’. We were not Outward Bound (respected rivals in some ways) but some of the trustees noted that we now trod a very different path; one that eschewed our surroundings in favour of indoor work: larks in the Brathay grounds based not on the hills but messing about with barrels and planks.
The other worry was that, lucrative though it could be, work with adult clientele was taking the place away from what our founder, Francis Scott envisaged. he proportion of adult clients was now far greater than youth.
Audrey Hallowell, the Brathay Secretary, diligently took copious notes at all these meetings. The balance, as always, had to be between what was good and what was affordable. Cases for both sides were made. But, as with all enquiries, the value lay in the synthesis. And this is where Mark excelled. And the result? From then on Brathay would be enjoined to, in essence, Put Youth First.
In a crisis, Mark was your man.
It would be too delicate to reveal the details but at a time when things were a little on the ‘down’, and we Trustees were being hauled over the coals for not keeping the premises up to scratch, Mark, on behalf of us all, took it all on the chin and got it sorted. (Lesser chairmen might well have just been defensive and blaming of others.)
Later, in a far more serious staffing crisis when, as they say, ‘heads rolled’, Mark was the one who stepped in and steered the ship to calmer waters. Not only that. The following years saw a return of the Brathay operation to prominence in the Youth field. Maybe it was this drive that helped him get his well-deserved OBE.
Mark could be formidable. It was best not to approach him with an inadequate brief. I suspect that these were qualities that made him a good Member of Parliament. At Brathay we have always respected bold clear-cut leaders. But, as with Mark, they must always have a heart of gold!