Warden Moser 1922 - 2015

7th September 2015

News, Student news

Warden of Wadham College Ken Macdonald QC has made the following announcement: "It is with the greatest sadness that the College has learned of the death of its former Warden, Lord Moser KCB, CBE.

"Warden Moser was born in Berlin in 1922, moving to England in 1936 with his parents and his brother Heinz to escape fascism. He attended Frensham Heights School and the London School of Economics. Later, following his release from Huyton Camp where he had been interned at the beginning of the Second World War as an enemy alien, he served in the Royal Air Force. Returning to the LSE after the war, he rose to become Professor of Social Statistics in 1961.

"Thereafter, Claus played an increasingly significant role in British public life. Among a glittering array of senior public and other appointments, he became Director General of the Central Statistical Office in 1967, Chairman of the Royal Opera House in 1974, President of the Royal Statistical Society in 1978, Chairman of the Economist Intelligence Unit in 1979, Chancellor of Keele University in 1986, President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1989 and Chancellor of the Open University of Israel in 1994. He was Warden of Wadham College from 1984-1993.

"Claus was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1965 New Year Honours, and a Knight Commander of the Bath (KCB) in the 1973 New Year Honours.  In 2001, he became a life peer.

"Yet to list Claus’ professional achievements and public distinctions is not to capture the real essence of this extraordinary man. His formidable learning, love of music and marked sensitivity, which together signalled a profoundly civilised nature, were combined with an affectionate manner, a love of fun and a store of mischief. All of these qualities were apparent during his years as one of Wadham’s very greatest Wardens. Claus was loved here and he will be greatly missed.

"The College will, of course, celebrate Claus Moser’s life and mark its huge debt to him in due course. In the meantime, we offer our deepest condolences to Mary and the family."

  • Claus Moser at his 90th birthday celebration at Wadham

Of the various careers I've had, my nine years at Wadham have been the happiest of all. I love being with students and in the company of academics.

Lord Moser in 'The Independent' (1992)

Emeritus Fellow and Archivist Cliff Davies remembers Claus Moser

"I was Sub-Warden during a part of Claus’s time as Warden. Colleagues from other colleges would sympathise that Claus was so busy running Covent Garden that I must have a lot to do.  In fact I did hardly anything, other than attend the odd funeral, since Claus was an extremely hands-on Warden; in London, Tuesdays and Thursdays, devoted to the College the rest of the week, including strenuous entertaining at week-ends."

"He cared about academic standards, about fairness in admissions, about the treatment of minorities. (Although I did have once to point out that throughout a discussion on sexual harassment he had referred consistently to ‘men’ and ‘girls’.) In the changing circumstances of the Thatcher era he realised quickly the need for the College to increase its endowment, and transformed the activities of what became the Development Office. Unlike Wardens Bowra and Hampshire, he had no inhibitions about proffering the begging-bowl. He exploited his connections in the world of high finance to the College’s advantage, as also his contacts through the Royal Opera, not least Princess Margaret. He was proud of being the first Jewish Warden of Wadham, intrigued to be the ‘ordinary’* of the chapel (when that was explained to him), and attended the chapel from time to time. From time to time the College Visitor, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, could be encountered in his kitchen. Given his quasi-professional talent as a pianist he contributed enormously to build up the musical life of the College, not very conspicuous before his time. Appropriately his college portrait is set against a background of the ‘Marriage of Figaro’. As the first Warden not to have an Oxford background, and with the experience of being the back-room-boy to the Robbins Committee, he could bring a useful perspective on our decisions. But from the beginning he was a strenuous defender of the college system, joking at his interview on what a huge cut in salary he was prepared to take to become Warden. Although politically of the left, he was institutionally a conservative, though he would not have liked to be thought so. He could not be bullied. He prided himself that, as head of the Statistical Office, he had refused to fiddle the balance of payment statistics in 1970 (one month was badly distorted by a one-off expenditure on Concorde) and so helped to lose the election for Harold Wilson. Above all was his capacity with people, a charm which made everybody he talked to feel special. This capacity at out-reach was totally sustained by his wife Mary who was extremely active about College, the first Warden’s spouse to be a member of Senior Common Room in her own right. Our sympathies to Mary and to her two daughters and one son who survive him."

* An ordinary (from Latin ordinarius) is an officer of a church or civic authority who by reason of office has ordinary power to execute laws.

Claus Moser: an indulgent memory, by Jeffrey Hackney

"All Heads of House bring their own distinctiveness (if not distinction), and the change from Stuart Hampshire to Claus Moser is a good illustration.  From the benign austerity of Stuart we moved to the warm fluency of Claus.  The Sun King had been dead a dozen years and Claus began the moulding of a new model. It was to become another Golden Age."

"He was a good administrator; he read papers before College meetings and even went through them with College officers beforehand so he would know what was going on, with the aim of not wasting time in the meeting.   He was very good at hearing what was said to him, even if not always listening.  And in the pursuit of what he saw as Wadham’s interests he could be quite ruthless.  When I was Senior Tutor there was a crisis in University libraries in Oxford and Patrick Neill, then V-C, wanted me to chair a committee to see if we could come up with an answer.  Having accepted our solution he then wanted me to implement it as Chairman of the Libraries Board. It meant I would have to give up being Senior Tutor a little prematurely.  I know Claus put every legal obstacle in the way of my taking up that role, and I have no doubt quite a few illegal ones.  We survived that and despite not liking losing, he was a pleasure to work with when I came back to finish my stint.

He brought a wonderful array of great people into college and although the college was smaller and it was easier, it was also wonderful how many of us met them.  It enriched the whole culture of the place.  It is not surprising that people accepted invitations.  He was a natural conversationalist.   Seeing him managing to talk easily with Princess Margaret was a spectacle.   But he could talk to everyone.  One of my most abiding memories comes from a chance meeting with my parents.  They had no idea what I did for a living really, even when here, and the nearest they had ever been to a Sir was on TV.  Claus saw us in the Quad and came to say hello.  I was absolutely stunned by the warmth of his greeting, and knocked out that he plainly mesmerised my very prickly mum and my dad.  There was no talking down.  She instantly became the Founder President of the Claus Moser Worshipful Society of North Staffordshire and they subsequently brazenly gatecrashed all the degree ceremonies at Keele when he was Chancellor.
Talking of North Staffs, he spent his life ‘correcting’ my impeccable NS pronunciation of European languages, especially Italian and German.  This last summer I did finally tell him that he could start correcting my German once he had learned to pronounce English.  I was surprised to see what pleasure that gave to Mary and to his daughter Sue.  His death has spared me the otherwise wholly inevitable revenge attack.  I can now comfortably revert to the true voice.

He had of course the unfair advantage that he was not British by birth, so he was able to see the follies where too many only saw the glories.  He revelled in the absurdities of this our England.  He had early on been refused a job in the Government statistical service because he was an alien, later of course accepting appointment as its Director. He set me one of my many unfulfilled lifetime ambitions by telling the story of the postcard he had seen in a Whitehall department and which, in two of the institutions in which I held managerial roles, I desperately wanted for myself in order to send it to some of the magnates with whom I had dealings (on both occasions being fortunately perhaps thwarted by others).  It read ‘The Permanent Secretary thanks you for your communication of …….. and regrets that it has not been selected for favour of reply’.  Stuart would probably not have blinked at that.

He had a good life and some of us were lucky beyond our deserts to have shared part of it with him, and, it must be said, with Mary, without whose kindness and phenomenal common sense and good judgment, none of it might have been possible."

  • Claus Moser pictured in the 1986 Wadham Gazette

    Claus Moser pictured in the 1986 Wadham Gazette. Photo by Layle Gilbert

  • Claus Moser by Tom Phillips

    This painting of Sir Claus Adolf Moser, Later Lord Moser, Warden (1984–1993), painted by Tom Phillips in 1987/8, hangs in the dining Hall at Wadham. The background scene identifies the College through the 200-year-old Wadham beech tree and a night sky to convey the last scene from 'The Marriage of Figaro', with the Countess and Figaro illuminated by stage footlights (this refers to Lord Moser's favourite opera and the Royal Opera House of which he was chairman).