Peter Parker (British businessman)

Peter Parker (British businessman)

Sir Peter Parker KBE LVO (30 August 1924 – 28 April 2002) was a British businessman, best known as chairman of the British Railways Board from 1976 to 1983.

Early life

He was born in France on 30 August 1924, spent part of his childhood in Shanghai, where his father worked for an oil company. The family moved to Bedford, England in 1937. He was educated at Bedford School and the University of London, before serving in the Intelligence Corps of the British Army from 1943 to 1947, reaching the rank of Major. Following military service, he studied at Lincoln College, Oxford. He stood unsuccessfully as the Labour candidate for Bedford in the general election of 1951.


After leaving Oxford he spent two years with Phillips Electrical before becoming Head of the overseas department of the Industrial Society. He organised a study conference on human problems in industry at the invitation of the Duke of Edinburgh, for which he was appointed a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order in 1957. He then joined Booker McConnell, becoming a Director of the company.

He remained on the board of Booker until 1970, when he was appointed chairman-designate of the newly-nationalised National Ports Authority. This was scrapped following the election of a Conservative government in 1970, leaving Parker to find other directorships until his appointment in 1976 as British Rail's chairman.

Chairman of British Rail

Succeeding Sir Richard Marsh, Peter Parker was appointed Chairman of BR in 1976 by the Labour Government and continued to serve during the Premiership of Margaret Thatcher. He guided the organisation through difficult times to the beginnings of the resurgence in train travel in the United Kingdom.

Politically, he was a socialist (but later joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP)). His socialist principles were severely tested by the industrial relations difficulties with the three railway unions (ASLEF, the National Union of Railwaymen and the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association) whilst Chairman of British Rail. There were several major strikes on the railway system during his chairmanship.

Peter Parker reorganised the management of the railway system, creating five business sectors, instead of having it based on geographical regions. He was a critic of the underinvestment in the railways by successive British governments, claiming that he was trying to shore up "the crumbling edge of quality". He also campaigned vigorously against the anti-rail lobby, most notably in successfully resisting the recommendations of the Serpell Report in 1982, which had proposed drastic closures.

It is believed that Sir Peter Parker became the only former Chairman of British Rail to have an engine named in his honour. At a ceremony at Old Oak Common, London, on 17th September 2003, High Speed Train power car number 43127 was named "Sir Peter Parker 1924-2002 Cotswold Line 150" by Lady Parker. The naming had been arranged between the Cotswold Line Promotion Group, which provided the nameplates, and First Great Western, to jointly celebrate the life and work of Sir Peter and the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Cotswold Line between Oxford and Worcester in 1853. Sir Peter was a regular user of Charlbury station on that line.

His other appointments included the chairmanship of the Rockware Group (1971-76, and 1983-92); Bookers Engineering and Industrial Holdings (1966-70); Associated British Maltsters (1971-73); Curtis Brown (1971-76); Dawnay Day group (1971-76); Mitsubishi Electric UK (1984-96); and Whitehead Mann (1984-2000). He was also chairman of the National Theatre Board, of the British Tourist Authority and of Westfield College.

He was knighted in 1978 and appointed KBE in 1993. He married Jillian Rowe-Dutton in 1951, with whom he had three sons and a daughter. He is the father of the British actor Nathaniel Parker and the film director Oliver Parker.

External links

* [ Obituary]
* [ Portrait at the National Portrait Gallery]

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