Obituary: Lord Claus Moser, KCB, CBE Academic and statistician

Claus Moser: Academic and statistician with an extensive knowledge of music and the arts. Picture: PA
Claus Moser: Academic and statistician with an extensive knowledge of music and the arts. Picture: PA
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Born: 24 November 1922 in Berlin. Died: 4 September 2015 in London, aged 92

Claus Moser was the archetypal civil servant. Learned and urbane he had an extensive knowledge of music and the arts and held senior posts with leading arts organisations – notably the British Museum (BM) and the Royal Opera House (ROH). He also had a distinguished career in the City and academia.

Moser was a man of immense charm, wonderfully articulate and erudite. At press conferences he answered questions courteously and with unerring grace. As Sir Jeremy Isaacs (who was appointed general director of the ROH by Moser) wrote yesterday, “Claus was ever courteous and caring. Aiming high, in choosing a successor to Colin Davis as music director, he rejoiced in landing [conductor] Bernard Haitink. I owe him deep gratitude for appointing me to the board of ROH.”

Claus Adolf Moser was born into a family of bankers. His mother was a talented musician and Moser studied the piano and considered a career as a professional musician. But Berlin was a whirlpool of change and Moser remembered, as a child, Nazi processions and demonstrations on the Berlin streets.

The family left Germany in 1936 and Moser attended Farnham School in Surrey then gained a place at the LSE in 1940. He was interned in Liverpool as a “friendly enemy alien” – a classification that made him ineligible for the RAF. Instead he went to the LSE and in 1943 gained a First and for 20 years from 1946 taught at the LSE becoming Professor of Social Statistics.

His agile mind and total recall of facts, figures and statistics ensured Moser sat on numerous committees and two were particularly notable. Moser played an influential part in the 1964 Robbins Report on Higher Education marshalling facts about the varying standards of learning throughout the country. Moser strongly supported the Robbins principle which declared that university places “should be available to all who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them”. It strongly advocated that Polytechnics become universities.

Thirty years later Moser, by then an accepted authority on education, set up the National Commission on Education which looked into the new challenges on education. A key recommendation was that funding should be increased in deprived areas and in nursery education. The barrister Helena Kennedy QC presented a paper which concluded, “So much of this is not about ideology of the right or left but is actually about what makes good sense.’’ Moser enthusiastically concurred. The Robbins Report thrust Moser into the limelight of public affairs. In 1967 the prime minister Harold Wilson appointed him director of the Central Statistical Office and charged with improving the quality and interpretation of facts. Moser did just that and his annual publication, Social Trends – known as the “Bible of Stats” – was vital reading for politicians and journalists. Wilson twice tried to incorporate the CSO into the Treasury but Moser was having no such political interference. He was a Labour supporter and a friend of Wilson’s but threatened to resign immediately. He firmly believed that statistics and figures must remain independent.

In 1978 Moser was offered the post of deputy chairman of NM Rothschild – he viewed it as a form of maintaining the family traditions in the profession. From 1984 to 1993 he was an enthusiastic and benevolent Warden of Wadham College, Oxford, where he proved hugely popular with the dons and the undergraduates. He was Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University from 1991-93.

But it was music that became even more central to Moser’s life. He was chairman of the ROH from 1974 and had to guide the institution through a decade of its most turbulent years. Internal strikes and strife, productions cancelled and financial problems – not least the financing of the development and the theatre’s closure – made it a torrid few years. Moser with his customary good grace supported and promoted the ROH and when he retired there was a special performance of his beloved Le nozze di Figaro in his honour. He observed, “I have had more happiness in that place than I can explain.”

He continued to play the piano and when his friend Harvey McGregor retired as Fellow of Winchester College, Oxford he and Moser performed a duet in the Sheldonian – “with gusto and much enthusiasm”. In McGregor’s flat in Edinburgh’s New Town they often gave similar recitals.

Moser, who was knighted in 1973 and given a peerage in 2001, was awarded many distinctions including chairman of the British Museum Trust. After escorting the Queen on a tour of the BM she noticed a room had been named after him. She asked with a broad smile, “What exactly do you do in the Claus Moser Room, Lord Moser?”

In 1949 Moser married Mary Oxlin. She and their son and two daughters survive him.