Kenneth Roberton, music publisher
Born: 23 October, 1913, in Glasgow Died: 4 May, 2003, in Stoke Mandeville, aged 89
KENNETH Roberton was born close to Glasgow’s Queens Park, the youngest of a family of nine. His father was the composer Sir Hugh Roberton, who founded the Glasgow Orpheus Choir. Each of these circumstances was to shape Kenneth’s life.
He was always involved in music, as a competent pianist, a fine choral conductor, a notable festival adjudicator and an exceptional music publisher. He was also a lifelong supporter of Queens Park Football Club, one of the more quixotic allegiances offered by the beautiful game.
After Hutcheson’s Grammar School, Roberton went to Glasgow University to study medicine. He stayed only one year, during which, by his own admission, he found snooker infinitely more appealing than the dissection of body parts. Forced to leave, he found a job as a shipping clerk for Canadian Pacific. It proved to be an important move for, in due course, he came to take his turn as a cruise director, and it was on a mountain-top in Madeira that he was approached by an attractive young woman from London who "thought he looked lonely".
The friendship struck up with Margaret (Betty) Potter quickly became a love match, in spite of her mother’s disapproval, and they were married in Glasgow in 1941. Both had been greatly affected by the previous generation’s disaster, the First World War, and both, by different routes, had become convinced socialists.
In his case, socialism and pacifism were part of his family culture. He had been an early member of the Peace Pledge Union and on the outbreak of the Second World War he chose to become a conscientious objector. He applied to become a probation officer but found the appointment blocked from both sides of Glasgow’s religious divide because of his secularism. Instead, he joined the reformer David Wills in his ground-breaking Peebles hostel for delinquent boys. Margaret, meanwhile, worked as a civil service typist and they saw each other only at weekends.
Afterwards, they ran a house in Sheffield looking after Jewish migr youth, leading to many lifelong friendships with refugees from Hitler’s Germany. Finally, they were appointed to the wardenship of Ashley House in Bristol and introduced David Wills’s approach to their work. Although it was later testified that "none of the boys in their care was ever in trouble again", their liberal approach met with disapproval from the strictly religious representatives on the home’s committee, and they were asked to leave.
They returned to Glasgow where their first child was born. They had dreamed of settling there, but once again the way to a probation officer’s job was blocked and Roberton thereafter had to spend much of the rest of his life in involuntary exile from Scotland.
In 1942, after a short period as his father’s amanuensis, he was made general manager of the London music publishing house Curwen. He held the post for 27 years, bringing to it great thoroughness and attention which were the characteristics of his work. One of his directors was Maurice Jacobson, a busy festival adjudicator. Finding himself double booked, he suggested Roberton as a substitute. Never shy of public speaking, his debut was a big success and led to an additional career as a much sought-after adjudicator, the high point of which were his several years at the Llangollen International Eisteddfodd. He also studied at the Royal College of Music during this period.
At Curwen, he worked to keep its catalogue up to date and to encourage new composers. In the late 1960s, the London Scottish Choir was formed and he was invited to become its conductor.
In 1970 Curwen became the subject of a hostile takeover and Roberton was faced with redundancy. Taking control of his father’s works, he founded and ran, in partnership with his wife, an independent music publishing business from the large converted windmill that was their Buckinghamshire home. They established agencies in Canada, Australia, Scandinavia, Germany and in the US, through Theodore Presser, the premier American music publisher, with whom Roberton had a warm personal friendship.
Over the next 30 years, the Roberton catalogue came to carry more than 1,000 entries by British and international composers.
Margaret, his wife of nearly 60 years, died in 2001, leaving him a lonely man. He missed her greatly. Although heart problems and a degenerative hip increasingly disabled him, he was determined to regain his health and mobility. Last winter he had a successful angioplasty and it was while recovering from a hip replacement that he had a sudden and unexpected heart attack and died.
As well as the main achievements of his life, he will be remembered as a great story-teller, a vocal peace activist, a redoubtable campaigner for access to the countryside (single-handedly he kept the footpath open across the Chequers estate), a loving father and grandfather, and a committed socialist.
He leaves two sons and a daughter, five grandchildren and one great grandson.
ANDREW ROBERTON and JOHN JEFFREYS