Saturday, 17 September 2011

Sir John Cox

A brief memoir

In a Comment on Facebook, Sheila Fuller remarks –

I … couldn't understand the reasoning behind an ex-admiral in the navy as Chief Exec for, as they were known then, the Spastics Society.

The world was so very different then. At that time the Spastics Society was already, after just thirty years' existence, a well respected establishment organisation, and a recently retired Admiral would been seen as a safe pair of hands. Another change since those days is that he was its Director, not Chief Executive.

When Sir John Cox was appointed Director of the Spastics Society, in 1984, the organisation was already on the way into to transition from being a parents' organisation into what it was becoming at that time. By all accounts he appears to have made a good job of this.

Chas McGuigan and I had quite a bit to do with him over another matter, because of the Society's then determined opposition to the intention of the Foundation for Conductive Education and of the national parents' campaign, RACE (Rapid Action for Conductive Education) that Chas chaired, to introduce Conductive Education into the United Kingdom – and the assertion that to do so would require conductors. The Spastics Society disagreed, arguing the to me rather contradictory position that (a) CE was not really all that good and (b) the Society was doing it anyway, without conductors. Distant drums!

I always found him a decent man, bemused and uncomfortable at the company that he found himself in there. In 1988 he resigned and, though this was reported at the time to be something to do with how the Society was dealing with Conductive Education, the truth of what was going on never emerged.

Sir John Cox was succeeded by Ken Young, Chief Executive


  1. Sheila Fuller has commented again on Facebook (same URL as above), wondering whether I had met Sir BT on the Robert Kilroy Silk's 30-minute TRV 'debate' that followed soon after 'Standing up for Joe', in 1986.

    Sorry, Sheila, that was not the occasion. The event to which I referred was definitely a stand-up social occasion, drinkies, held at the Palace of Wesminster. I cannot recall who sponsored or organised it. Perhaps it was Lord Ashley, perhaps the Foundation for Conductive Education.

    And there were no MPs on that Kilroy programme (unless you count the man himself, as such he had been in an earlier manifestion).

    The weekly Kilroy programme took the form of a thirty-minute recorded discussion between two sides of a current dispute of wider public interest. The half-hour was shot live, as it happened. It tended to be a bit vox pop and could at time become heated. Former MP Robert Kilroy-Silk chaired it, a sort of mannered, British proto-Oprah.

    That day, on one side were parents, brought together largely by RACE, plus Janet Read and myself, representing the view that Conductive Education should be established in this country, ultimately for all who might benefit, drawing for its practice directly upon the models demonstrated in Budapest. Facing was a group opposing this wish, including Freddie Green, Director of Education of the Spastics Society (now Scope), Ester Cotton and some of her followers, plus a physio, some parents, and Sir John.

    The RACE side had its spontaneity and freshness, but of course no coordination. One could not but feel as the alloted thirty minutes passed that the Society's side was running a well-prepared filibuster.

    As the half-hour approached its end 'our' side was feeling increasingly blocked in by the stonewalling of the other, by which might sound so 'reasonable' and authoritataive to anyone looking in from outside but was in out view so terribly, wickdly wrong. Frustration was growing but I think that none of us knew how plausibly to break the Society's grip on the proceedings. Kilroy-Silk began his run-up to his closing words and the producer was readying to call 'Cut'.

    Then Janet Read lost her cool. Choking back tears of anger and frustration, she let fly, almost shouting what the rest of us were thinking but did not know how to say.. Kilrok-Silk knew good television when he saw it, and wound his arm at the produer, signalling to keep the cameras rolling.They ran, and captured the whole extra two-three minutes of Janet's heartfelt out-pourings.

    She finished. The other side sat in silent horror, its case swept aside, before stumping out to huddle and mutter in the corridor.

    There were villains there, and a hero.. I do not think that Sir John was a villain. He looked pained and embarrassed. Janet was a hero, and saved the day.

    We soon heard on the grapevine (I do not know whether it was true or not) that the Spastics Society was instructing its solicitors to seek an injunction at the High Court to prevent the BBC from broadcast the recording. I recall two or three days dlighted suspense in which I was hoping against hope that this application would indeed go ahead. We heard that the Society's case was that it had agreed to take part in a half-hour's recording to be shown without editing (presumably what it had then rehearsed for), not an edited thirty minutes cut down from thirty-three. Anyway, thirty minutes were broadcast, including Janet's full oration, with three minutes of lesser television cut out to make room for it. Not much of a case and, even if it had ever really intended to bring it, wiser counsel prevailed and the Society lay low and said nuffin further on this matter.

    Such a disappointment. Sworn evidence, cross-examination, in open court, everyting reportable in the media. Just what we needed. Unfortunately this was not to be and Conductive Education has never had its day in court.

    Stirring times. Shall we see the like?


  2. As an aside, Andrew: you write, "in 1984, the organisation was already on the way into transition from being a parents' organisation into what it was becoming at that time". It might be interesting (for those of us involved in parent and family-led organisations today) to understand what arguments drove this transition. Am I wrong, or haven't the Percy Hedley Foundation gone through the same transition?

  3. I phrasde tet sentence that you quote here very carefully. The Society was entering a phase in which it was most certainly not a parents' oeganisation, nor was it what it has become today. I would not like to try to define what sort of organisation it was that John Cox felt that he had to resign from.

    At the same time, I do not know what sort of organisation the Percy Hedley Foundation is with respect to CE.

    So, sorry, I cannot oblige with a comparison!


    PS I wonder whether all organiations require a transitional phase before they can move on!

  4. Emma McDowell writes –

    “And we, parents are still here, and still as frustrated as Janet Reid was THEN… but where is SHE now?.

    Retired. Google records some of what she hs done over the yesrs.