The Spirit of England - Christopher Chataway

Sir Christopher John Chataway

Sir Christopher John Chataway PC (31 January 1931 – 19 January 2014) was a British middle- and long-distance runner, television news broadcaster, and Conservative politician.
Born in Chelsea, London, Chataway was educated at Sherborne School and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he gained a philosophy, politics and economics degree, but his studies were overshadowed by his success on the athletics track as a long-distance runner.

Athletics Career

Chataway had a short but distinguished athletics career.
At the Helsinki Olympic Games of 1952, in the 5000 metres final, after being passed on the last bend by the Czech long distance runner, Emil Zátopek, France's Alain Mimoun, and West Germany's Herbert Schade, Chataway's foot brushed the curb and he crashed headlong to the ground. Chataway managed to finish the race in fifth place.
On leaving university he took an executive job with Guinness.
When Sir Hugh Beaver of Guinness came up with the idea for the Guinness Book of Records, it was Chataway who suggested his old university friends Norris and Ross McWhirter as editors, knowing of their liking for facts.
Chataway continued with his running.

Chataway (right) and Chris Brasher (left)  Roger Bannister
When Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four minute mile, his close friend Chataway was one of his pacemakers.

BBC Sports Personality of the Year 
He finished in second place in the 5000 metres at the European Athletics Championship of 1954, 12.2 seconds behind the winner Vladimir Kuts, but two weeks later turned the tables at a London v. Moscow athletics competition at White City, setting a world record time of 13 minutes 51.6 seconds.
The contest was televised via the Eurovision network and made Chataway a sporting celebrity; that December he won the first BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.
After competing in the 1956 Olympics, Chataway retired from international athletics, though he continued to race for Thames Hare and Hounds.

Broadcasting and Politics

Soon after leaving Oxford with a degree in politics, philosophy and economics, he decided to aim for a political career.
He thought a suitable job in the rapidly expanding world of television might help.
He refused offers in sports TV and with panel and quiz shows but secured a job in August 1955 with ITN.
He and Robin Day were its first two newscasters.
After six months, when loss-making ITV cut back on on its news output, Chataway switched to the BBC and was for three and a half years one of Panorama's highly regarded team of reporters with a different assignment each week sometimes at home but usually abroad.
By this time he was also considering another career, this time in politics.

Chris Chataway - MP
He had been narrowly elected as a Conservative to the London County Council in 1958 in Lewisham North, and was then selected to stand for Parliament in the same seat.
Lewisham North was a highly marginal seat won by Labour in a by-election in 1957, but Chataway's charm helped to win the seat with a majority bigger than it had been in the previous general election.
His maiden speech expressed the hope that the England cricket team would refuse to play a tour in apartheid South Africa, a highly unusual opinion for a Conservative.
In Parliament, Chataway took up the issue of refugees, especially in Africa, and campaigned so hard during World Refugee Year that he was awarded a Nansen Medal.
He served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary before being appointed as a junior Education Minister in July 1962. In the 1964 election, his majority was slashed to 343 and the seat looked distinctly vulnerable; in 1966 he lost.


In 1967 the Conservatives unexpectedly won control of the Inner London Education Authority and the party leadership was horrified to discover that their newly elected councillors were going to try to break up comprehensive schools and replace them with secondary modern and grammar schools.

Arms of the GLC
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
Chataway, with relevant ministerial experience, was persuaded to take over.
He was elected an Alderman and appointed Leader of the Education Committee.
Eventually cajoling his colleagues into a more moderate line, he avoided a head on collision with Edward Short (the Labour Education Secretary) and proceeded with those schemes for secondary reorganisation that he regarded as well founded.

The Inner London Education Authority was established when the Greater London Council (GLC) replaced the London County Council as the principal local authority for London in 1965.
(The GLC was established by the London Government Act 1963, which sought to create a new body covering all of London rather than just the inner part of the conurbation, additionally including and empowering newly created London boroughs within the overall administrative structure.)
The LCC had taken over responsibility for education in Inner London from the London School Board in 1904. In what was to become Outer London, education was primarily administered by the relevant county councils and county boroughs, with some functions delegated to second-tier councils in the area.

Heath Government

Chataway was keen to return to Parliament, and the opportunity came in a byelection in Chichester in May 1969.
He then resigned as ILEA Leader. With the return of a Conservative Government in 1970 after refusing the offer of Sports Minister he was appointed by Edward Heath as Minister for Posts and Telecommunications and made a Privy Counsellor.
In this post he took charge of introducing commercial radio for the first time, ending the BBC monopoly.
After a reshuffle in April 1972 he was Minister for Industrial Development.

Business Career

When the Conservatives were defeated in 1974, Chataway announced his retirement from politics (at the age of 43) and he did not seek re-election that October.
He then went into business, becoming a Managing Director of Orion Bank, a consortium bank later acquired by one of its shareholders, the Royal Bank of Canada.
He stayed with Orion, later as Vice Chairman, for 15 years.
He held various non-executive directorships.
He was also the first Chairman of Groundwork, the environmental charity and Hon Treasurer of the National Campaign for Electoral Reform.
His principal outside interest was Action Aid, a small overseas development charity, of which he became Hon Treasurer in 1974 and later Chairman.
By the time he left the Board of Trustees in 1999 Action Aid's annual turnover had grown to nearly £100 million.
In 1991 Chataway was appointed chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority – a job he relished not least because his father had been one of the early aviators.
He supported his friend Chris Brasher when he established the London Marathon, and was President of the Commonwealth Games Council for England from 1990 to 2009.
He was knighted in 1995 for services to aviation.


Christopher Chataway suffered from cancer for the last two and a half years of his life and he died aged 82 at St John's Hospice in north west London on 19 January 2014.

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