Obituary: Sydney Elwood
Dalyell, Tam, The Independent (London, England)
FOR GENERATIONS of undergraduates participating in the Cambridge Union, the benign, ever supportive Sydney Elwood - "Squid" - with his twinkling smile encapsulated their welcome to the university's debating society. Many young men and women who subsequently became prominent in public life have reason to be grateful for his kindness when they were at a vulnerable embryo stage.
Elwood was born in Cambridge, where his father was a reporter for local newspapers and his mother worked in college domestic service. He left Cambridge High School for Boys at 15, in 1922, and went straight to the Cambridge Union as a very junior clerk. In 1926, his family remember, he was the recipient of a telephone call from the future Labour MP Stafford Cripps saying that he would not be able to speak. Two days later the General Strike began.
In the Second World War, he volunteered for the Royal Air Force and became a Flight Lieutenant and radar operator (later an instructor for other operators). On demobilisation he returned to the Union and on the death of the formidable "Mr Brown" was chosen in 1948 as Chief Clerk.
The job specifications of the Chief Clerk are somewhat elastic. He (or now she) is responsible for the smooth running of the Union. In theory, he is answerable to the student President and Committee. In practice, since Presidents are ephemeral creatures, lasting about 17 weeks from election to the end of term when they pass the baton to a successor, the Chief Clerk keeps the Union on the rails. He does the accounts, organises the catering, places contracts for maintenance, and a host of other matters, besides dealing with day- to-day business. He is also a source of advice and experience: Elwood advised the late Nicholas Tomalin as President that "This house would publish and be damned" would be a particularly apt motion, at a time when rows concerning the powers of the Lord Chamberlain in relation to Lady Chatterley's Lover were at their most combustible.
At the beginning of Elwood's reign he had to deal with as Presidents the exceedingly …
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Publication information: Article title: Obituary: Sydney Elwood. Contributors: Dalyell, Tam - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: October 19, 2001. Page number: 6. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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