Tributes to Camden political activist and statistician Sir Roger Jowell

In the early 1970’s a photograph was splashed across the Ham&High which showed Sir Roger Jowell, who has died of a heart attack aged 69, holding a banner aloft leading a march.

Emblazoned across it were the words “Homes for the People of Branch Hill”.

The picture was taken from a large demonstration calling on Camden Council to build social housing on the front lawn of a former Hampstead mansion in Heysham Road.

In many ways this protest epitomised Sir Roger’s politics during his formative years on Camden Council in the 1970s, or agitating from its fringes.

It was a fight for better working class social housing provision on the doorstep on one of the most affluent parts of the borough, and Sir Roger saw the principle at stake as going to the very root of equality.

As Barry Peskin, an ex-Labour Camden councillor also on the demonstration, recalled: “It encapsulated an important political and philosophical view.

“One of our slogans was that the working class had as much right to live in Hampstead as the upper classes.

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“It was about redistributing housing and creating a mixed housing economy. This was a principal Roger held dear.”

The demonstration proved successful, and the Grade II listed modernist block is a lasting testament to the tenacity of Sir Roger and others.

Born in Cape Town in 1942, Sir Roger was among the liberal South Africans who, disgusted with the Apartheid regime, left their home never to return.

In Camden, he shared his first-hand knowledge of the brutalities of the regime with his Labour colleagues, helping to shape their own understanding and opposition to it.

Sir Roger served as an alderman on the council during the 1970s, and worked with the lawyer Geoffrey Bindman to set up the Camden Community Law Centre in Kentish Town.

But it was not all work and no play, and the tight knit Labour group gave rise to several relationships, including Sir Roger’s with his first wife Tessa, who later became Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport.

He was also a valued all rounder on the local cricket team, The Pretenders, made up mostly, but not exclusively, of Hampstead Labour Party activists.

Talented, urbane, with an infectious sense of humour, he was much admired by his friends and colleagues.

In his later career he co-founded the National Centre for Social Research, tracking British social attitudes and helping to make society as a whole more reflective.

Sir Roger Mark Jowell is survived by his third wife, Sharon Witherspoon, and by two sons from his second marriage to Nighat Gilani.