John Herbert Cruft
- Born: 4 Jan 1914, Brentford
- Marriage: Mary Margaret Miriam McCormick Q2 1938 in Westminster, , England, Great Britain
- Died: 17 May 2008, Seaton, Devon aged 94
Influential music director at the British Council and the Arts Council.
John Cruft, who died on May 17 aged 94, had a strong influence on music and dance companies in his roles as director of the music department of the British Council, from 1959 to 1965, and then as music director of the Arts Council (from 1965 to 1979).
A quiet, gently eccentric figure, Cruft was so eager to avoid giving offence that he would signal his desire not to be disturbed by putting on a fez, rather than tell people he was too busy to talk. But despite this diffidence, he had an innate confidence and never lost sight of the simple need of music and dance organisations, creators and performers, for money.
Application forms were brief, and the professional staff of both bodies showed willingness to help those who might not be as able in the filling out of forms as in the pursuit of their professions. Hoops through which to jump to get money were lower, and talent was not drowned by a sea of paper work. Cruft steered policies through the Music and Dance Panels and Councils that remain beacons of enlightened thinking.
John Herbert Cruft was born on January 4 1914 into a musical family. His father Eugene was a prominent double bass player, and his grandfather a viola player and founding member of the London Symphony Orchestra; his brother, Adrian, became a composer and latterly chairman of the Composers' Guild. John attended Westminster Abbey choir school before going on to Westminster itself. Not sure in which musical direction to turn, he decided to become a conductor, winning a scholarship to study with Constant Lambert and Malcolm Sargent at the Royal College of Music.
Oboe was only his second study (with Leon Goossens), and, realising that he was unlikely to get much work as a conductor under the age of 35, he opted for a performing career.
Playing in the Covent Garden Touring Company, under the likes of Beecham, Barbirolli and Albert Coates, before going on to the BBC Television Orchestra and London Philharmonic, set Cruft up to enter the first international wind competition held in Geneva in 1939.
Out of nine entrants in the oboe section, he came joint second, but Ernst Ansermet offered him a job on the spot. There was, however, some confusion about the offer. Cruft had heard the question "Will you come and work for me?" as "Will you come and walk with me?" and, imagining icy climbs in the Alps, politely refused. He returned to the LPO. London music, however, came to a standstill a few months later with the onset of war, so Cruft inquired whether the job was still open. It was.
After a single winter season playing with the Suisse Romande Orchestra, Cruft returned to London. During the war, he joined the Signals, based first at Putney and then in North Africa and Italy. In his spare time, he took advantage of the fact that so many of his colleagues were musicians \endash he even conducted the local Radio Symphony Orchestra in Algiers.
In 1946 he became a member of the London Symphony Orchestra as a cor anglais player, becoming within three years secretary (or chief executive) of the self-governing orchestra. Times were hard for the LSO, but Cruft took some bold measures, not least in hiring three of the most outstanding players around: Barry Tuckwell, Gervase de Peyer and Neville Marriner.
In 1959 Cruft left to become director of the Music department (which later included Drama) at the British Council. His expansion of touring, including trips to Russia and Hong Kong, did much to raise the prestige of British music internationally.
In 1979 Cruft retired, but he was to remain very active with the Royal Society of Musicians (which he had joined as a member in 1936, rising to chairman of the governors in 1997 and 1998). He also, for the next 24 years, selflessly worked as a Samaritan volunteer, befriending prisoners and \endash until the very last months of his life \endash visiting them.
John Cruft married, in 1938, Kiki, the eldest daughter of Pat McCormick, vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields. She died in 2003; he is survived by his two sons.
John married Mary Margaret Miriam McCormick Q2 1938 in Westminster, , England, Great Britain. (Mary Margaret Miriam McCormick was born on 14 Nov 1913 and died in Dec 2003 in Lambeth.)