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John ('Jock') Middleton Campbell, Baron Campbell of Eskan

(1912-1994), Businessman; instrumental in founding The Booker Prize

Sitter in 1 portrait
Campbell was a businessman in the sugar industry. He was born into a family whose wealth had derived from the slave trade, and could trace a line of descent from a Jamaican slave. He took charge of family sugar estates in Guyana in 1934. He merged the family firm with the larger Booker Brothers, McConnell and Co. and after 1945 managed and became chairman of the combined business, investing heavily in technology and improving workers' housing and health facilities. He argued that 'maximising profits cannot and should not be the sole purpose, or even the primary purpose, of business'. A Labour peer and chairman of the Milton Keynes Development Corporation, The Booker Prize, launched in 1969 arose from managing the copyright of his friend, the novelist Ian Fleming.

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Mario Valdes

01 November 2019, 02:20

Mario Valdes

29 October 2017, 21:49

Founder of the BOOKER PRIZE

Although once celebrated for this his most popularly known legacy to the British nation, I am appalled as I am sure most will be that there is no mention, whatsoever, of "Jock" or John Middleton Campbell, Lord Campbell of Eskan on the Man Booker website's history page.

As I pointed out to both the trustees and members of the Booker Foundation's Advisory Committee, as well as the news media four years ago during the brouhaha over such a prestigious award's loss of its British Commonwealth identity, Campbell represents an almost unimaginably ideal and even redemptive resolution to the glaring contradictions of being a descendant of Jamaican slaves, as well as the Scottish scion of the largest sugar concern in the history of the triangular slave trade. Interestingly enough, it is through one of the most important banking families in Great Britain, that of Barclays, that he inherited his African ancestry.

His 1995 obituary in The Independent, for instance, jocularly opened with a flurry of the labels he’d been stuck with over the years such as the Enlightened Businessman, Labour Peer, Socialist Industrialist, Idealist Realist. Because of his famous reforms of the sugar industry he was made a life peer under Harold Wilson becoming an enormously influential Labor Party activist in Parliament. It was on May 5th, 1971, in the House of Lords that he made what, understandably, has become his most memorable speech, arguing that "maximizing profits cannot and should not be the sole purpose, or even the primary purpose, of business."

Campbell's slave ancestry, but, even more interestingly, the part it played in his transformation from playboy (and owner of Ian Flemming's James Bond franchise) to socialist saviour is, all too obviously, a very important and forceful reason to have this particular perspective on his biography finally acknowledged. Especially now since it is a black Jamaican, Marlon James, who was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2015 while last year, Paul Beatty, an African American, as well as the first American, was the recipient.

Mario Valdes
Researcher / Producer
CBC, PBS, NPR, BBC, Discovery & History Channels, Harvard University; School of Public Health, Hutchins Center for African and African American Research

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