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Berrill, Sir Kenneth Ernest (1920–2009), economic historian and public servant, was born on 28 August 1920 at 79 Coronation Avenue, Stoke Newington, London, the only child of Stanley Ernest Berrill (1896–1984), a clerk in a men's outfitters, and his wife, Lilian May, née Blakeley (1895–1974). He was educated at state schools in Essex, gaining a scholarship to University College, London, intending to become a geography teacher. After only a short time he transferred to the London School of Economics, graduating in 1941 with a degree in economics. After four years in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers he returned to study at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1945, graduating MA in 1949. He married first, on 17 April 1942, Dorothy Brenda West (b. 1918), daughter of Jesse West, mining engineer; they had one son. Following their divorce Berrill married, on 2 October 1950, June Myrtle Phillips (b. 1925), a medical student and daughter of Arthur Phillips, company director; they had a son and a daughter. This marriage was also dissolved, and on 20 May 1977 Berrill married Jane Evelina Burney Marris, a 45-year-old university administrator, daughter of Henry Francis Ayres, engineer, and former wife of Robert L. Marris.

For twenty years, from 1949 to 1969, Berrill held a lectureship in economics at Cambridge and was a fellow first of St Catharine's and then of King's College. As bursar at both institutions—following, at King's, in the footsteps of John Maynard Keynes—he acquired a reputation as a skilful investor, who knew how to play the markets, making substantial sums of money for both colleges. He was not a conventional academic who focused on research and scholarship. Instead he preferred to work as an economic adviser first to a number of overseas governments in the developing world and later to the British government. He worked on economic development programmes in British Guiana, Cameroon, and Turkey, and was also an economic adviser to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Bank.

In 1967 Berrill was appointed as a special adviser on public expenditure in the Treasury, never to return to an academic role. However, he retained close connections with universities in various roles during his later career. In 1969 he left the Treasury to become chairman of the University Grants Committee, where he was fortunate to be at its helm during the golden years of post-Robbins expansion. His experience there meant he was sought after later to serve on university councils. These included the University of the South Pacific (1972–85); Salford University (1981–4); and the Open University (1983–96), where he was pro-chancellor and chairman of council, and to which he was especially devoted. He was also a member of the governing bodies of research organizations including the Council for Scientific Policy (1969–72); the Advisory Board for Research Councils (1972–7); the Advisory Council for Applied Research and Development (1977–80); and the executive committee of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (1988–96), of which he was chairman. He was knighted in 1971.

Berrill left the University Grants Committee to return to the Treasury in 1973, moving to the centre of government as chief economic adviser. His year in this post was not happy. It coincided with high levels of inflation following the ‘Barber boom’. He had a lucky break when Victor Rothschild resigned as head of the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS) late in 1974 and he moved across to the Cabinet Office to replace him. He was appreciated for his calmness and his objectivity in giving advice on a wide range of policy issues. He served the governments of Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, and Margaret Thatcher, living through the International Monetary Fund crisis, rows with Tony Benn over nuclear policy, and the controversy over the CPRS's review of overseas representation. He believed in working with Whitehall not against it, collaborating closely with the cabinet secretary. His ability to absorb facts and figures and his sharp analytical mind served him well in this role.

Berrill left in 1980 for the City to become the head of the stockbroking firm Vickers da Costa. In 1985 he was sought out by the government again, this time to become the chair of the Securities and Investments Board. The City did not take to regulation, following the passing of the Financial Services Act of 1986, especially in the expanding area of global market trading. Berrill was severely though unjustifiably criticized for interpreting his regulatory powers too rigidly and in 1988 he was not reappointed for a second term.

After leaving the Securities and Investments Board, Berrill continued his committee work, where his financial advice and knowledge of government were invaluable. He was a director of the UK–Japan 2000 Group (1986–90), adviser to Nippon Credit International Ltd (1989–99), and a trustee of the National Extension College (1990–2006), where he was also the vice-chairman for nine years. He was able to reflect his love of music through his trusteeship of the London Philharmonic (1987–2006). In spite of all his commitments he found time to sail his boat, to enjoy climbing, and to become an expert skier. He died of cancer at his home, Salt Hill, Bridle Way, Grantchester, Cambridge, on 30 April 2009 and was survived by his wife, Jane, and his three children.

Tessa Blackstone


The Times (7 May 2009); (15 May 2009) · Daily Telegraph (18 May 2009) · The Guardian (26 June 2009) · Burke, Peerage · personal knowledge (2013) · private information (2013) · WW (2009) · b. cert. · m. certs. · d. cert.


Bassano, half-plate film negatives, 1973, NPG

Wealth at death  

£961,472: probate, 27 Oct 2009, CGPLA Eng. & Wales