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Tippet, Sir Anthony Sanders (1928–2006), naval officer and public servant, was born on 2 October 1928 at Loughrigg, South Molton, Devon, the son of William Kirby Roberts Tippet (1898–1985), bank clerk, and his wife, Henrietta Winifred Parker, née Sanders (1904–2004). At the time of his birth registration his parents lived at Hawthorn, Middle Road, Lymington, Hampshire. He was educated at West Buckland School, then joined the Royal Naval College, when it was still at its wartime home at Eaton Hall on the Grosvenor estate in Cheshire, as a paymaster cadet. He was top cadet in his term, and impressed from his initial appointment, when his first and subsequent reports noted his sense of duty, boundless energy, intelligence, and leadership. He made a particular impact as judge advocate at an infamous court martial in Malta in 1950 when an officer (Lieutenant-Commander Christopher Swabey) was tried and found guilty of indecent assault and dismissed from the service. Although many years later the conviction was quashed, there was never any suggestion but that Tippet, though unqualified, had run the court martial impeccably. On 21 October the same year (Trafalgar day) he married Lola Audrey Bassett, aged twenty-three, daughter of Walter Bassett, commercial dealer, of Okehampton, Devon. They had three sons and a daughter.

After a number of shore and seagoing appointments Tippet qualified as a barrister, being called to the bar by Gray's Inn in 1959. On promotion to commander in 1963 he was secretary to the director of naval intelligence and then to the flag officer, Middle East, where he stayed to command HMS Jufair at Bahrain. Though not a warfare expert, he easily became an accomplished assistant director of naval plans from 1970 to 1972, when he ignored a formal warning, given for his health's sake, not to take on too much. Aged forty-nine he survived a heart attack. Meanwhile he was chief staff officer to the flag officer, Plymouth (1972–4), and captain of the barracks at Chatham (1976–9) before becoming, as a rear-admiral, assistant chief of fleet support (1979–81) and then flag officer and port admiral, Portsmouth (1981–3). Over the weekend of 2–3 April 1982 his leadership at Portsmouth was a key factor in preparing the fleet (which had just been given Easter leave) for the Falklands War.

From 1983 to 1986 Tippet was fourth sea lord, or chief of fleet support, responsible for the repair and maintenance of the fleet, the supply of armaments, stores, aircraft repairs, and the administration of all support services to the Royal Navy at bases throughout Britain and abroad. He controlled some 50,000 civilian staff and managed an annual budget of more than £2.5 billion, and an estate valued at £6 billion. He had reporting lines to every Conservative minister in the Ministry of Defence and at the behest of the secretary of state, Michael Heseltine, he took the royal dockyards into commercial management. The process, against opposition from vested interests on the left and right and from other senior officers, involved competitive bidding and the drafting of an act of parliament. Seemingly intransigent labour problems were thrashed out with trade union officials over late-night glasses of whisky in his office. The changes Tippet wrought in the dockyards were the model for many subsequent privatizations of military facilities. He also played a full part as a member of the Board of Admiralty in the overall direction and operations of the Royal Navy.

Tippet was knighted KCB in 1984 and retired from the navy two years later, at the relatively young age of fifty-eight. In 1987 he was appointed after open competition as general manager of the Hospitals for Sick Children Special Health Authority (which included Great Ormond Street Hospital) and he led this into NHS trust status, becoming chief executive of Great Ormond Street Hospital in 1994. His enthusiasm infected everyone from senior clinician to hospital porter and, with his naval style and charm but undoubted authority, he ensured the survival of Great Ormond Street. He was the driving force behind the Wishing Well campaign in 1987–9, with its trademark cartoon of a child's face with a teardrop. The appeal raised £54 million in two years and was at the time Britain's most successful fund-raising campaign. Once the core of the hospital had been rebuilt Tippet set himself the target of raising £10 million per annum to extend Great Ormond Street's research and clinical services. He retired in 1995, after eight strenuous years.

He might have chosen to walk the hills of his beloved Dartmoor or to sail or to holiday in his villa in south-west Turkey, but in September 1997 Tippet became chairman of the Funding Agency for Schools, responsible to the Labour secretary of state for education and employment for the funding and performance of 1200 grant-maintained schools in England. With a budget of £4 billion per annum he was set the task of handing the schools back to the superintendence of their local authorities within two years and to close the agency. Liaising with civil servants, education authorities, and local government, he achieved this task in October 1999, with little fuss and without controversy. Meanwhile, in 1998, following a critical Ofsted report on Calderdale local education authority, he had become chairman of the Halifax Learning Zone, with direct responsibility to the secretary of state for twenty-nine schools and their nine partnerships in industry, commerce, education, and the arts. The education action zone which he led closed in December 2003 when he had changed it into one of New Labour's ‘excellence clusters’. His final public duty was to chair Bradford council's Interim Policy Partnership (2001–2) which, also following a critical Ofsted report, outsourced Bradford's education services.

Tippet's wide range of public duties extended to leading roles in more than a dozen naval, medical, and education charities, including the National Appeal for Music Therapy and the Peter Pan Children's Fund, a worldwide charity to encourage the young to support children's hospitals. He was also a governor and president of his old school, a trustee of the sea cadets, and a trustee and chairman of the Royal Naval Benevolent Society for Officers.

Tippet was hardworking, purposeful, and determined: problems of any nature were a challenge to him. He had a phenomenal memory for names and faces, could engage anyone in conversation, and was a forceful leader. As senior instructor at Dartmouth he once sailed the yacht Wyvern in the teeth of a south-westerly gale to Ushant for the weekend: his exhausted crew of midshipmen were expecting a slap-up meal in France but Tippet, having seen the lighthouse, turned and ran before the wind to Devon to write a lengthy dissertation in the boat's journal about the differences between his dead reckoning (the Dartmouth boats were in those days equipped with only basic navigation aids) and his observed positions. He collapsed on the London Underground on his way home on 13 October 2006, after giving a talk at dinner at the Institute of Child Health. He was survived by his wife, Lola, and three of their children, one son having predeceased him.

Peter Hore

Sources  

Camden New Journal (19 Oct 2006) · The Times (30 Oct 2006) · North Devon Journal (16 Nov 2006) · Western Morning News (12 Dec 2006) · WW (2006) · Burke, Peerage · personal knowledge (2012) · private information (2012) [B. Brown] · b. cert. · m. cert.

Archives  

TNA: PRO, ADM


Likenesses  

obituary photographs

Wealth at death  

£203,238: probate, 22 Feb 2007, CGPLA Eng. & Wales