NUJ Member of Honour Dick Oliver, who has died aged 76, was a central figure at the union's delegate conferences for many years as well as being a source of calm and reliable advice to members in the broadcasting sector. In addition to his NUJ work, Dick had a distinguished career as a broadcaster with the BBC World Service.
Born in 1936, Dick was made a member of honour of the union in 1994 in recognition of his loyal and devoted service to the NUJ and all its members over a long period. A former vice chair of the standing orders committee at the NUJ's annual delegate meetings, his advice and wisdom were particularly valued both by new delegates and by more seasoned participants.
For former NUJ president and broadcasting colleague Pete Murray, Dick Oliver typified something generous, intelligent and civil from an old school of trade unionism.
He writes: “Through you, chair…” Dick Oliver’s voice reached across the crowded upstairs room in a Marylebone Road pub where the London Radio Branch was meeting. It was right in the middle of the Wapping dispute – a difficult, but historic time for the UK trade union movement and for the NUJ.
Dick – London Radio branch secretary at the time – was going through a number of procedural points on the agenda before the main business of the evening: speeches from the print union leaders Brenda Dean and Tony Dubbins.
These were people I had only ever seen on the TV news before now, so as a novice journalist attending my first ever NUJ meeting – I was there that night to watch my membership application being approved as much as I was to listen to the leaders of the Wapping strike – I was very conscious of being in a world of grown-up, serious trade unionists.
That was not just because the Wapping strike was about massive, grown-up issues of union recognition, mass picketing and politically-guided police violence, but also because that night, Dick Oliver’s tone and poise told me that I had become a member of a union which treated its members with respect and spoke civilly to one another. It was civility and respect for others which always marked out Dick Oliver.
A couple of weeks beforehand, I had just begun work at the BBC World Service, where Dick was a producer in the science department and the long-standing FoC for current affairs and the language services. I was as eager to join the NUJ as I was to become a journalist and when I asked how I could join the union, the reply was: “You need to see Dick Oliver.”
He was a bit of a legend in the building, so I nervously searched out his office, but when I found him, Dick never seemed to have forgotten how significant a step it can be for someone to sign up for union membership and he seemed genuinely pleased that I wanted to join the NUJ even though he didn’t know me from Adam – and even though I was only on a 10-day contract at the time!
From that moment on, Dick was always an enthusiastic, passionate and sympathetic mentor – even though he may not have realised it; it was just how Dick was.
From encouraging me to go for a position on the branch committee, to guiding me (and my 3-year old son, who was in the ADM crèche at the time) through the intimidating complexities of my first Annual Delegate Meeting, to congratulating me on my election to the National Executive, Dick Oliver was always generous with his time, advice and a thoughtful, kindly smile.
Science buff, dog-lover, scrupulous and constantly witty member of Standing Orders Committee for a generation of delegates at ADM, devoted political activist and friend, Dick Oliver was my first introduction to the NUJ. Those first impressions really do last.
I shall miss him dearly – as will all who knew him."
Former NUJ deputy general secretary John Fray worked as the union's broadcasting organiser with Dick. He said: " the NUJ has lost one of its best. What a character and determined trade unionist he was. Brilliant and gay in every way I am sure that Dick throughout his life never let anyone down: he certainly never failed to deliver for me as the NUJ National Broadcasting Organiser and even long before that in my role as the ABS(Bectu) Assistant General Secretary responsible for World Service.
"I met him at my very first meeting as a full time trade union official, and I soon realised that Dick was a major asset who was full of knowledge and very direct when dealing with the slippery World Service management of those days. Dick understood the need for unions to work together and was just as caring about the non-journalist staff as he was of his journalist members.
" He could not accept unfairness in any shape or form. He dealt with any discrimination against him, often with humour although I am sure it was deeply felt. He wore a large cardboard Star of David on his lapel, like the Jews in the concentration camps, at ADM one year because words had been said against his sexuality from the rostrum. He didn’t need any words: the point was made as to where such discrimination can lead. If we all had his convictions and were as strong as Dick our problems would be few."