A tribute to Frank Dobson

Frank Dobson MPI am very sad to hear the news of the passing of Frank Dobson. He was known to many as Health Secretary under Tony Blair in the late 1990s, but perhaps better known to UK play advocates as the author of the 2004 Dobson Review into children’s play.

As lead reviewer, I have very fond memories of working with Frank in the year or so of the review period. He threw himself into the task: chairing regional consultation events, visiting parks and playgrounds, bending the ear of ministers, and inviting senior civil servants to share their play memories.

Frank enjoyed telling how, at one early consultation event in his home county of Yorkshire, we asked the audience what they thought they were there for. After a few long-winded, woolly answers from grown-ups, a boy in the front row chirped up saying “we’re here to tell you how to spend t’money.”

Frank had a wicked sense of humour, was legendary/infamous for his plain-spokenness, and placed high value on clarity (as I learnt from his comments on my drafts!)

The impact and legacy of his report (which helped pave the way for the Government’s subsequent £235 million National Play Strategy) – and the positive response it generated from an initially skeptical play movement – are testament to his powers of communication and political persuasion.

As well as being a public champion of play throughout the review, Frank worked hard behind the scenes to overcome both bureaucratic and political hurdles and unlock the National Lottery funding that the play sector had been promised. He was also a longstanding chair of the flagship play facility at Coram’s Fields in Central London.

Frank Dobson and Rupert Everett Opens the New Sports Pitches for the 'Coram's Fields' Children's Charity, London, Britain - 12 Sep 2013

Frank Dobson and children, Corams Fields, 2013. Ray Tang/Shutterstock

It is Frank’s integrity, generosity and unwavering dedication to public service that will stay with me, especially when it came to improving the lives of the marginalised and disadvantaged. He also had a thoughtful and introspective side that belied his jovial public persona. I will not be alone in feeling that the world is the poorer for his absence.

My thoughts are with Frank’s friends and family.

Postscript 13 November 2019: Head here for an obituary in the Guardian.

3 responses to “A tribute to Frank Dobson

  1. Indeed, sorely missed as one of the few politicians with real integrity and a penchant for telling the truth.
    I loved this story he told about when he first campaigned to become a councillor before he became the MP for Holborn and St Pancras.
    “I climbed the stairs to the fifth floor of this council block with a colleague who was banging on about nuclear disarmament. We knocked on a door and a woman listened to us for maybe half a minute.
    Her: “Did you come up in the lift?”
    Frank’s colleague: “No, it wasn’t working.”
    Her: “So you came up the stairs then, like me, every effing day? Was they stinking of piss?”
    Frank’s colleague: “Yes, actually, but the real issue here is nuclear disarma…”
    Her: “You’re telling me you’re going to stop the effing Russians bombing us into the stone age with nuclear bombs and you can’t even fix our effing lift or stop effing kids pissing on the stairs? Piss off!!”

  2. Better late than never! He was also amazing at remembering names (maybe Tin had primed him). When i attended the consultation in the House on the Review, he approached me with open arms saying “Robin, how good to see you”, whereas i couldn’t remember ever having met him personally, only seen him in the distance! A great man.

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