Image: Russell Evans, left, with his daughter, Penelope, wife, Pamela, and son, Mark

Russell Evans’ Obituary
as published in The Times, 16th August 2021

Before the Rank Organisation was broken up in the 1980s its disparate businesses were held together by the group’s managing director Russell Evans.

It was a constant challenge for Evans, buffeted on one side by Rank’s volatile chairman Sir John Davis and on the other by hostile shareholders and City analysts.

Rank owned Pinewood film studios and Odeon cinemas, bingo and dance halls, and Butlin’s holiday camps. To finance these faltering ventures the company relied on royalties from its European and Asian rights to Xerox copiers, vital before documents were stored on computers.

Evans had become managing director in 1975. By the time of the 1980 economic downturn big City shareholders were complaining that the company was going nowhere. “I am aware of the critics,” Evans said. “The problem is that part of our operations — those of Rank Xerox — have been so profitable that the other activities have suffered by comparison.”

Ronald Artus, Prudential Assurance’s investment chief, led demands for new management. The board backed Evans but he was becoming preoccupied by his wife Pamela’s increasingly serious cancer. He and Davis left in 1983 and Rank was gradually broken up. Evans, who had won a Military Cross in the Second World War, kept things in perspective.

Russell Wilmot Evans was born in 1922 in Birmingham, middle child of William Evans, a fishmonger, and Ethel, a nutrition lecturer who lost her right arm in a tram accident.

Evans and his two siblings had a strict Edwardian childhood. When they misbehaved they had to fetch a cane from the local shop so that they could be punished.

He attended King Edward’s School, Edgbaston, near enough to the Test match ground to spark an early interest in cricket. An all-rounder, he was a first XI right-hand bat and left-arm bowler. He was also a wing forward for the school rugby union XV, and played both sports for the Old Edwardians and the University of Birmingham.

Evans read law at Birmingham aged 16, the year the Second World War began. On graduation he was turned down by the RAF because of a slightly deformed right hand that was smaller than his left.

Instead he was commissioned in the Durham Light Infantry and served in Egypt and Italy. He became one of the youngest majors in the British Army, and was awarded the Military Cross at 23 for “determination, example and leadership in holding an important position in close contact with the enemy” under sniper fire and mortar shells during the Allied advance in Italy. He assisted at the Nuremberg war trials.

Evans became a solicitor after the war. In 1956 he married Pamela Hayward, a personal assistant to Davis. He had proposed outside Battersea power station. Having dodged the question over dinner in the West End he stopped the car on the way home, saying: “I cannot put it off any longer.”

They had three children, who all survive him: Mark is a doctor, Neil was in market research and Penelope was a barrister. Pamela died in 1989.

Evans became assistant secretary at the Ferguson agricultural machinery company in 1951. He left in 1962 after its merger with Massey-Harris to form Massey-Ferguson. He was then a director of Wood Pritchett, a west London construction firm that went bust in 1967.

He joined Rank that year as deputy secretary and became a director in 1972. Later directorships included Eagle Star Holdings, Oxford Economics forecasting and Medical Cyclotron.

He was an avid fan of squash, tennis, cricket and rugby, latterly reading about them in the morning newspaper in his conservatory, puffing on a cigar. He played chess competitively well into his nineties.

Unlike Davis, Evans was not a man prone to temperamental outbursts: if angered by anything he would lower his voice rather than raise it. He was also a shrewd delegator. With his wry sense of humour he used to call his management style “hook and eye”, as in “Who can I get to do this?”

Russell Evans MC, businessman, was born on November 4, 1922. He died of pneumonia on July 21, 2021, aged 98

Link to The Times online obituary