Born April 8 1912; Died
March 6 2004
Sir Alexander Glen, who
has died aged 91, was an Arctic explorer and wartime Intelligence
officer before going into the shipping industry, and eventually becoming
chairman of the British Tourist Authority.
Glen had an unusual
introduction to the Arctic in 1932. He thought he had accepted a
friend's invitation to a debutante dance, then found that it was to go
to Spitsbergen as one of the eight-man crew of a 45ft Peterhead fishing
boat owned by a Cambridge law don. The expedition committed him to 4,000
miles of sailing and two months of surveying in the mountains; it left
him fascinated by the Arctic.
The next year, Glen led a 16-man Oxford University summer expedition,
which carried out valuable topographical and geological surveys of West
Spitsbergen. In the winter he spent some months with the Lapps of
northern Sweden. Then, the following summer, he returned to Spitsbergen
for a few weeks in the company of Evelyn Waugh.
It was not a happy experience for the novelist, who did not like taking
orders from an undergraduate. Waugh tried to make Glen (to whom he
sarcastically referred in his diary as "the leader") feel out of place.
But when Waugh talked to their companion, Hugh Lygon, about people and
places the younger man could not know, Glen showed every sign of
enjoying their conversations - and irritated Waugh further by roaring
with laughter at jokes he only half-understood.
For 10 hours on each of the three days after their arrival, they carried
supplies up a glacier made treacherous by a thaw. Glen shot a seal to
roast over a wood fire but, when he announced that he was going to shoot
another, Waugh gave him a lengthy lecture on the sacredness of human and
At one point, as the party crossed a stream, Waugh and Lygon found
themselves swept into a raging torrent. Waugh briefly feared for his
life, but they managed to crawl ashore. "If I hadn't joined the Church
of Rome, I could never have survived your appalling incompetence," the
writer spat at Glen.
The experience prepared the 23-year-old Glen to lead the Oxford
University expedition of 1935. Against advice from older experts, he
established a station on the ice cap of North East Land; it contained
rooms and connecting tunnels which were occupied for about a year. The
expedition carried out valuable research in glaciology as well as
topographical and geological mapping. It also did important work on the
propagation of radio waves in high latitudes, which contributed to the
development of radar. Glen's account of the expedition was published in
Under the Pole Star (1937).
He was awarded the Patron's Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in
1940 and, with other members of his team, the Polar Medal in silver in
1942. In addition, he received the Bruce Medal of the Royal Society of
Edinburgh, and the Andree Plaque of the Royal Swedish Geographical
Glen returned to Spitsbergen in very different circumstances when, on
the staff of Rear-Admiral Philip Vian in July 1941, he was involved in
the evacuation of Norwegian and Russian coalminers and trappers. This
involved destroying coal mines, equipment and stores - although Glen and
others believed that an occupying force was needed to prevent the
Germans using the site as a base for attacking Arctic convoys.
Less than a year later,
Glen took part in a series of flights by RAF Coastal Command Catalinas
from the Shetlands which showed inconclusive evidence of German
occupation on Spitsbergen. As a result, he went back with a joint
British and Norwegian force in a Norwegian icebreaker; but she was sunk
in Spitsbergen harbour by German Focke Wulfs, with the loss of 17 lives
and several wounded. Among the dead was Lt-Col A S T Godfrey, Royal
Engineers, who had been in Greenland with Martin Lindsay before the war.
The ship's survivors established themselves in rough buildings until
they were resupplied by Catalina. A force of two cruisers and four
destroyers, under a Norwegian commander, remained there until the end of
Glen was awarded the DSC. He was also awarded the Norwegian War Cross,
and was appointed a Knight of St Olav.
The son of a Glasgow shipowner, Alexander Richard Glen was born on April
18 1912. After Fettes, he read Geography at Balliol College, Oxford.
Having returned from his Arctic expeditions, he worked in banking in New
York and London, until he was mobilised in the RNVR in 1939. Precluded
from an executive commission because of defective eyesight, he was
trained as a meteorological officer; then, after some months in the
cruiser Arethusa in the eastern Mediterrranean, he transferred to Naval
In January 1940 Glen was posted to Belgrade as assistant naval attache
at the British legation, which was trying to influence the Yugoslavs to
join the Allied cause. But when a coup d'etat transferred power from the
hands of the neutral Prince Paul to the 17-year-old King Peter, German
retribution was swift, and Belgrade was bombed within three days.
Glen and the rest of the legation had to leave in a hurry. After
reaching Tirana in Albania after an adventuruous journey by road, they
were treated chivalrously by the occupying Italians, who flew them to
Foggia, in Italy. In an apparent act of goodwill, two months later they
were sent home through unoccupied France and Spain.
Following his Spitsbergen adventure, Lt-Cdr Glen (as he had become)
returned by motor torpedo boat to Yugoslavia, where he joined Brigadier
Fitzroy Maclean's mission to the partisans.
In the confusion of Balkan loyalties, Maclean persuaded the British
Government to support Tito's partisans, and Glen served with distinction
in dangerous clandestine operations in Yugoslavia, Albania and Bulgaria.
He accompanied Tito to his first meeting with Stalin. The Soviet leader
leaned down from a dais to pick up the partisan leader by his armpits,
saying, "Remember, I may be old but I am still very strong." Tito was
Glen ended the war on the British staff in Athens. In addition to a Bar
to his DSC, he was awarded the Czechoslovak War Cross.
After demobilisation, Glen was wondering how best to invest his family's
trust money when a Norwegian shipowner advised him to join a syndicate
which was buying H Clarkson & Co. The firm had eight employees at an
old-fashioned office in Bishopgate, in the City of London; they worked
on handwritten ledgers while seated on high stools.
But under Glen's chairmanship, from 1965 to 1973, Clarkson diversified
to become a pioneer of package holidays in conjunction with Court Line,
a charter airline.
Glen also became chairman of Clarkson's parent company, Shipping
Industrial Holdings (SIH). When the holiday industry suffered a severe
downturn after the 1973-74 oil crisis, SIH sold Clarkson to Court Line,
which went bankrupt soon afterwards, leaving 120,000 holidaymakers
stranded or out of pocket.
Glen was a director of British European Airways (1964-70), the Tote
(1976-84) and the British National Export Council (1966-72). He was
chairman of the British Tourist Authority from 1969 to 1977, having been
offered the job by the trade minister Anthony Crosland.
He was also chairman of the Advisory Council of the Victoria and Albert
Museum from 1978 to 1984, during which time he organised a very
successful public appeal.
Glen was appointed CBE in 1964 and KBE in 1967.
Bald, bespectacled, jovial and rather portly in later life, Glen had
immense resilience of mind and body, and invincible optimism. In 1975 he
published his memoirs, Footholds Against a Whirlwind.
Sandy Glen, who died on Saturday, married first, in 1936 (dissolved
1945), Nina Nixon; they had a son who predeceased Glen. He married
secondly, in 1947, Baroness Zora de Collaert, whom he had met in
Yugoslavia during the war; she died last year.