Degree Speeches
Summer 2002

Robert Dickins, CBE

Public Orator, Professor James Alty, presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Congregation held on the afternoon of Tuesday 16 July 2002.

Chancellor, Lord Lieutenant, Mayor, Graduates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

If you carry out an Internet search on the words “Rob Dickins” you will receive over 3500 hits. Of course the number of hits doesn’t necessarily mean anything – if you type in my name ALTY – you get many hits but most are for Altrincham Football club. However in Rob Dickins case the hits are mainly genuine. The first hit asks “Who is Rob Dickins and why is he mentioned in a popular song?”

The song in question is by ENYA, a popular music star who has sold over 50 million discs. In WATERMARK, one of her best albums, a song called ORINOCO FLOW, has the following line

“We can steer, we can near with Rob Dickins at the wheel”.

Rob Dickins is a man who, on passing MADONNA, ROD STEWART, or CHER, on the street might possibly acknowledge their presence – but they would certainly not fail to acknowledge his, for he has had a huge influence on the popular (and Classical) recorded music world over the past 28 years.

Rob was born in East London in 1950. His father, a saxophonist, was co-founder of the NMR – the New Musical Express – and started the Popular Music charts in 1952. His brother was an agent for the WHO and JIMMY HENDRIX. Rob thus grew up in an environment in which he lived and breathed popular music.

In 1968 he read Politics, Sociology and Russian at Loughborough. He immediately gravitated to the Students Union where he ran the Film Society, the Folk Club, the Jazz Club, and was Social Secretary of the Students Union. He engaged many of the leading groups of the day turning the operation from loss into profit. This extremely useful capability – of turning loss-making operations into a profit -would become a hallmark of his approach.

At Loughborough he mingled with artists and poets (for example the poet, Roger McGough). He regards these three years at Loughborough in the Union as crucial important in his later successes, illustrating the point that coming to University is more than just reading for a degree.

He obtained his degree in 1971 and joined Warner Brothers’ Music Publishing House. Within three years he was made Managing Director. The company was in a ruinous state, but under his leadership the company moved from 11th to 1st within three years, and maintained this position for the next 7 years. In 1979 he was made International Vice President. During this time his signings included MADNESS, THE SEX PISTOLS and WHITESNAKE.

In 1983 he became Chairman of Warner Music UK, turning it from a loss-making company to one of the most profitable in the UK. His early signings included HOWARD JONES, PRINCE , and MADONNA. He personally brought SIMPLY RED, MIKE OLDFIELD, ENYA, and the girl bands CATATONIA and CLEOPATRA to the UK market.

Many parents of today’s graduates will remember the early years of Top-of-the-Pops and in particular, a group of wonderful girls who danced to the music - called PAN’s PEOPLE - the forerunners of the popmusic video. Rob decided that watching was not enough so he persuaded one of them to become his wife. We are delighted today to welcome his charming wife Cherry Gilespie who is an artist in her own right (Doff cap). As my daughter said to me this morning – “marrying one of PAN’s PEOPLE – now that IS cool!”

Rob works closely with his artists. For example, with ENYA and ROD STEWART he was involved in the recording process, the creation of the records sleeves and the videos. He also persuaded CHER to make the dance record “Believe” which was a huge hit.

Rob has also worked extensively with classical music. He built the classical division repertoire and had some famous cross-over successes with Gorecki’s third symphony, The Three Tenors and Agnes Dei. He also simplified the Classical Charts and organised the Classical BRIT awards.

He has served the music industry – he was Chair of the British Phonographic Institute 1986 –1988 and 1997 – 2000 dealing with many difficult issues such as copyright and piracy.

In 1998 Rob Dickins formed his own entertainment company – INSTANT KARMA and an early success was “Pure and Simple” which received an Ivor Novello award.

Recently, recognition and awards have been showered upon Rob Dickins – A CBE in the 2002 Queens Birthday Honours List, appointed Chairman of the National Museum of Childhood 2002, member of the Board of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Trustee of the National Foundation for Youth Music.

At the age of 52, Rob Dickins is still at the wheel as mentioned by ENYA. He has already achieved more than most people do in a lifetime and has time enough to do much more.

Chancellor, (DOFF CAP) it is an honour and a privilege to present to you Mr Rob. Dickins for the degree of Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa) in this University.

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