Mr C H Gardiner, perhaps the most able and popular public servant the Vale of Evesham has ever had, died last Friday in a Cheltenham nursing home, nine weeks after his retirement. As Clerk to the Evesham Rural District council for 38 years, he made a name for efficiency with humanity which was a by-word in local government. He was 64. Illness had hastened his retirement.
Charles Gardiner was a countryman of the Cotswolds, the son of the late Gilbert Gardiner, tailor, of Cirencester, and he was already well experienced in the law and local government when he came to Evesham in 1928, at the age of 26, to be clerk to the Evesham and Pebworth rural district councils. Other appointments went with, or were added to those clerkships. Later, he was to describe his function as being that of a Rural Poo-Bah.
He lived for several years in Bretforton and, more recently, at Green Bank, Aldington.
He was clerk to the Board of Guardians, the South Worcestershire Assessment Committee, the Joint Water Committee, the Joint Fire Brigade Committee, the Joint Ambulance Committee and many other bodies. Yet with all that multiplicity of official posts, he was devoid of all pomp and had no feeling whatever of his own importance. He was never a bureaucrat, always a human being with a warm-hearted courtesy and an irresistible sense of humour. In one capacity he would write severe letters to himself in another, and then send disarming replies.
As Superintendent Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths, he had a post which enabled those great qualities of his to operate for every human conditions, and with an immense discretion. On one occasion he was urgently telephoned by a cleric who, suspecting that a bridegroom already at the altar was about to commit bigamy, had locked the reprised man in his vestry while Mr Gardiner’s wisdom could be consulted. “Tell him to apologise, and go away quietly, and never see the girl again,” was the advice.
He was never called to the bar or admitted as a solicitor but his skill in preparing a brief, and in that part of advocacy which consists of cross-examination, was admired an acknowledged by the lawyers. In appeals and inquiries before tribunals of every description, the authorities he served had reason to be grateful for the legal expenses he saved the ratepayers by conducting their cases in person. He was usually successful and always perfectly fair. Ideally for a public servant, he was imbued with a great respect for the under-dog, according Jack every bit as much time and attention as his master.
In 1937 he co-operated with others in the inauguration of the Worcestershire Branch of the Rural District Councils Association, became its honorary secretary and remained so until he retired in July. At that time, also, he was England’s most senior superintendent registrar.
He was awarded the MBE in the New Year’s Honours 1966.
During the Second World War he became food officer, chief reception officer for Billeting, and clerk of the War Agricultural Executive Committee; and his experiences in these jobs provided him with some of his funniest stories. His knowledge of smallholders and smallholdings was enormous and, to the benefit of both, he brought his considerable scholarship to bear on the subject of the Evesham Custom. His historico-legal study of that system of land tenure, by which the tenants of market garden land are able to deal direct with their successors over the settlement of ingoings, was published in the Evesham Journal and it remains the standard reference source on the subject.
He was equally engaging as a writer or as a talker, but he prepared and revised very thoroughly and, though his style in both writing and speech was essentially of the discursive kin, he took great pains to be accurate and just. His wit was entirely spontaneous, however, and he delighted in the apt rejoinder, so that he could readily transform any flagging conversation, discussion or debate. His memory for a good country tale or anecdote was very well served by his astonishing talent for story-telling, but the latter was a literary gift which he never had time to exercise enough. He had intended to occupy his retirement thus. He had prepared ample notes for a great deal of work.
He was the author of Your Village and Mine, among other publications.
Thirty years ago, and more, he started his “Upper Slocombe” series of Cotswold comedies, which were broadcast by the BBC. In these he adopted the Yubberton approach to country life and offered the authentic voice of the villager at work and play. Quite frequently it was his own voice. But the popular success which he attained as a broadcaster and producer never seriously tempted him to leave local government; he turned down invitations to collaborate in writing a certain rural series concerned with the everyday affairs of country life; but he remained a trusted friend and adviser of the BBC and was one of the pivots on whom the experiment in local radio was operated in 1962 from Wood Norton under the title “Radio Evesham”.
For many years he was a member and official of the Broadway Gold Club. His other recreations were mainly social but he kept clear of party political circles, counting his friends among all shades of opinion and being implicitly trusted by them all. He was undoubtedly a great man.
He married, 42 years ago, Miss Miriam Ewart, daughter of the late Joseph Ewart of Berwick-on-Tweed. She died in June. Their only child is Mrs Miriam McCollom, who lives at 13 Sandhurst, Stanshawe Garden Estate, Yate, Glos.
Cremation took place at Cheltenham on Tuesday.