It was very sad yesterday to learn of the death of Clive Dutton. He was an amazing man.
I’m not going to rehearse his biography here as a professional journalist has written a proper obituary, but certainly our experience of Clive tallies with everything said about him in that obituary.
Clive had vision, energy and charisma. He was the Executive Director of Regeneration at Birmingham City Council when we met him. It was at a time when we didn’t feel we were getting much traction in the city and someone had recommended with visit Mr. Dutton.
His office was high, high up in Alpha Tower with a spectacular view over the city, the kind of commanding view that led you to imagine him plotting the reshaping of the city using the city as a 1:1 scale model of itself. We were shocked to find ourselves in this office. This man was the big boss of a billion pound redevelopment plan and he’d found time for us chancers.
Mr. Dutton was small and dapper, my memory was of a crushed black velvet suit and soft shoes but that’s probably wrong. He was friendly and dynamic. He gave us his time as we outlined who we were, what we did, how we thought we were an asset to the city, but couldn’t quite work out how to best deploy ourselves to the city’s maximum benefit. To our immense shock Clive took us seriously, he introduced us to people, he used as an example in various very positive contexts, he asked our opinions, he forced my services on an advertising agency to help them brainstorm a spectacular launch for The Big City Plan. Eventually some property developers phoned up keen to offer the company a home in their proposed redevelopment plan. Obviously this developer plan never came to anything (that particular building is still derelict), but the approach was made because Clive was talking us up in the right company.
I remain convinced that the fact that Stan’s Cafe eventually (and for a short period) received revenue funding from Birmingham City Council was because Clive’s promotion of the company from within the City Planning department made it politically embarrassing for the Arts Team not to be supporting the company.
Eventually the lure of regenerating the London Borough of Newham around the 2012 Olympics was too much for Mr. Dutton to resist (he told us it was the only thing he could have imagined dragging him from Birmingham). Even then, when we knew we wanted to make Golden Steps and needed an ‘in’ in London and the Olympics Clive came up trumps, in Newham, introducing us to the right people, including Tessa Sanderson (who helpfully demonstrated her javelin delivery technique to us in his meeting room).
Clive was a cultured, entrepreneurial man, who clearly loved people and connections and synergies and making people’s lives better. He was a powerful man who appeared to carry that power lightly and humbly. He was the antithesis of every image or experience I’ve ever had of a ‘civil servant’, a genuine breath of fresh air who mixed aspiration mixed with pragmatism.
I last saw Clive in Newham in October 2010, but I choose my final memory of him to be in March 2009 in the foyer of Birmingham Symphony hall. People were spilling out into the night bubbling with enthusiasm after a gig by David Byrn, we bumped into Clive and started reminiscing about seeing Talking Heads at CBGBs in nineteen seventy something. I wish I’d known him better.
R.I.P. Mr. Dutton.