Obituary of Jack Black, copyright lawyer and former Chairman Cheltenham Music Festival

Tony Scotland writes about the copyright lawyer Jack Black, rescued from Nazism by the Kindertransport, and later Chairman of the Cheltenham Music Festival.

Jack Black, who died in hospital in London on 30 November 2023, aged 91, was Chairman of the Cheltenham Music Festival when Lennox Berkeley was its President and John Manduell its Programme Director, and he remained a much-loved friend of the Berkeleys till the end of their lives.

But music was only one of the many strings to his bow: he was also keenly interested in cricket, astronomy, the theatre, travel and Latin – in his later years he enjoyed reading Winnie the Pooh in translation as Winnie ille Pu.

As senior partner of Heald Nickinson and then Radcliffes, Jack specialised in copyright, patent and European law. In 1977, with another long-standing member of our Society, Michael Freegard, a former Chief Executive of the Performing Right Society, he published a standard reference work on collective copyright licensing, Decisions of the UK Performing Right and Copyright Tribunal. His clients included Bertrand Russell, John le Carré, Julie Christie and Lennox himself.

Jack had a profoundly traumatic childhood. He was born Jacob Sänger in Hamburg, where his father, Willi, was Treasurer of the Orthodox Jewish Community. In 1938, during the anti-Jewish riots known as Kristallnacht or Night of Broken Glass, Willi was violently attacked by Storm Troopers and Hitler Youth, and shortly afterwards he took the decision to send six-year-old Jacob to safety in England on the Kindertransport, with thousands of other children fleeing the Nazi pogroms. Willi and his wife couldn’t follow him because they had to stay in Hamburg to look after their other son, Erwin, who had Down’s Syndrome.

In England Jacob was taken in by Charles Black, a hat-maker, and his wife Sophie, who spoke to him in his Yiddish till he could learn English. It was they who had to break the terrible news, after the war, that his parents and brother and other family had all perished in the Holocaust.

Meanwhile disaster had struck Charles Black himself in 1940 when his factory in London was bombed during the Blitz, and he had had to move the family out of London to Stoney Stratford in Buckinghamshire, where he slowly rebuilt the business.

At school at Hendon County High, Jacob, now Jack, met the woman who was to become his wife of sixty-eight years, Dora Braham, later an internationally-known child psychiatrist. As a boy Jack wanted to become a Latin teacher but his adopted father wanted him to study law. And so he did – at University College, London, while Dora studied medicine at the only university that would then take women medical students, Birmingham. Later Jack did his National Service as an army officer, practising his knowledge of the law in defence of soldiers facing courts martial. Jack and Dora married in 1955 and had three children in quick succession in the early 1960s. They are survived by two of them, Sophie and Andrew, and a grandson, Matthew.

Jack Black was not only exceptionally clever and protean in the breadth of his interests and accomplishments, but he was blessed with the gift of friendship. He had a soft spot for the Berkeley Society and attended all our annual meetings, even when he was ninety and far from well. His warm smile and twinkling eye as he greeted old friends, who guessed it might be for the last time, felt like a benediction which they will long treasure.