On Tuesday 5th October the Lord Mayor of Birmingham Cllr Muhammad Afzal, as President of the Birmingham Civic Society, unveiled a blue plaque to David Gwyn Justham who was a businessman and founder Chairman of the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Trust.
Born in 1923, David joined the RAF as World War II was declared at the time of his school exams. His first posting was to Canada, where he trained as a Liberator pilot and went on to captain a crew in the Far East. At the end of the war he went to work as a bank teller before becoming an articled clerk with a local firm of solicitors.
A few years after that David joined the giant ICI in the company secretary’s department. Having moved between various parts of the UK he finally settled in Birmingham at the Metals Division, which a little later floated on the London Stock Exchange as IMI. Before very long he was appointed to the board of the growing IMI group.
As incomers in this city of incomers, David and his wife quickly made many like-minded friends, and wasted no time in joining the Civic Society.
In 1974 David was elected President of what was then called the Birmingham Chamber of Industry and Commerce. Some years later he became the eighth person to hold the ancient office of High Sheriff in the new county of the West Midlands, enjoying his close engagement with the law enforcement services and the judiciary.
He then began to develop a portfolio career, becoming Chairman of Central Television and Chairman of the NEC Group, at the time the ICC was being built. His influence extended to education, as a member of Birmingham University’s Court of Governors. At the same time he was on the Council of Aston University, until he stood down when Birmingham appointed him as their Deputy Pro Chancellor.
In the arts world, he served on the Council of Management at Welsh National Opera for five years and then as a director of Birmingham’s world-class CBSO. During that period he became very concerned for the future of the Birmingham Hippodrome – the city’s largest entertainment venue at the time. Its owners Moss Empires were planning to close it, and on Boxing Day in 1978 he went to inspect the building which was apparently under threat of demolition.
The following year the City Council bought the building freehold for £50,000. The Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Trust was created to develop and manage this much-loved theatre in the interests of the people of the city. David Justham was Chairman of the Trust for ten very busy years. During that decade, the building was progressively transformed, thanks to some hugely ambitious fundraising.
One of David’s proudest achievements, together with his colleagues, was to attract the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet company out of London. They relocated to a new home in the Birmingham Hippodrome and changed their name to Birmingham Royal Ballet.
You can see the blue plaque to David on the Hippodrome building, at the corner of Hurst Street and Inge Street, and read the Hippodrome’s blog here.