Sir Denis Rooke’s great technical achievement and lasting legacy was to build the UK’s gas distribution network and unite the gas industry, making domestic gas a cheap and convenient fuel source for millions of people.
He acquired an awesome reputation as the 'lion of British Gas' in the 1980s as the Conservative Government threatened to break up the British Gas Corporation during privatisation. His devoted employees saw him as the defender of 'his' gas company against the most determined of politicians. Famously he said "Whilst I have to deal with politicians, that does not mean that I have to like them." Eventually he struck a deal with Energy Minister Peter Walker and the gas transmission, distribution and retailing business was turned, by Act of Parliament, from a publicly-owned single monopoly into a single private-sector monopoly, British Gas plc.
Lord Lawson of Blaby, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, was among those Conservatives who would have preferred to break up the British Gas Corporation to encourage competition (a step taken ultimately in the 1990s). He reveals in his memoirs a certain awe of Sir Denis, having been on the receiving end of his championing of the gas industry, describing him as “a large, craggy, overbearing man ... treating Ministers and officials alike with a mixture of distrust, dislike and contempt ... To break up the Corporation in any way was a negation of his life's work”.
Since retiring from British Gas, Sir Denis has devoted his talent and determination to engineering education, becoming Chancellor of Loughborough University in 1989. As President of the Academy he drove the development of its education programme and involved Fellows from industry.
He served on many national advisory committees on both energy policy and education. He has been Chairman of the Trustees of the Science Museum, Chairman of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford and Chairman of the Management Committee of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.
Awarded a CBE in 1970 and knighted in 1977 for his service to the gas industry, Sir Denis was elected to the Academy in 1977 and to the Royal Society in 1978. He won the Academy’s Prince Philip Medal for engineering achievement in 1992 and the Society’s Rumford Medal in 1986. He has also won the James Watt International Medal of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, the George E Davis Medal of the Institution of Chemical Engineers and the Gold and Birmingham Medals of the Institution of Gas Engineers, together with numerous awards and fellowships from universities and colleges.
1924 Born in London on 2 April
Attends Westminster City School and Addey and Stanhope School.
1944 Graduates from UCL in Mechanical and Chemical Engineering
1944 Serves with REME in India and Britain, promoted to Major
1949 Joins South Eastern Gas Board, later becoming Development Engineer
1960 Development Engineer of the Gas Council
1972 Deputy Chairman of the Gas Council, later the British Gas Corporation
1976 Chairman of British Gas
1986 Oversees privatisation and becomes Chairman of British Gas plc (until retirement in 1989)
1986 President of the Royal Academy of Engineering
1986 Chancellor of Loughborough University
1997 Appointed to the Order of Merit
2008 Dies 2 September aged 84