Tim Melville-Ross, director-general of the Institute of Directors, talks to Rhymer Rigby about Shakespeare, Denis Healey and other pleasures.
Sixteen, we agree, is about the right age, any younger and the length and intensity of Shakespeare's King Lear is liable to prove too much.
Tim Melville-Ross, director-general of the Institute of Directors, is relating his misgivings about taking his youngest son, who was then 16, to see the play: 'But he did brilliantly. He was completely absorbed in it from start to finish. Eric Porter as Lear was just wonderful - and, of course, the richness of language and the sense of history all come through.' Many of Melville-Ross' choices are firmly rooted in historical happenings. His favourite film, for instance, is Schindler's List. He visited Auschwitz as a child and, more recently, Buchenwald: 'You view a film like this against the background of the horrors that would otherwise have been visited on these people and, however much Schindler himself may have been criticised, I believe he did a very noble thing, no question about it.'
Likewise, with literature, he plumps for writing about actual events - 'I'm afraid I get impatient with novels' - with a particular penchant for biographies. 'I think my favourite of all time was Denis Healey's Time of My Life. It's written in such a beautiful and cultured way; to be honest it's a bit pretentious but then it's almost impossible for someone of his talents not to be pretentious. Excessive modesty soon gets seen through as false modesty.'
And, he feels, we can all learn from history: 'Quite often business people will say "I have a series of problems and I have to deal with them one by one in a sequential sort of way."' However, a good medieval strategist working his way through hostile territory by laying siege to a series of citadels might realise that one particular citadel was stronger than he'd thought and simply decide that, in terms of the overall campaign, it wasn't worth the effort. 'So I sometimes do what he'd do and leave the problem: it may wither on the vine or solve itself. That's a line of thinking I might not have developed if I hadn't read a bit of history.'
He claims almost complete ignorance of modern music, and says he's not that hot on classical either. 'I have an appreciation but not much knowledge.' Opera is more his thing. So it is not all that surprising to find that his favourite piece, Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, although classical, was written by a man who also penned a number of operas. 'There is the most fantastic kaleidoscope of images. There's also a tremendous sense of optimism and it's tremendously musical in the sense of being tuneful.'
Music, whether classical or modern, should obviously be a pleasure but, I ask, does it offer anything of real, practical use for the business community? 'Oh, I think there's more of a connection than you might imagine', he replies. 'It's a bit of a hobbyhorse of mine. A little bit of exposure to a real talent like Berlioz or a great author puts your tendency to think of yourself as a bit of a fine fellow firmly in context and engenders a sense of humility which, in my view, will mean better decisions.'
Senior business people, he elaborates, must remember that although what they do is fundamental to modern life, they themselves are not that exceptional - not like great artists: 'I mean,' he says, smiling, 'the chances of anything I've ever written being read in 100 years' time are pretty remote.'.