Godfrey Bradman obituary | Construction industry

Among the property developers who transformed the City of London in the 1970s and 80s, Godfrey Bradman, who has died aged 86, was regarded with such reverence by his contemporaries that they even abbreviated his first name to “God”.

One of the reasons he was held in such high esteem was his pioneering development of the old Broadgate station yard next to Liverpool Street station, which he masterminded with Sir Stuart Lipton, his partner in the business Rosehaugh Stanhope. The project broke new ground in the UK property market, and was of a standard and size that persuaded banks to remain in the City, stemming their migration to Canary Wharf and providing them with the large dealing rooms they required.

To the fertile mind of Bradman, who started his career in the arcane world of tax accountancy, the complex work to assemble the site and navigate the legal and commercial complexities of introducing into Britain the American system of shell and core construction, whereby the developer provided the shell and the tenant specified how it should be fitted out, were meat and drink. Among the London schemes in which he had at some time an interest were King’s Cross, Battersea power station, Paddington Basin and Elephant and Castle.

Broadgate Circus, the development in the City of London that Godfrey Bradman masterminded with Sir Stuart Lipton, seen here in 2004.
Broadgate Circus, the development in the City of London that Godfrey Bradman masterminded with Sir Stuart Lipton, seen here in 2004. Photograph: Mike Booth/Alamy

Shortly before it collapsed under huge debts, Bradman resigned from his Rosehaugh company in 1992, and never hit the heights again. Nonetheless, his property interests were estimated by the Sunday Times Rich List to be about £120m in 2008.

Born in London, Godfrey was the son of Anne (nee Goldsweig) and William Bradman. His father kept a shop in Willesden, but they moved to Long Melford in Suffolk during the second world war. At the age of 15 he left Sudbury secondary modern school and took a correspondence course in chartered accountancy. He became a highly successful adviser to companies such as Wimpey, for whom he reputedly saved £18m on their tax bill, and had the Inland Revenue scrambling to block loopholes he had identified.

In 1978, after continual conflict with the Inland Revenue, which, he said, agreed not to prosecute him if he ceased to practise, he decided to develop property. He bought a tea company, Rosehaugh, as a shell, and set off to buy buildings in London. His first acquisition, a Tottenham Court Road office block, quickly established his reputation.

Short of the cash to buy it, he spotted an offer of a £1m sweetener for anyone who rented another building, used that money to secure his purchase, and eventually sold at a profit. At one point in talks about marketing the newly acquired building, he became so tired of a long-drawn-out discussion about a sales brochure that he ostentatiously took out a wad of £10 notes and dropped them one by one into the wastepaper basket to illustrate that time was money.

Not long afterwards, Bradman turned his attention to the retail chain Woolworths, which, by his calculation, owned UK properties worth four times the value of the actual company. Lacking resources for his own bid, he received share options worth £20m for bringing that information to Charterhouse Bank and helping it in a successful takeover.

Further lucrative deals led to the Broadgate scheme with Lipton’s Stanhope company, Lipton acting as developer and Bradman as finance arranger. Apart from making both men a great deal of money, it also generated £500m for British Rail from the sale of its land. There were, however, disagreements between Bradman and Lipton. Bradman was obsessive and idiosyncratic: a visionary but, as one partner put it, just too clever by half. He seemed to thrive on complication, and the many schemes he took on, often inadequately supervised, eventually brought Rosehaugh down when the market collapsed in the early 90s.

A workaholic, Bradman had a team of five secretaries, including one who worked through the night. He scrutinised the smallest detail, even checking the size of paperclips on important paperwork. Electrical equipment in his office was labelled with details of replacement or battery expiry dates. He acquired his own taxi in order to use bus lanes to save time.

Bradman was partial to expansive gestures; he once picked up a homeless man and took him to Claridge’s in London.
Bradman was partial to expansive gestures; he once picked up a homeless man and took him to Claridge’s in London. Photograph: Independent/Alamy

He also loved the expansive gesture: at great expense he spent £10,000 on a special edition of the Superman comic, Superman Bradman, for his son’s barmitzvah, and in 1974 he persuaded fellow businessmen to offer £2.4m in a bizarre attempt to persuade the striking miners to return to work. He met his wife, Susan Bennett, when she was standing at a bus stop with a heavy suitcase and he offered her a lift in his Bentley. He was known to pick up homeless men and take them home for a wash and change of clothes, on one occasion to Claridge’s.

Close colleagues spoke of his personal kindness and sense of humour, but as one put it, “he could be difficult if he didn’t agree. He would debate for hours and days. He didn’t compromise.” A 1988 contract with British Rail for the major prize of King’s Cross, for which two skyscrapers by Norman Foster were proposed, was ended over disagreements about the use of the site.

A determined political campaigner, he backed the successful 1982 campaign to phase out leaded petrol, founded Parents Against Tobacco, and chaired and funded the Friends of the Earth Trust. He pledged £2m to the campaign to compensate UK victims of the Opren drug, and his presidency of the Campaign for Freedom of Information arose out of concerns about the lack of public information on health and environmental issues; he was a vegetarian, non-smoking teetotaller. As president of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, he arranged for plastic models of foetuses to be sent to MPs when abortion laws were debated in parliament.

Although he never delivered a project of Broadgate’s scale again, Bradman’s sharp brain continued to identify opportunities that led to successful developments by others, including Bluewater in Kent and Paddington Basin and White City in London. But he was not an easy man to work with. In 2022, two years after becoming the London borough of Southwark’s partner for the redevelopment of Elephant and Castle, he walked away from the project.

He is survived by Susan, whom he married in 1975, by their twin daughters, Kate and Camilla, a son, Daniel, and two children, Christian and Sophie, from Susan’s previous marriage.

Godfrey Michael Bradman, property developer, born 9 September 1936; died 25 December 2022