Rudy (Rudi) Sternberg - Lord Plurenden
1917-1981
 
   
Rudi Sternberg

Rudy Sternberg, or Lord Plurenden as he became, was a petrochemical manufacturer, exporter, and some say a double agent for the UK Secret Service. He was born in Thorn, Austria on the 17th April 1917. Educated at Johanns Gymnasium in Breslau, Germany, and by 21 he was in England to study chemical engineering at London University. He remained in England, when war broke out, as a refugee from Hitler's persecution of the Jews in which many of his family suffered. His early days in Britain were inevitably shrouded in obscurity. He joined the army in 1939 as a non-combatant because of his foreign status. He was demobed on health grounds in 1943, became a naturalised British subject in 1945.

 

Rudy Sternberg's early fortune was made by buying old buttons and re-fashioning them to resell at a huge profit. His chemical skills were also to aid his forsight in seeing the possibilities of bakelite. Bakelite was the world's first synthetic plastic. David Leigh descibes it as a primative German plastic, but wikipedia outlines its uses thus "Although not extensively used as an industrial manufacturing material any more, in the past Bakelite was used in a myriad of applications, such as saxophone mouthpieces, cameras, solid body electric guitars, rotary-dial telephones, early machine guns, and appliance casings. It was at one point considered for the manufacture of coins, due to a shortage of traditional manufacturing material." Rudy saw the possibilities of bakelite, and in 1948, he bought a dissued mill in Stalybridge, Lancashire, Rudi Sternberg
Rudy Sternberg had built up the fourth largest petrochemical company in Europe in The Sterling Group. He also set up an import export company called Dominion Exports, and while on a more leisure keel, he acquired a farm in High Holden, Kent called Plurenden Manor, where he was to develop an interest in livestock breeding. The farm continues in the family today, jointly owned by his daughters Francesca and Roseanne Sternberg.
 
During the 1950s Sternberg concentrated on developing trade with the east European communist bloc countries, particularly East Germany, whose oppressive regime under Walther Ulbricht was not officially recognized by the western nations. There was nothing illegal in such trade but at a time of East–West tension it was inevitably charged with political pressures. Sternberg obtained a contract for the export
Rudi Sternberg with Russian Leader Nikita Krushchev of potash from East Germany to Britain, which gave him partial control over exports from Britain. He believed the trade should be expanded in spite of the political difficulties, and he appointed two Conservative MPs as directors of his company to campaign for it. They subsequently organized an all-party committee of MPs and peers who visited the Leipzig trade fair in 1961. This was the regime's propaganda show-place and the committee was effusively welcomed by Ulbricht as an official parliamentary delegation, with Sternberg as its leader. It was a role he clearly relished and he drove around Leipzig in a Rolls-Royce flying the union flag. Whether or not he intended it the delegation's presence
provided a valuable propaganda coup for a regime craving international recognition, and the British government was acutely embarrassed. The well-founded suspicion that some of the MPs were being paid commission (on orders Sternberg obtained) also angered legitimate traders and the House of Commons, where the MPs concerned were accused of exploiting their parliamentary position for personal gain. Sternberg thus became the centre of a political storm: he was alleged to be a rich and mysterious manipulator, and his close associations with leaders of the communist countries inevitably led to suspicions that he had communist sympathies. Rudi Sternberg with Russian Leader Nikita Krushchev
He emphatically denied this, insisting that his interests were purely commercial, and he appeared to observers at Leipzig to be genuinely bewildered by the controversy his activities created—a man probably more politically naïve than sinister. That said there was no denying his influence, as his contacts took him to the very top of the Kremlin, and several audiences with Nikita Khrushchev.
 
However. despite his contact with Conservative MPs, like many Jewish immigrants at that time Sternberg found himself in sympathy with the Labour Party: Conservatives, albeit the ‘business party’, seemed less welcoming to the newcomers. Sternberg came to know Harold Wilson before the latter became prime minister, and he was one of the group of wealthy self-made entrepreneurs (frequently emigrés) whose qualities appealed to Wilson but whose business careers were often controversial. He was also among a group of wealthy businessmen whose secret donations largely financed Wilson's political office as leader of the opposition from 1970 to 1974; Wilson's association with these figures was bitterly criticized by Labour MPs, much of the left wing press, as well as Private Eye when it became known, particularly as Wilson bestowed honours on some of them, including Sternberg, who received a knighthood in 1970 for his work as president of the British Agricultural Export Council, and a life peerage on 28th January 1975 as Baron Plurenden of Plurenden Manor in the County of Kent.

In the 1970's, Private Eye began to receive information of a possible link between
Wilson and the Israeli secret service and the KGB. Much of this information
may have come from people within MI5. In connection with
alleged plots, the names of various people were handed to Private Eye. Labour MP
Ian Mikardo had at one time partnered Leslie Paisner in a business that traded
with East Germany. Mikardo's pair in the House of Commons was
Barnaby Drayson who worked for Rudy Sternberg, as did Wilfred Owen MP who
had resigned after being revealed as a spy for Czechoslovakia. Montague Meyer,
it turned out, was the man who had bought up much of the timber
felled in Tanganyika during Labour's ill-fated groundnut scheme.
Then there was Labour MP Edward Short 'who had been in the habit of receiving bundles
of banknotes from T Dan Smith', the city boss of Newcastle and one time partner of Eric Levine.
Sir Rudy Sternberg was also under investigation by the security services.
 
Rudi Sternberg married Monica Prust in 1951. Monica was a former dancer with the Royal Ballet, and daughter of Major Robert Bateman Prust OBE of Vancouver. They had two daughters. Sternberg became a freeman of the City of London in 1960 and a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Farmers in 1963. He collapsed and died at Tenerife airport on 5 January 1978, while returning from holiday, and was survived by his wife Monica, two daughters from his marriage. Sternberg also fathered a son, named Peter following a brief affair with his daughters' nanny. The affair was the subject of a Channel 4 documentary, part of the Family Secrets series.

His daughters, Roseanne Sternberg and Francesca Sternberg, now run succesful horse breeding stables in the United Kingdom, and Texas, USA. http://www.sterlingranchusa.com/, and http://www.sterlingranchuk.co.uk/UK/ , Sternberg's son, lives in the North West of England.
 

 

 
    Sources The Times (6 Jan 1978) · The Times (17 Jan 1978) · The Times (3 Feb 1978) · Daily Express (3 Feb 1978) · WWW, 1971–80 · Debrett's Peerage · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1979) · B. Pimlott, Harold Wilson (1992), Channel 4  
   
   
   
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