Harold Hirst Innes was born on 26 March 1909 at Hamilton, the son of Gertrude Hirst and her husband, Francis Thomas Innes, a brewer, whose family had owned Waikato Brewery and founded C. L. Innes and Company, another brewery. Harold attended Hamilton High School, then in 1927 started work as an office boy for Dunlop Rubber Company. He soon rose to the position of chief clerk, only to become unemployed after the stock market crashed in 1929.
During the depression he sold a variety of products, including reject cheese. Realising in November 1933 that he was ‘long in market experience but very short of a definite career’, he decided to join the dairy industry. He then ‘haunted’ dairy factories in his spare time to acquire a good knowledge of dairy products, manufacturing and marketing problems and to learn to judge the quality of butter and cheese.
By late 1934 it had become increasingly likely that the New Zealand Labour Party would win the parliamentary election in 1935. Following the announcement by Walter Nash of Labour’s guaranteed price scheme for dairy products, Harold Innes proposed to the East Tamaki Co-operative Dairy Company directors that he represent them in London to ascertain the implications of the new scheme for their marketing structure. His proposal was accepted and Harold sailed for London at his own expense.
On that voyage he met Queenie Gladys Barrett, then aged 17. His report was completed by the time Gladys reached the age of 18 and they were married at Kensington, London, on 23 June 1936. The next day they sailed for New Zealand. They were to have five children.
Favourably impressed with his report, the Dairy Company directors sent a copy to Nash, who was by now minister of marketing for the Labour government. As a consequence, Nash invited Harold Innes to join him as a marketing liaison officer. Innes accepted and was immediately sent back to London. For seven months he investigated the market and also prepared material for the New Zealand delegates to the 1937 Imperial Conference. After returning to New Zealand in 1938 he was appointed chief investigating officer of the new Internal Marketing Division of the Marketing Department. At the outbreak of the Second World War he became liaison officer between Nash and the producer organisations. He was responsible for the idea of providing New Zealand produce to Britain in dehydrated form. He also worked late at night decoding the shipping requirements of the British government.
In 1945 he was appointed director of the Milk Marketing Division of the Marketing Department. The Cabinet asked Innes to reorganise the liquid milk industry in New Zealand and to inaugurate the milk-in-schools scheme. However, in 1949 the prime minister, Peter Fraser, became apprehensive about the unorthodox way he ran his division and conducted negotiations, saying that his methods were better suited to private enterprise. When the Public Service Commission recommended that Innes be appointed director of marketing, Fraser quashed the decision.
Harold Innes returned to the family firm, Innes Industries, and became managing director of Waikato Breweries. During the 1950s and 1960s the Innes home in Hamilton became a gathering place for writers, poets, artists and musicians. Gladys, attractive and intelligent, became known for her warm personality and hospitality. Harold enthusiastically supported and developed lasting friendships with poets and writers such as A. R. D. Fairburn and Denis Glover, the latter being the editor of the Quaffers’ Gazette published by Waikato Breweries. Innes established a small bar at the breweries that he used for entertainment. He backed the Hamilton chamber music society and was vice president of the Waikato Society of Arts.
In 1956 Innes, with a small group of enthusiasts, raised £25,000 towards the establishment of the Founders’ Memorial Theatre and in the same year was elected to the Hamilton City Council. During his time on the council he was a member of the cultural committee, and wasteland at the end of Lake Crescent was developed with donations from the Innes family; Innes Common was opened to the public in 1960. In 1963 Harold Innes published a book entitled The status quo seekers , which looked at future political and economic trends.
Harold Innes became senior director of Innes Industries in 1961 and moved to Auckland. Soon afterwards Innes Industries amalgamated with L. D. Nathan and the Oasis Group was formed; Innes became the first managing director. In 1968 he went to London and successfully negotiated the franchise to produce Bass beer in New Zealand. He then converted the Albion Hotel in Auckland into a replica of an English pub.
Harold Innes was patron of a band called Pipes and Drums of Innes Tartan, which won many championships. In 1965 he founded the Connoisseurs’ Society because he believed that quality wines and beers should be consumed in moderation and with food; by 1974, when he stepped down from the presidency, membership had risen to 3,500. Later, he tried to establish a restaurant in London to promote New Zealand produce, but failed to obtain support from the producer boards.
In 1965 Harold Innes was chairman of the Citizens’ Association for Racial Equality, and was active in opposing the Springboks’ rugby tour of New Zealand that year. In 1967 he founded and became executive director of the Food Bank of New Zealand, which aimed at producing milk biscuits for developing countries from dairy surpluses. Retaining great enthusiasm for this cause, he later travelled to India to see the biscuits being distributed. He was appointed by successive Labour governments to the boards of the Bank of New Zealand in 1958 and Air New Zealand in 1974. In 1976 he was on the Complaints Review Committee of the Broadcasting Council of New Zealand. He was made a CBE in 1974.
That year he retired to a small farm at Kumeu. By 1981 he had moved to Rothesay Bay, Auckland, where he became a member of the East Coast Bays Red Cross. He drowned, probably due to heart failure, while swimming at Rothesay Bay on 30 January 1985. His wife, four daughters and one son survived him.
In 1934 Harold Innes had determined that he was ‘a market man’ and that the marketplace would mould his career. Yet although he became a successful businessman, he was philosophically to the left. The brewer Douglas Myers wrote that Harold was ‘a rare sort of person in our industry. He really cared about people – and this was both his strength and his weakness in business life’.