Signor Roy, an English Pioneer of the Italian Co-operative Movement

When the United Nations declared 2012 as International Year of Cooperatives, a great opportunity presented itself to raise global awareness of the Movement’s pioneers. Roy MacGregor-Hastie was one...

When the United Nations declared 2012 as International Year of Cooperatives, a great opportunity presented itself to raise global awareness of the Movement’s pioneers. Roy MacGregor-Hastie was one of these, and his sister and fellow-wordsmith, Sandra Saer, feels the time is right to share his story.

She is looking for Sponsors to pay for the re-publishing of SIGNOR ROY, long out of print. The book is a captivating account of how Roy, political journalist, best-selling author, university lecturer on European history and poet, found his life took a new turn when he settled for a while in the rural heartland of North West Italy.

By sharing his experiences, he has drawn an intriguing portrait of the Italian movement from its inception. SIGNOR ROY also illustrates the way in which co-operation can bridge the gap between different cultures, ethnicities and political views.

Bored with being a top TV producer/presenter in London, with all its pressures, and disillusioned with the accompanying glitzy life style, he left London and moved to Alessandria to live with Olga, his Italian wife and his parents-in-law, born and bred there. Although initially inclined to 'lotus-eat and write books', “Signor Roy”, as the peasants called him, soon changed his mind: he wanted to make a difference to the local community.

The region of Monferrato had great agricultural potential that had not been fully exploited. By setting-out to improve the lives of the local people, Roy MacGregor- Hastie was soon to become a “peasants’ advocate”.

At the time, there were 8,686 agricultural co-operatives in Italy, but most were in name only and did not operate according to the Movement’s principles. “Signor Roy” had a 'co-operative vision' and wanted to convince people that change was necessary. He believed the lack of “working co-ops” was due to the fact that the Italian peasant did not have a co-operative mentality.

As Roy points out in his book, 'neither Lenin nor the Pope had invented [the Movement], so it is not [or it should not be] politically loaded. There were co-operatives in the Middle East four thousand years ago, in an area civilized before Rome'.

To address some of these misconceptions, Roy started a campaign to promote the model. He held and spoke at public meetings, and wrote for publications such as La Stampa and La Gazzetta del popolo.

Initially, he was regarded as a 'subversive element' by the political class in Italy; he was, after all, challenging the status quo. He was hauled before the Courts three times for his efforts to resuscitate a dying civilisation, and charged under Mussolini’s Press Law, for ‘publishing articles likely to provoke public disorder’. Nevertheless, he persevered, and formed the first Agricultural Producers’ Co-operative in the area.

He opened shops, tutorial libraries – even an agricultural technical college, and also succeeded in stimulating local and provincial authorities into a programme of road- and clinic-building.

Roy’s story of co-operation is more relevant today than ever, in the context of the current financial crisis. The book is a 'must-read', not only for co-operators, but also for anyone with an interest in international social history, the influence of journalism, and Italian society.

'His co-operativa',writes Sandra Saer, 'changed many lives. In a very special way, I believe it changed Roy’s life, too. Through founding the Monferrato co-op, he came to appreciate friendship – the give-and-take of it.'

Prof. MacGregor Hastie subsequently made his peace with the authorities, and in 1963, received a significant annual award from the The Lane Bryant International Voluntary Committee in the United States 'for selfless dedication and extraordinary devotion as a volunteer in humanitarian service during the years nineteen sixty-one and nineteen sixty two'.


Sandra Saer, trained as a journalist, is a poet, author, broadcaster, publisher and book publicist.

Anyone interested in sponsoring the SIGNOR ROY initiative, or to discuss it further, should contact Sandra by email: [email protected] or tel. 01903 884968, at her Arundel, West Sussex, address.

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