Black, Sir Harold (1914–81), public servant, was born 9 April 1914 at 10 Burmah St., Belfast, elder son of Alexander Black (1879–1946), employee in a local linen business, and Emily Adelaide Black (née Cordner; 1883–1949). His father later became a company director. He was educated in Belfast at St Jude's public elementary school and (from 1927) at RBAI, where he was a distinguished sprinter. After being offered (1933) a position in the Northern Bank, he applied instead to the NI civil service, won ninth place in the clerical grade examination, and entered the service in 1934. He served in the ministries of finance, public security, and home affairs, and rose to the rank of assistant secretary to the cabinet (1959). When Terence O'Neill (qv) became prime minister, Black served two years as director of establishments at Finance before becoming secretary to the cabinet and clerk of the privy council (1965–72), where he remained as a right-hand man of the last three NI prime ministers.
An exemplary civil servant (knighted 1970), who won the confidence of those with and for whom he worked, he oversaw the changes introduced by O'Neill, helped to mollify traditional unionists, and assisted in Stormont–London relations, putting his government's case that British intervention should be confined to restoring order. However, he saw direct rule from London as beginning de facto in 1969; he worked to coordinate changes in many areas of administration from that time, and when direct rule was formally introduced in March 1972 he assisted the transition and was deputy secretary of the Northern Ireland Office till 1974. He then retired, having prepared the ground for the introduction of the devolved power-sharing administration under Brian Faulkner (qv).
He subsequently (1976–9) coordinated, and served on, working parties on community relations, discrimination, police complaints procedures, and treatment of young offenders – a period of activity that culminated in the influential Black report of December 1979. An amateur photographer and an enthusiastic yachtsman, he died 19 January 1981 of a coronary thrombosis, leaving an estate of £90,397. His ashes were buried at St Elizabeth's parish church, Dundonald.
He married (1940) Margaret Saxton (1909–91); they had a son and a daughter.