SYDNEY Hudson was a wartime secret agent who was dropped behind enemy lines four times in two continents.

His service with Special Operations Executive (SOE) included being jailed in solitary confinement for 15 months in Vichy, France. His courage in the face of danger was recognised by awards of the Distinguished Service Order and Bar, and Croix de Guerre.

His wry humour and laconic approach to life masked his extraordinary wartime adventures. The same drollery marked his leadership of the CBI in Scotland when as chairman, he was Scotland's business voice in the 1970s. In 1982, he played a major role in establishing the SDP (Social Democratic Party) in Scotland, and attended the first UK conference of the short-lived party.

Hudson's first mission nearly proved his last. After training at Loch Morar and in SOE centres in England, he was dropped into Vichy France in September 1942, but was soon betrayed and spent the following 15 months in solitary confinement as part of a five-year sentence of hard labour.

He might have been turned over to the Gestapo, but managed to escape during a mass break-out in January 1944. He then journeyed across the Pyrenees through deep snow, to Spain and on to Gibraltar, and back to London.

Undaunted and now in his mid-30s, he volunteered for a second mission, and was dropped in northern France 10 days before D-Day.

This time his mission was to organise the so-called "Headmaster" circuit based in Le Mans, a group whose task was to hamper and delay German reinforcements reaching Allied landings in Normandy. With his 20-year-old agent colleague, Sonia d'Artois, he blew up the telegraph office in Le Mans, forcing the enemy to transmit by wireless. These messages were then intercepted by Allied code-breakers.

When American forces under General George Patton reached Le Mans in August 1944, Hudson and d'Artois made several daring forays behind German lines to provide the Americans with valuable operational intelligence.

After the liberation of Paris, Hudson again volunteered for action, and was despatched to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) for jungle training. As a member of Force 136, he was twice dropped into north-east Thailand in May 1945 to help organise guerrilla action against the Japanese. The nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki cut his intended mission short but he stayed on in Thailand for several months organising the evacuation of prisoners of war.

The experience of south-east Asia - including several weeks when he effectively ruled a province of Laos singlehandedly - had a profound effect on him. He recounted afterwards how he learned to appreciate Bhuddist philosophy, and how it gave him serenity in later life.

Born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and brought up near Montreux, Switzerland, where his father was in business, the young Hudson was enthusiastic about sport. He played golf and tennis, and skied well enough to be selected as a member of the British ski team at the Winter Olympics held in Germany in 1936. Three years later, he took first place as an amateur at the Swiss Open golf championship.

When war broke out, he returned to the UK and was commissioned into the Royal Fusiliers, but disliked what he viewed as "unnecessary regimentation". His escape route came through volunteering for SOE, with his fluency in French the deciding asset. He finished the war with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and moved into the Allied Control Commission for six years from 1947.

He applied both his idealism and his interest in Bhuddism in establishing re-education programmes for young miners in the Ruhr, part of the intense post-war programme in Germany of "de-Nazification", as the policy was termed. He would wryly recall years later:

"There were, of course, no Nazis." But he learned a great deal about industrial relations, and in 1953 joined the human resources division of Shell International, working in Israel, the United States, Trinidad and Gabon.

While in the Ruhr, he met Ruth Risse, a young woman whose mother had been killed by the Nazis in Essen just days before the arrival of Allied troops in 1945. In 1954 Ruth became his second wife.

In 1969 Hudson faced the choice of a posting to Vietnam or being headhunted by the Bank of Scotland, to lead a period of change in training and development. He and Ruth arrived in Edinburgh on a November Saturday evening, and next morning heard the sound of the pipes. Rushing up to the Royal Mile, they stood and watched as a military pipe band headed a body of troops marching from the Castle to the High Kirk of St Giles' for the Remembrance Day service. They turned to each other. "This is the answer, " said Ruth, and they never left Scotland again.

Hudson proved an original and innovative head of human resources, and was responsible for driving industrial relations forward within the Bank of Scotland so that all employees were represented by a single trade union. His abilities resulted in his election as the bank representative on the Scottish Council of the CBI.

Unusually for someone who was neither a chief executive nor a company chairman in his own right, he became chairman of CBI Scotland, gaining a deserved reputation as a witty and entertaining speaker, and whose droll wit established his mark as a business voice more than any soundbite. After retirement in 1980 to North Berwick, he applied his positive thinking to the political scene. After the Limehouse Declaration by the "Gang of Four", he not only became involved in establishing the nascent SDP in Scotland, but helped create the SDP's first annual conference, an extraordinary five-day travelling circus which opened in Perth, moved on to Sheffield and ended in Wales.

His final move was to Livingston in West Lothian, where he attempted to play golf nearly every day. Two years ago he published his wartime memoirs, Undercover Operator - An SOE Agent's Experiences in France and the Far East, and with Ruth and his one-time fellow agent Sonia d'Artois frequently visited Le Mans and the sites of his wartime exploits. Some years ago they were joined by another former agent, Nancy Wise.

He died in Livingston in his 95th year, and his dry humour lasted even to composing his own death notice: "Sydney Hudson wishes to inform all concerned that after a rather long life, he has moved off the scene." He is survived by his wife, Ruth, his daughter, Jennifer by his first marriage, and two grandchildren.

Sydney Hudson DSO and Bar, Croix de Guerre, soldier, special agent and businessman; born August 1, 1910, died April 7, 2005.