AN HONOURABLE MAN
CHRISTOPHER LEE Viking, 559pp, £25, Oldie price £17.29 inc p&p
Christopher Lee started this life of the Tory grandee 20 years ago but on the understanding that nothing would be published until Carrington’s death, which occurred in July. Rachel Sylvester in the Times complained that the biography, despite the contemporary relevance of many strands in Carrington’s story, nonetheless reads as if it ‘were written in a previous era and had been sitting in a drawer – which perhaps it was’.
Carrington was given his first ministerial job by Churchill in 1951. He was on the political front line throughout the Cold War, handling Russian spy rings and economic decline as well as Northern Irish terrorism and the Falklands crisis. ‘He was Whiggish, paternalistic and fatalistic, but driven by a strong sense of duty,’ Robert Salisbury wrote in the
Spectator. He disagreed with Lee’s suggestion that ‘some elements of the party were exacting their revenge for Rhodesia’ when Carrington resigned over the Falklands. The real reason was that the then Foreign Secretary had never been an MP and ‘did not understand the House of Commons’.
Reviewers praised Lee’s picture of the unbuttoned relationship between Carrington and Mrs Thatcher. The Foreign Secretary did his best to check the Prime Minister’s tendency to dominate discussions with other world leaders – passing her notes that read: ‘He has come 600 miles. Do let him say something.’ William Waldegrave in the Daily Telegraph remembered seeing Carrington about to slip away from Lady Thatcher’s 80th birthday party: ‘Lady T grasped him by the elbow and said, shakily, “Don’t go, Peter. I never wanted you to go.”’ Waldegrave acknowledged Lee’s book as ‘not hagiographic’ but complained that it was too long and the style ‘curiously chatty’. Far from being an optimistic Whig – ‘a lazy title given to every politician with inherited wealth nowadays’ – Waldegrave remembered Carrington as ‘one of the most profoundly pessimistic men I have ever known. Almost every conversation began: “Aren’t things awful?” Usually, it wasn’t a joke.’
Carrington: profoundly pessimistic