The Oldie - - BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR -

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

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