HOW WE MET

DOUGLAS HURD AND SIR EDWARD HEATH
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The Independent Culture
Douglas Hurd MP, 66, retired as Foreign Secretary last year. He left his first career as a diplomat to run Edward Heath's private office from 1968 and was his political secretary at Number 10 from 1970. In 1974 he was elected MP for Mid-Oxfordshire, where he lives with his second wife and their two children.

Sir Edward Heath MP, aged 80, was Prime Minister from 1970-74 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1965-75. He has been an MP since 1950 (now for Old Bexley and Sidcup) and is the longest serving MP. A keen sailor and musician, he lives in Salisbury

DOUGLAS HURD: My father, who was a backbench MP, knew Ted slightly. As a young diplomat, I might have met him once or twice when he was in charge of negotiations to join the EEC. I also remember hearing him play the organ in Moscow in 1963, when he signed the partial test-ban treaty between Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union.

At the age of 36, when I was in the Rome embassy, I wanted a change of career and wrote to six or seven people I knew in different professions - including Ted - to see if I could be of use to them, or whether they had any ideas about what I should do. Typically, Ted sent a telegram saying, "Come back at once to meet Sir Michael Fraser, at Central Office." Michael, who died last month, was then deputy chairman of the Conservative Party Organisation. Ted is very decisive. He gave me a job in his private office.

I spent two years organising his life as Leader of the Opposition. It was a difficult but fascinating job. I learnt a lot about government and about the whole of Britain. Nowadays, everybody in politics preparing for government meticulously plans campaigns which take them all over the country. Blair does it, but in Ted's day it was a very new idea.

Ted has always been highly professional in whatever he does and fairly displeased when things go wrong, although it's not easy to have a row with him because he just retreats into monosyllables. He simply isn't interested in amateurs. That's one of the reasons why he never particularly bothered to talk to me about his music. I'm not a musician and wouldn't have had anything interesting to add to a conversation. To him, sailing and music were the other compartments in his life. They were different challenges - other mountains to climb.

Ted has never been any good at small talk, which undoubtedly did a lot of harm and often sent me into despair. I've lost count of the times I've had to watch him sitting at the top table in between two important ladies, usually the wives of Tory grandees. These women, always desperately interested in Ted, tried talking to him about music and sailing because they thought that's what he would want to discuss. Naturally, they had nothing of interest to say and so communication was impossible.

Because he wasn't good socially, when we were coming up to the 1970 election, the general feeling was to limit media occasions to meetings and major speeches. He ignored this advice, deciding instead to go on walkabouts. The first was in Exeter and the next in Edinburgh, I was surprised at how successful they were. I saw a different side of Ted: he was jolly good with people, as long as it was just a minute here and a minute there.

Within his own circle of close friends, Ted is very good company and a superb host. As Prime Minister, he often used Chequers for musical parties. Whenever he entertains at home in Salisbury, he takes the whole event extremely seriously, choosing the food, the wine and the surroundings. It's important to him to get everything right, and he goes to a great deal of trouble with his guest list. He enjoys good food and wine and I remember numerous occasions working long and hard in the office when he'd suddenly announce that we were going out to for dinner - although it would never occur to him to ask if you were actually free to go.

On the night in 1970 when it was clear that we'd won the election, I was with Ted at his flat in the Albany. He asked me to go down to No 10 and find out what was happening. "Just go in," he said. "What shall I tell them I am?" I asked. "Tell them you're my political secretary." It was the first I'd heard of the appointment. There had never been a discussion about what I wanted to do.

I much enjoyed the six years I worked for Ted. He was witty, entertaining, extremely hard working and tremendously patriotic. Ted was never a vain man. He was always looking for the best way, although he didn't always find it. Undoubtedly things went terribly wrong but, looking back, I'm very glad I did those years. Ted didn't want courtiers around him who just said yes. He expected you to argue with him. He wanted other input and opinions. We had our political differences and arguments. I've always believed that if we'd had the 1974 election two or three weeks earlier we would have won, but Ted was reluctant to have it then and, in my opinion, the best moment passed. We had our arguments about that.

Ted often liked to leave things to the last minute. Once, on a train to an important rally in Plymouth, by the time he got to Torquay, he still hadn't looked at the speech. He picked up one yachting magazine after another whilst his speech writer and I fretted. At other times, he could be impatient with people and didn't always listen carefully enough to what they had to say.

In some ways he was a workaholic, but there were always other consuming interests to divert his attention. Ted isn't someone I could ever imagine sitting in a deckchair, reading a detective novel.

SIR EDWARD HEATH: I met Douglas for the first time in 1961. He was working for the head of the Foreign Service and, after I had been appointed Lord Privy Seal at the Foreign Office and spoke on Foreign Office matters in the House of Commons, he would be present at various meetings I had to attend.

When he was looking to move on, I immediately invited him to become one of my private secretaries, because I had already recognised him as being immensely able and someone whom I knew I could completely trust. Later, working closely with him, I came to appreciate many of his other outstanding qualities. Douglas was always calm and in control. He never lost his temper and was always pleasant and agreeable to foreign visitors. I could also rely on him to keep me well informed on what was happening outside the United Kingdom.

Another important attribute was that Douglas has an excellent working knowledge of languages which, of course, was extremely helpful whenever he travelled with me to other parts of the world. Some people may ridicule the English as a nation who, on the whole, are not good linguists. The truth is that there are many people in Britain who are masters of foreign languages. Certainly when we visited China in 1974, Douglas, having been in Hong Kong, spoke some Chinese, which was extremely helpful when we were travelling across the country. It was during that visit that I met Mao Tse Tung, Chou En-lai, Deng Xiaoping and other Chinese leaders.

As my political secretary, Douglas was a key link with Conservative Party Central Office and always ready to give his views as to various things which might be likely to develop. We worked extremely hard, but Douglas had great stamina. So much so that I can't recall him ever having a single day off for illness.

In 1974, he came to me and told me that he intended to become an MP and was looking for a seat. Douglas asked my advice, but it was entirely his decision. Finding a constituency was not easy. Some of them, knowing the Prime Minister is behind the candidate, feel it's a very good thing. Others may take the opposite view. In no way do they want No 10 involved. It's a situation which had to be handled with some care. Douglas was well aware that instead of being a help to him, the fact that he had been my political secretary could be of considerable hindrance in a constituency who clearly didn't want a candidate foisted on them. As to his suitability, Mid-Oxfordshire were much more likely to have been in impressed by his family background than the six or seven years he had worked in my office.

When Douglas resigned as Foreign Secretary, I think he felt that he had contributed all he could. But I have to say there were times when I wished he'd just get on with the job.

Douglas has always made room for his other interests outside parliament. My recreations are sailing and music, his are books, literature and writing. They are quite separate areas in both of our lives which we never discussed, but just as I needed a complete change and poured it all out into music, Douglas, by contrast, in his quiet moments, poured everything into writing books. I've only glanced at most of them, but one of first he wrote - a serious history about 10th-century China - was an absolute delight to read.

During his years with me, the only times I ever saw Douglas stressed was if we were going on a journey. Having been in the Foreign Office for so long, he had become absolutely punctilious about time, so it took a while for him to stop worrying each time I had to be at a station or airport at a particular time. I used to tell him that as far as ministers go, we are always the last to board any train or plane, so, if necessary, people would wait for us. My attitude was that it was much more valuable to spend the extra time working in the office. Later, as Foreign Secretary, I think he was very glad to have had that advice. !

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