Obituary: Percy Grieve

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The Independent Culture
PERCY GRIEVE was an MP for nearly 20 years, though he was more distinguished as a lawyer, being both a QC and, at various times, a Recorder. His own fondest memories, however, were of his time, between 1941 and 1943, when he worked as a liaison officer with General de Gaulle's Fighting France. From his early years Grieve was notably absorbed by European affairs, and he was particularly Francophile in his disposition: when he married, indeed, it was to a girl who was herself half-French and half-English.

De Gaulle first called the organisation which he formed in London after the surrender in 1940 of France to Germany Free France, and gave it its second appellation once his troops began to take an active part in the war. Like every other Englishman who worked with de Gaulle, Grieve was more often than not exasperated by the great Frenchman, and for many years he liked to quote Churchill's statement to the effect that the heaviest cross he had to bear was the Cross of Lorraine - that cross being de Gaulle's chosen emblem for his army in exile.

However, unlike others - most notably General Sir Edward Spears, who had arranged de Gaulle's evacuation from France in 1940 - Grieve never lost his initial affection for and admiration for "le grand Charles", and spoke of him with warm affection even when France was being, in the 1960s, particularly obstructive to British foreign policy.

Grieve's father was killed at the Battle of Ypres in the year of Grieve's birth, 1915. He was educated first by private tutors, and then at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He was called to the Bar in 1938, but the time of his apprenticeship in his chosen profession was brief. On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, he joined his father's old regiment - the Middlesex - and, largely on the strength of his fluent French, was promptly sent to serve with the French government's department of censorship in Paris. When, after the fall of France, he was dispatched to Brendan Bracken's Ministry of Information, his principal task was to work with the Free French, and to oversee de Gaulle's wartime broadcasts, a task requiring not only exceptional patience, but considerable diplomatic finesse as well: his services were eventually acknowledged when he was appointed Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur in 1974.

Indeed, the number of foreign awards which Grieve collected during the post-war years was multiple. Having served with Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force in 1944, he was awarded the Luxembourg Croix de Guerre with palms. Later, after work with the Western European Union, he was appointed a Commander of the Luxembourg Order of Merit. He had already acquired a Bronze Star from the United States on demobilisation and was later to receive another medal from the Belgian government in 1980.

Grieve did not, however, enjoy such lustre in his parliamentary career: he would dearly have liked to be at least a Law Officer, but preferment passed him by. He did, however - in deference to the interests and concerns of his Solihull constituents, who had elected him in 1964 - serve for some considerable time on the Commons Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration.

On that Grieve took a sternly restrictive attitude on immigration. Like many politicians who held similar views, Grieve was regularly exasperated by what he saw as the lack of cosmopolitan knowledge on the part of those who took more liberal views on the matter of immigration from the new Commonwealth. Indeed, the expression of exasperation was a common feature of his discourse; and he was said by colleagues to have been consistently irritable in court, both as a barrister and as a judge.

However, it was always noted of him that, in spite of his marked tendency to be intolerant and even arrogant, that he never neglected to prepare a brief diligently, nor a political speech with complete thoroughness. It may have been that the defects of his temperament were what deprived him of any opportunity for ministerial office.

"The trouble with Percy," a Conservative Chief Whip once said, "is that he likes foreigners a damn sight better than he likes his own people." That brusque epithet should not, however, be allowed to disguise the truth that Grieve was a man of wide and deep culture, and a distinct adornment to both his chosen professions.

William Percival Grieve, politician and barrister: born Rockcliffe, Dumfriesshire 25 March 1915; called to the Bar, Middle Temple 1938; Assistant Recorder of Leicester 1956-65; QC 1962; MP (Conservative) for Solihull Division of Warwickshire 1964-83; Recorder of Northampton 1965-71, Recorder 1972- 87; married 1949 Evelyn Mijouain (died 1991; one son, and one son and one daughter deceased); died Marseilles, France 22 August 1998.

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