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Obituary: Sir Anthony Fell

IN 1956, when he was campaigning to succeed Anthony Eden as Conservative Party leader and prime minister, Harold Macmillan showed himself at his most politically adroit. The party - and the country - was still riven by the Suez crisis and its consequences. With a legerdemain which was peculiarly his own, Macmillan managed to persuade most supporters of the war against Egypt, and most opponents of it, that he was on both their sides.

A year later, having procured succession to Eden, he sanctioned the re- opening of the canal under Egyptian ownership. This was too much for eight Conservative backbenchers to bear; they resigned the Conservative whip, and remained in the political wilderness for a full year. Most prominent among them was Anthony Fell, the Member for Yarmouth, in Norfolk.

His prominence was gained by the bellicosity of his utterances, which reflected the pugnacity of his character. He was a man of stout independence of mind; one Conservative whip said that Fell's resignation of the whip really made no difference, since he invariably ignored pleas and threats from the whips' office anyway.

Fell's background before he entered politics was a very varied one. His father had been a Commander in the Royal Navy whose duties took him to New Zealand. Fell was educated there and qualified as an engineer. He also became, for a time, a sheep farmer. During this period he was kicked on the head by a horse. In later years, he liked to display with pride the scar the kick had left and announce, "The damned horse didn't try hard enough." His enemies - and they were legion - declared that the incident merely demonstrated that he had a thick head.

The lure of Britain was strong for Fell and he returned here to work in electronics, but, when he married June Warwick in 1938, they decided to open an art dealer's business. During the Second World War, Fell worked again in electronics, on defence assignments. But he was attracted, above all, by politics.

In 1948 he unsuccessfully contested Brigg, then in Lincolnshire, at a by-election. He was likewise unsuccessful, in 1949 and at the general election of 1950, in South Hammersmith. The belligerence and assiduity of his campaigning style, however, appealed to Tory constituency activists, who liked particularly his wild, but effective, attacks on his opponents. He thus had little difficulty in gaining selection for what he thought of as the family seat of Yarmouth, which had once been held by his grandfather Sir Arthur Fell. Anthony Fell won this seat in 1951, then lost it in the Labour landslide of 1966, but won it again in 1970. He stayed there until his retirement in 1983.

Fell hoped for office but probably realised that his innately rebellious character and inability to curb his tongue ensured that no government would even consider him. Moreover, the causes he espoused were nearly all failures and, worse, were becoming increasingly unfashionable. He never again attracted quite the publicity he achieved over Suez in 1957; but he did play a distinctive part in the defence of white rule in Rhodesia, the upholding of unionism in Ulster and attacks on British membership of the EEC. The trouble was that his colleagues in these various matters never quite trusted him, and found it very hard to work with him.

The late Tory backbencher Neil Marten - the gentlest and kindest of men - described him as "harum-scarum. You never know quite what he will do or say next." In our day politics is pallid and politicians for the most part colourless. One sometimes yearns for larger-than-life figures like Anthony Fell.

Anthony Fell, politician: born 18 May 1914; MP (Conservative) for Yarmouth 1951-66, 1970-83; Kt 1982; married 1938 June Warwick (one son, one daughter); died 20 March 1998.