Sir Nicholas Monck: Treasury official who worked with Denis Healey


A stereotype persists of the typical Treasury official – a gimlet-eyed guardian of the public purse, single minded in a relentless pursuit of candle ends to be saved. No one could have been less like that image than Sir Nicholas Monck, who has died at the age of 78. It is difficult to imagine a more rounded human being, with his extensive range of interests, causes and connections and an extraordinarily wide circle of friendships.

It was perhaps not surprising that at times he became restless at the constraints of the early stages of a conventional civil service career. This lay behind his decision to take himself and his young family off to Tanzania in the 1960s to work for the Ministry of Agriculture on economic development. In doing so he was one of a group of young idealists who put promising careers on hold to help advise newly independent African countries.

On return, his career path, once zigzag, settled on track with a succession of immensely demanding posts as he rose through the ranks in the Treasury. But even in the hectic years of the 1970s, when he served as Denis Healey's Principal Private Secretary at the time of the International Monetary Fund's descent upon Britain, he still kept space for his private life.

Into that space he crammed walking, sailing, riding, watching birds and Gloucestershire badgers with friends and family and, less predictably, football. He played a ferociously competitive game well into his fifties until forced by injury to retire – typically also finding time to help run a game for children of family and friends.

He also enjoyed a full social life. When he entered a room he could light it up with his charm, his wit, and the sheer entertainment value of his conversation. He enjoyed giving topics a quizzical twist but didn't grab attention or hog the floor and was equally at home with serious exchanges one to one, sharing his enthusiasms with all ages. He had the priceless gift of making those he talked to – friends, colleagues and family, including his children and grandchildren – feel (almost) as witty and clever as he was.

Among his wide range of interests were music (he was a singer as well as a listener) but above all literature. He was what Edwardians called "a reading man" and a lifelong enthusiast for poetry, seeking out and sharing new discoveries, writing poems as well as reading them. His range also took in the classics, and here the Treasury stereotype might have had some validity, except that his engagement with classical literature was not a passing product of his very traditional education (Eton and King's College, Cambridge) but a lifelong preoccupation and joy. His ability to quote extensively from the Greek and Latin canon was not showing off, simply a sign of his deep knowledge of and pleasure in those works.

His responsibilities at the Treasury had taken in work on nationalised industries, monetary policy and financial institutions and public expenditure, ending as Second Permanent Secretary (an appointment perhaps intended to foreshadow a widely anticipated Labour government that never was) and then a last sideways move to become Permanent Secretary at the Department of Employment. His official career ended with retirement at 60 – a ridiculously early age for someone who still had so much to offer.

He found formal opportunities to engage his energies, serving variously on the boards of the National Trust, the British Dyslexia Association and Glyndebourne Opera as well as being a non-executive director of Standard Life and the local University College London Hospital Trust. For some years he undertook widespread consultancy work abroad on the management of public finances. But his life was cut short before he could embark on one more responsibility – he had been asked by the Treasury Select Committee to chair an independent review of the HBOS episode.

Although Monck had been heard to say that in his ideal alternative life he would have been a country vicar, he had no religious belief. As a career civil servant he leaves behind him not only the record of someone who did the state considerable service, but also, for his family and friends, indelible memories of a life well lived.

Nicholas Jeremy Monck, senior civil servant: born 9 March 1935; Permanent Secretary, Employment Department Group 1993–95; CB 1988, KCB 1994; married 1960 Elizabeth Kirwan (three sons); died London 14 August 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Software Engineer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer i...

Reach Volunteering: Volunteer Trustee with Healthcare expertise

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses are reimbursable: Reach Volunteering...

Day In a Page

Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

Hanging with the Hoff

Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

Hipsters of Arabia

Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

The cult of Roger Federer

What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

Malaysian munchies

With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
10 best festival beauty

Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

A Different League

Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

Steve Bunce on Boxing

Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf