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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Reprographics Operator

£12500 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest independent Reprogr...

Recruitment Genius: Web Design Apprentice

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well established websit...

Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher

£120 - £145 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher X2 Materni...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer / Systems Administrator

£25000 - £32500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in SW London, this compan...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee