Sir Paul Bryan

'The very best' old-style Conservative MP
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The Independent Online

In a lifetime of service to country and party, including 32 years as an MP, one of the most important but least sung of Paul Bryan's roles was as Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party responsible for candidate selection, a post he held from 1961 until 1965.

Paul Elmore Oliver Bryan, politician: born Karuizawa, Japan 3 August 1913; MC 1943; DSO and bar 1943; MP (Conservative) for Howden 1955-83, for Boothferry 1983-87; Assistant Government Whip 1956-58; PPS to Minister of Defence 1956; a Lord Commissioner of the Treasury 1958-61; Vice-Chairman, Conservative Party 1961-65; Minister of State, Department of Employment 1970-72; Kt 1972; Vice-Chairman, 1922 Committee 1977-87; married 1939 Betty Hoyle (died 1968; two daughters, and one daughter deceased), 1971 Cynthia Duncan (née Ashley Cooper); died Sawdon, North Yorkshire 11 October 2004.

In a lifetime of service to country and party, including 32 years as an MP, one of the most important but least sung of Paul Bryan's roles was as Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party responsible for candidate selection, a post he held from 1961 until 1965.

His wartime experience in officer selection fitted him well for the part and among those whom he helped launch on a parliamentary career were a vintage crop of cabinet ministers, including Geoffrey Howe, Michael Heseltine, Norman St John-Stevas, John Nott, John Biffen, Ian Gilmour, Leon Brittan and Kenneth Clarke. He also played a part in Lt-Col Colin ("Mad Mitch") Mitchell's brief incursion into the political world.

Bryan had previously served in the Whips' Office under Edward Heath and Martin Redmayne, and it came as little surprise to those who knew his ability when in 1965 Heath asked him to join his Opposition front-bench team to speak on Post Office matters and broadcasting. (Although he had to surrender his directorship of Granada TV to take the job, he was allowed to take on Granada Rentals.)

He was a strong advocate of commercial radio, later becoming a director of the first commercial radio station, Radio Piccadilly in Manchester, and it was said that it was his espousal of the case for a hundred local radio stations that led to Heath's decision to turn to Lord Carrington as his main spokesman on broadcasting matters. Bryan was also ahead of his time in pressing the case for the privatisation of the telecommunications arm of the Post Office in October 1968.

When the Conservatives returned to power in 1970, Bryan was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Employment, but, when Heath reshuffled his administration in April 1972, he made way for Robin Chichester-Clark, who had decided to take up a long- proffered place in the Government.

Although a great loyalist, Bryan never hesitated to voice unpalatable truths if he believed them necessary, and in November 1974 he said that it was time for Heath to stand down. Always a close friend and supporter of Willie Whitelaw, he served on his campaign committee and was disappointed when he lost to Margaret Thatcher in March 1975.

In 1977 Bryan was elected Vice-Chairman of the 1922 Committee and two years later, on the spin of a coin with Charles Morrison, ran unsuccessfully for the chairmanship against Edward du Cann, with whom he worked closely as Vice-Chairman until he stood down from the Commons in 1987.

But it was a visit to Hong Kong that led to his abiding passion in later life for both Hong Kong and China. He served as Chairman of the All-Party Hong Kong Parliamentary Group from 1974 to 1987 and travelled at least twice a year to the Far East. He became a close friend of the Chinese shipping magnate C.H. Tung, who asked him to be deputy chairman when he bought the British shipping firm Furness Withy in 1983. Bryan was subsequently to introduce Chris Patten to Tung, a move with beneficial consequences as Tung emerged as the first Chinese leader of Hong Kong.

Paul Elmore Oliver Bryan was born in Japan in 1913, the son of an Anglican priest (himself the son of Irish immigrants to Canada) who was also a poet and Professor of English at Tokyo University. The family returned to England when he was seven, and Bryan was educated at Dulwich Preparatory School, from where he took a scholarship to St John's, Leatherhead, and went up to read Modern Languages at Caius College, Cambridge. Iain Macleod and he played rugby for the college, precursor of their close working relationship at Conservative Central Office, and as Bryan later recalled they seemed to be on the same wavelength throughout their political career.

After he had graduated a cousin offered him a job with Baldwin and Walker, a knitting-wool factory in Halifax, and he fell in love with Yorkshire. He also fell in love with Betty Hoyle, whom he met in Halifax, and they were married in the summer of 1939. By then, bored with the lack of challenge in his job, he had joined Louis London and Sons, a clothing manufacturer in the East End of London.

With war imminent, he enlisted as a private and since he was living just outside Sevenoaks joined the 6th Royal West Kents. His rise through the ranks was dramatic - corporal in September, sergeant in October and a direct commission from the ranks in November. He was fortunate to escape capture in France, and with most of his battalion less lucky, he was able to take on a company, and by 1943 he was the youngest colonel in the British army, commanding the battalion he had joined in 1939.

Although he modestly claimed that the key to his "really unique war record was that I was dogged by good luck", he took part in the landings at Algiers and fought through the closing stages of the North African campaign, the invasion of Sicily and the Italian campaign, winning the DSO and bar and the MC, as well as a mention in despatches. Many lasting friends were made along the way, including Fred Majdalany, the military historian and film critic, and Denis Forman, the television executive, who was to bring him to Granada.

After Monte Cassino, by no wish of his own, he was posted in July 1944 to the Officer Cadet Training Unit at Barmouth in North Wales to bring his battlefield experience to bear on the training of new officers. At some point during the Second World War he also came into contact with Edward Heath.

The war over, Bryan joined his wife's family firm, J.B. Hoyle in Hebden Bridge, and in 1947 he was persuaded to become a member of the Sowerby Urban District Council. At this point chance took a hand. The MP for Sowerby died and the Conservative Party asked Bryan to stand, his principal qualification being a good war - at Cambridge, he had been a member of the Hawks Club and later confessed that he never knew where the Union was.

He fought the by-election and the two subsequent parliamentary elections, reducing the Labour majority to 1,600, and thought that was it. Seeking new horizons, he bought a farm at Sawdon in the North Riding, but, at Ted Heath's prompting, was then invited by Central Office to rejoin the candidates' list and to put his name in for Beverley. He was adopted in 1953, and won what was by then the slightly altered constituency of Howden in 1955 and held it until 1983. He was then persuaded by friends that he had still much to offer by way of disinterested advice to younger colleagues. He won the newly drawn Boothferry constituency in 1983 and served until the 1987 election.

Shortly after he entered Parliament, Bryan was invited by Heath to join the Whips' Office. During the Suez crisis he expressed strong revulsion for Nasser's action, a feeling so universal in what was then very much a group of wartime officers that Heath never dared confess that he had doubts about the whole operation. Although he became a frontbencher and briefly a middle-ranking minister, Bryan's contribution to policy was to be found less in the Commons than in the part he played in commercial activities outside the House. He was in the vanguard of commercial radio and of cable television, and his judgement in those relatively new fields was much valued.

He retained his connection with Greater Manchester Independent Radio until 1984. In 1972 he returned to the Granada board, where he got on well with Sidney Bernstein, despite his known aversion to non-executive directors, and played an active part in its affairs, and those of Granada Theatres until 1983. In 1985 he became the chairman of the first cable television company, Croydon Cable Television, subsequently United Artists Cables International (London South).

Bryan wrote an attractive, if characteristically self-deprecatory, memoir of his war and early political career, Wool, War and Westminster, in 1993. He ends the book in 1968. Although he had a very happy life, he had also known tragedy. His first wife developed severe manic depression in 1962 and died six years later. He also lost his youngest daughter, Bernadette, one of the first women priests, to cancer in 1995. But his second marriage to Cynthia Duncan, herself a widow, in 1971 was a great success and he was an immensely proud parent and grandparent.

Paul Bryan had a gift for friendship and much wise counsel to offer. Leon Brittan, who found in him one of his earliest supporters and became a close friend, thought him "the very best type of old-style Conservative", broadminded, fair, remarkably shrewd and extremely nice. They met for the last time just over two months ago. Bryan had suffered a stroke, but he was "full of beans", intensely interested in what was going on in the Far East and ready for a good gossip about Peter Mandelson.

If he came to politics by chance, it offered him a chance to give good service in a world he enjoyed and he retained his fascination for its quirks and quiddities.

John Barnes