Sir Peter Carey: Leading civil servant and businessman

In his long life Peter Carey achieved success across a variety of fields. First, as an intelligence officer, speaking fluent Serbo-Croat, attached to Force 7 Brigade in the Balkans from 1943-45, liaising with the partisans, harrying the Germans and interfering with their communications right up to D-Day. Second, as probably the most dynamic, authoritative and influential Permanent Secretary from 1974-83. And finally, from 1983-93, as a leading figure in the City and chairman of a raft of public companies.

Peter Willoughby Carey was born in 1923. His father, Jack, was headmaster of the local municipal college and his mother, Sophie, a nurse. He went to Portsmouth grammar school, evacuated to Bournemouth when the war started, where he became head boy. He won a scholarship to Oriel College, Oxford, to read classics, but after two terms he was called up and the war office sent him to the School of Slavonic Studies to learn Serbo-Croat. Then parachute training and, via Bari to Zaga, Croatia.

His war service in the mountains of Bosnia and Croatia was dangerous and difficult. The partisans were suspicious of the imperialist Brits and were waiting for the Russians. But he won them over with that mix of humour, practicality and effectiveness which marked his whole life. Carey's job as intelligence officer and interpreter for the brigade under the legendary Brigadier O'Brien (supposedly the model for Evelyn Waugh's Ritchie-Hook in Sword of Honour) was not easy. It was no easier for the presence at Brigade HQ of Randolph Churchill and Waugh himself. "Two of the biggest shits I ever met," said Carey. "Which was the biggest?" I asked. "Randolph" he replied. For his services with the partisans he was mentioned in despatches.

When the war ended, Carey was temporarily drafted into the British Embassy in Belgrade; but he wanted to return to his studies in Oxford and this he did, back to Oriel, reading Greats (philosophy and ancient history). He then took and passed the foreign office exam, being posted to the German section where he was called upon to write a memorandum on the restructuring of German local government. Carey, who knew nothing of the subject, mugged it up and had the satisfaction of seeing his draft published, word for word, as a White Paper.

He was also responsible for another White Paper – on the denationalisation of raw cotton – which made him realise the fascination of industry, and he decided to transfer to the Board of Trade. There, his rise was meteoric. He was principal private secretary to a succession of presidents of the Board of Trade; the one he most admired was Ted Heath. From 1971-72 came a secondment to the central policy review staff in the Cabinet Office under Lord (Victor) Rothschild, whom he revered as the ablest man he ever worked with.

In 1976 he became Permanent Secretary of the Department of Industry, a post he held until his retirement in 1983. In the post he fostered close links with industry at all levels. But there was no begging bowl on offer. Indeed, when Tony Benn insisted on helping unviable workers' cooperatives, Carey not only said firmly "No, Minister" but when he was overruled put in a rare example of an accounting office minute to the Secretary of State.

His appearances before the Public Accounts Committee were legendary – so much that on one occasion the chairman prevented Carey from making his customary opening statement for fear that it would over-influence the members.

On retirement from the Civil Service, Carey received 22 offers of employment from the City and from industry. He chose Morgan Grenfell (as then was) and, after the Guinness scandal, when Morgan Grenfell was badly burnt and the chairman, Lord Catto resigned, Carey succeeded him. Within two years he helped to organise the sale of the firm to Deutsche Bank. He also chaired Dalgety Plc and was a non-executive board member of companies that included Cable & Wireless and Westland.

In his long career Carey was much honoured – CB in 1972, advanced to KCB in 1976 and GCB in 1982. Sadly he did not live long enough to see his banner hoisted in the Henry VII chapel of Westminster Abbey.

Throughout his career Carey was lovingly supported by his wife, Thelma. They had been child sweethearts in 1936 when Thelma was a prize pupil of Carey's father. They were engaged in 1943 before Carey went out to Yugoslavia and married in 1946 when he came back.

In 1999 Carey was first diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and he and Thelma decided to go into a retirement nursing home. There his competitive instincts continued to flourish. He prided himself on being king of Scrabble and was still a gifted chess player. Parkinson's led to the broncho-pneumonia which finally killed him.

Peter Carey was a remarkable man – a war hero, a peacetime civil servant of exceptional ability, and then a successful banker and businessman. But above all he was a great family man, deeply attached to his wife Thelma, his three daughters, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Patrick Shovelton

Sir Peter Carey, soldier, civil servant, banker: born Portsmouth 26 July 1923; Board of Trade, 1953, Principal Private Secretary to successive Presidents 1960–64, Assistant Secretary, 1963–67, Under-Secretary 1967–69; Ministry of Technology, Under-Secretary 1969–71; Cabinet Office, Deputy Secretary 1971–73; DTI, Second Permanent Secretary 1973–76, Permanent Secretary 1976–83; CB 1972; KCB 1976; GCB in 1982; married 1946 Thelma (three daughters); died Cranleigh, Surrey 4 February 2011.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape