Sir Victor Le Fanu
Serjeant at Arms in the Commons
Friday 09 February 2007
George Victor Sheridan Le Fanu, soldier and parliamentary officer: born 24 January 1925; Deputy Assistant Serjeant at Arms, House of Commons 1963-76, Assistant Serjeant at Arms 1976-81, Deputy Serjeant at Arms 1981-82, Serjeant at Arms 1982-89; KCVO 1987; married 1956 Elizabeth Hall (three sons); died London 5 February 2007.
Officers of the Department of the Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons have been lampooned as pompous Lord Fauntleroys in tight breeches and ruff collars, wielding maces - totally out of keeping in a modern parliament. Yet the same lampooners have told us that the British public value the traditions, however quaint, of Westminster. The truth is that these men (and now women), in their archaic dress, are hardworking, much put-upon, serious-minded servants of our democracy.
Victor Le Fanu was appointed as Deputy Assistant Serjeant at Arms in 1963, a year after I arrived in Parliament, by the bluff, cheerful, opinionated new Serjeant, Rear-Admiral Sir Sandy Gordon-Lennox. For the next quarter of a century he was my friend and the friend of very many MPs, regardless of party - he was party-blind, ever-patient and obliging to all of us who approached him.
He was promoted Assistant Serjeant in 1976, Deputy Serjeant in 1981 and Serjeant in 1982. At the time of his retirement in 1989 there had only been seven Serjeants at Arms in the previous 100 years. He performed the ceremonial duties of his office with the immaculate dignity of the Coldstream Guards, whose adjutant he once was.
One of his successors, Sir Michael Cummins, Serjeant from 2000 to 2004, recalls him as "thoroughly honourable" and loyal: "He had the interests of every Member at heart, and was assiduous in knowing every Member and their constituency." Another, Sir Peter Jennings, Serjeant from 1995 to 1999, describes him as having all the Huguenot qualities - "self-effacing and very efficient".
Of all Members perhaps I have considerable cause to recollect his kindness and thoughtfulness. In 1984, understandably, on account of the rules that the word "liar" cannot be used, I was thrown out by Mr Speaker for having said that Margaret Thatcher had told a lie over her knowledge of the Peruvian peace proposals before the sinking of the Belgrano in the Falklands War. Two years later, I was again ejected, three times, for having said that Thatcher had told a lie in relation to the selected leaking of the letter of the law officer Sir Patrick Mayhew in relation to the Westland affair.
On each occasion it was the Serjeant at Arms who had to see me off the premises. Victor Le Fanu made sure that I had the facilities to phone my wife, do the necessary and see me into a taxi. His manners and his human kindness were a credit to the officers of the House.
Sir William McKay, Clerk of the House, 1998-2002, characterises Le Fanu as "kind and courteous in all circumstances, but firm when he had to be". All the Clerks' Department enjoyed working with him, says McKay. I know from 43 years' experience that the badge messengers at that time, drawn from army warrant officers and naval petty officers (a discerning group of men), greatly liked Le Fanu and under his leadership ran a security system which was certainly most fit for purpose in its day.
George Victor Sheridan Le Fanu was born in 1925 into the Irish Huguenot family of which the 19th-century writer Sheridan Le Fanu is the most celebrated member; Victor's father, Maj-Gen Roland Le Fanu, was much decorated in the First World War. Leaving Shrewsbury at 17 Victor went straight into the Coldstream Guards. The regimental colonel of the time, Lord Stratheden and Campbell, reported:
He joined the Second Battalion in Italy in May 1944; he was wounded in July. He showed courage in returning to the battalion in September [to fight at Arezzo and for the capture of Perugia] .
After the Second World War, Le Fanu went to Sandhurst as Assistant Adjutant, 1949-52, and served as Adjutant of the Second Battalion, Coldstream Guards, 1952-55. Experience as Staff Captain to the Vice-Quartermaster-General to the Forces and then as GSO2 at Headquarters London District commended him to the House of Commons authorities.
I once asked Victor Le Fanu (a great authority, by the way, on railways; he was a keen trainspotter) whether he was glad to have come to the House rather than have gone on to attain, almost certainly, the rank of general. He gave me an unhesitating and truthful answer. He thought that this was the best service that he could give to the country.
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