The Earl of Carnarvon

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Henry George Reginald Molyneux Herbert, racing manager: born Highclere, Hampshire 19 January 1924; styled Baron Porchester 1924-87; Chairman, Game Conservancy 1960-67, Vice-President 1967-2001; Chairman, Thoroughbred Breeders' Association 1964-66, President 1969-74, 1986-91; County Alderman, Hampshire County Council 1965-74, Vice-Chairman 1971-74, Honorary Alderman 1997; Racing Manager to the Queen 1969-2001; Chairman, South East Economic Planning Council 1971-79; Chairman, Stallion Advisory Committee to Betting Levy Board 1974-86; KBE 1976; Chairman, Agricultural Research Council 1978-82; Chairman, Standing Conference on Countryside Sports 1978-2001; KCVO 1982; Chairman, Newbury Racecourse 1986-98; succeeded 1987 as seventh Earl of Carnarvon; Chairman, London and South East Regional Planning Conference 1989-2001; Chairman, House of Lords All-Party London Group 1993-2001; elected a Member of the House of Lords 1999; married 1956 Jean Wallop (two sons, one daughter); died Winchester 11 September 2001.

It would barely have mattered what he had done with the rest of his life; the reputation of Henry George Reginald Molyneux Herbert, the seventh Earl of Carnarvon, was sealed by the much-criticised events of August 1988. Fairly or not, he is known as the man who sacked the Queen's trainer Dick Hern, already confined to a wheelchair after an earlier hunting accident, as he lay recovering in a London hospital from double heart surgery.

The tight-knit racing community was horrified by Carnarvon's apparently cruel and insensitive approach to Hern's situation. Having not only decided that Hern was too ill to continue training, he was alleged also to have attempted to evict Hern and his wife Shelagh from the tied cottage they lived in at the Queen's West Ilsley stables in Berkshire.

As Hern lay ill in hospital, Carnarvon – the Queen's racing manager – is said to have summoned Shelagh to a meeting at his house in Highclere and told her of the sacking. Hern was later to describe that practice as "a dirty trick". He and his wife insisted that three of the five doctors who had examined Hern predicted a robust recovery; Carnarvon countered that the opinions of the two doctors who disagreed – the royal surgeon Sir John Batten and the Jockey Club medical officer Michael Allen – were the ones that mattered.

The incident became a cause célèbre that graduated quickly from the racing pages to the front pages, resulting, to the horror of her advisers, in adverse publicity for the Queen. Eventually, Hern was persuaded to convene some senior racing reporters and tell them that the hostile coverage of his sacking had to die down. The Herns were to receive a letter from the Queen saying they could continue to live at their house, the Old Rectory. Hern was able to continue his training career after Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum, part of the Dubai ruling family who had become so heavily involved in British racing, bought and developed another stable for him nearby.

No doubt to Carnarvon's considerable discomfort, Hern actually trained the following year's 2,000 Guineas and Derby winner, Nashwan, from his new yard. The reception from the racegoing public at Newmarket afforded Nashwan and Hern after the Guineas triumph gave a clear indication of the widespread disapproval of Carnarvon's actions.

It was hard to believe in the bitter aftermath that Carnarvon and Hern had actually been extremely close friends. Carnarvon had been the Queen's racing manager since 1969. He once described Hern as the best trainer the Queen had employed. Certainly, the two men presided over a series of golden results for the Queen. In 1974, her home-bred filly Highclere won the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket and the French Oaks at Chantilly.

Ironically, Highclere's daughter Height of Fashion was the dam of Nashwan, the third of three Derby winners for Hern. Carnarvon had controversially advised the Queen to sell that mare to Hamdan al- Maktoum for a sum reported to be £1m. Height of Fashion's value as a broodmare was confirmed not just by the successes of Nashwan but several of his half-brothers, too. She proved to be an outstanding addition to Sheikh Hamdan's stud, and, had she been retained, might well have provided the Queen with the Derby winner that she has always sought but never achieved. However, the Queen has always set out to make her racing and breeding operations commercially viable, and Carnarvon's advice to sell at such an extravagant price, although criticised in some quarters, is hard to dispute.

Besides, the Queen was producing high-quality horses at the time, signalled in her Silver Jubilee Year by Dunfermline, who gave her owner another Classic success in the St Leger, narrowly beating the subsequent Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Alleged.

The fortunes of the Queen's horses declined considerably in the 1980s and 1990s, hampered considerably by her inability to use Irish-based stallions because of the then political climate. There have been signs recently of a return to form, particularly with the placing in this year's Oaks of Flight of Fancy.

Even then, though, Carnarvon found himself the subject of further adverse publicity when describing the riding given to Flight of Fancy by Kieren Fallon in her prep race at York as "awful".

Carnarvon, a close friend of the Queen as well as her racing manager, had suffered further discomfort in October 1999 when Lord Huntingdon, the trainer he had earmarked to succeed Hern, announced he was quitting West Ilsley stables because he could no long afford to continue training after suffering three years of financial loss. West Ilsley was then put on the market and sold to the former footballer Mick Channon, now a highly successful trainer.

Carnarvon ran his own successful breeding operation at Highclere Stud, based at his family's Burghclere seat. Like the Queen, he sought to make the operation pay financially, and also had to sell some of his best horses, including the dazzlingly fast filly Lyric Fantasy.

He was an important and innovative racing adminstrator, developing the Pattern system, for grading the best races in Europe, and as chairman of Newbury helped revive the fortunes of his local course.

His second son, Harry, has also made his mark in racing as the manager of a number of highly successful ownership syndicates, winning big races with the filly Petrushka and sprinter Tamarisk.

Away from racing, Carnarvon's family will always be closely linked to the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 by his grandfather the fifth Earl and Howard Carter. Four months after the discovery, Carnarvon died in Cairo of a mosquito bite, sparking the now well-known speculation about a curse of Tutankhamun. Many artefacts from the tomb are contained at Highclere Castle, the family home since the early 18th century. The fifth Earl also founded the Highclere Stud, where the 1930 Derby winner Blenheim was bred, which Carnarvon took over and modernised in 1978.

The seventh Earl was an active crossbench peer, who retained his seat in the Lords after the 1999 reforms, and who undertook many public duties in local government and politics, including as a Hampshire County Councillor. He was particularly involved in town planning and nature conservation.

His support for the controversial Newbury bypass was questioned when it emerged that he stood to gain financially from the sale of land for development, something which Carnarvon denied.

Another sale, that of the rights to lordship of a manor, caused him embarrassment when the new owner decided to charge local residents for access rights.

Richard Griffiths

 

Lord Carnarvon was a different man from his father, the sixth Earl, who has passed into contemporary history as the author of two colourful volumes of memoirs, No Regrets (1976) and Ermine Tales (1980), and the star of a number of racy television interviews in the 1970s, all of which were richly enjoyed by everyone with the possible exception of his family, writes Hugo Vickers. I suspect that Henry Carnarvon had a difficult relationship with him, since their characters were so diametrically opposed. Cecil Beaton observed this in the late 1940s when the then Lord Porchester showed him round Highclere – the son serious, dedicated and honourably behaved, compared to his diminutive, joke-telling father.

Prince George, later Duke of Kent, was Henry's godfather, and old Porchey – both father and son were nicknamed after their courtesy title – wrote in his memoirs:

Of one thing I was determined: my son, and my daughter Penelope, who was to follow him, would never lack love and affection. There would be no repetition of the wretched and outmoded parent-child relationship of my youth.

Henry was 15 when war was declared and promptly joined the LDV (Home Guard) as a mounted runner. At Eton he was a Corporal in the Cadet Corps and was one of a small group who spotted a small plane landing on Agars Plough (the cricket ground). He proceeded to arrest the passenger, who announced himself (truthfully) to be Major G.O. Allen, who had played cricket for England. They were sure he was a German spy. He had in fact escaped from Dunkirk.

At the age of 17, Henry undertook a mechanic's course at Wheeler's in Newbury, which served him well when he joined the Household Cavalry, and was presently posted to the 1st Household Cavalry Regiment, serving in the Middle East.

His father took him for a ride round Highclere before he sailed, and urged him to remember that "a live subaltern was better than a dead VC". He served in Cairo, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Palestine and later Italy, returning to Britain in October 1944. He was part of the Sovereign's Escort in the procession for the VE Day service of thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral. Invalided out of the Army in 1947, he went to the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s he was part of the "Margaret set" and one of those who took part in the high society amateur production of The Frog in 1954, of which the American columnist Elsa Maxwell wrote:

Henry Porchester never forgot to flatten his vowels in true Cockney style and he never for once lapsed out of character; it was really an outstanding performance.

His public interests were widely spread. He was Chairman of Hampshire County Council from 1973 to 1977, and then High Steward of Winchester. He was Chairman of Serplan (the London and South East Regional Planning Conference) from 1989, and of the Standing Conference Countryside Sports from 1978. I remember lunching with him once, and how he went willingly many times to the telephone to deal with a minor but demanding crisis on a nearby housing estate.

While he might well have preferred to remain in the countryside, he was an active member of numerous committees in the House of Lords, and a regular attender in the House. In August 1995, he was one of four peers who published Second Chamber, an informal study on reforming the House of Lords. One of its conclusions was that the then House of Lords brought "something distinctive to our politics, if only fortuitously, because of the idiosyncrasy of its composition". The committee pointed out, not without substance, that

the worst upshot would be if reform of the House of Lords were to lead to years of constitutional tinkering and uncertainty, or if we were to exchange the present House for one which was more rational but less effective.

By 2001, although he was one of the hereditary peers elected to serve in the revised chamber of 1999, he was resigned to ultimate removal. Likewise, he understood better than many the dangers to the countryside of the Bill to ban hunting with dogs, while aware that such arguments would hold little sway at Westminster. He thus directed his attack to the infringement of human rights and liberties.

In his relatively short time as Earl of Carnarvon, he opened Highclere Castle, that imposing Victorian edifice by Sir Charles Barry shaded by giant cedar trees, to the general public and established it for use for corporate functions and even weddings. He was zealous in using it to support local charities. He was a keen supporter of the North Hampshire Hospital, and held an evening there to display the latest advances in keyhole surgery.

Each year he adopted a charity. In 1999 he selected the Living Paintings Trust, an organisation which produces pictures in three dimensions, to bring them to life for visually impaired children and youngsters. He loaned them Highclere for their 10th anniversary, made a personal donation, and enabled them to raise over £100,000. The Mask of Tutankhamun from his grandfather's collection was turned into one of their raised images.

In 1956 he had married Jean Wallop, from Wyoming, whose brother is an American senator. There was one line in his father's book that was unquestionably true:

Blessed by three glorious children, this has proved to be one of the truly happy marriages which, alas, are so rare in this day and age.

The Carnarvons did not live in the castle, but in another house on the estate, particular in that the front door opened to a tiny piece of land and then Milford Lake, stretching into the far distance, a haven of Arcadian peace and beauty. Here the Queen sometimes stayed with him, and he once related how he had driven her to a stud, arriving early. Aware that those who awaited them would be on time – but not early – they sat incongruously in a lay-by to await the exact hour of arrival.

Lady Carnarvon was founder of the Newbury Festival, which greatly enriched the musical life in the Newbury area, Highclere being the setting for memorable concerts.

The sudden loss of Lord Carnarvon will be felt widely in Hampshire. He should have been, and no doubt would have been, a Knight of the Garter.

Comments