Viscount Mountgarret

Outspoken president of Yorkshire CCC
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The Independent Online

Richard Henry Piers Butler, landowner and cricket administrator: born 8 November 1936; succeeded 1966 as 17th Viscount Mountgarret; President, Yorkshire County Cricket Club 1984-90; married 1960 Gillian Buckley (two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1970), 1970 Jennifer Fattorini (née Wills; marriage dissolved 1983), 1983 Ruth Waddington (née Porter); died Harrogate, North Yorkshire 7 February 2004.

Viscount Mountgarret was notorious for discharging a shotgun at a hot-air balloon as it flew over his shoot but is better remembered in his county for his presidency of Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

His tenure was a surprising success. In 1984, after the former England captain Norman Yardley had resigned from the office, disheartened by the decade-long controversy over Geoffrey Boycott's role in the club, the pro-Boycott general committee cast around for a Yorkshireman of stature to give the club a high-profile figurehead and, they hoped, their government some needed popularity.

Among names publicised were Lord Hanson, the former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Sir James Hill and Michael Parkinson. It was rumoured that Reg Kirk, then chairman, spent his evenings thumbing through Debrett's. The choice fell upon Lord Mountgarret, who was known to be a keen cricketer, an Eton Rambler and member of MCC, whose management of his estate near Ripon would allow him time to take an interest in club affairs.

What he was not, as a member of the Butler family, who had won the title pacifying Ulster in medieval times, was an absentee landlord. He startled the 1985 annual general meeting, and won a standing ovation from members, by banging a bat on the table and declaring: "I will always put the club first. Will you?"

If necessary, he added to cheers, he was prepared to "knock a few heads together". Members and public rallied to an outspoken man who had no ties or loyalties to the two opposing groups within the club, the pro-Boycott Yorkshire Members 1984 and the anti-Boycott Cricket Devotees. He warned:

What I deprecate is that certain members have resorted to actions that undermine the running of the club. Eventually it might be necessary to suspend members from the committee.

He held talks with both groups, encouraged the drawing-up of a new constitution that would remove the controversial "dual role" of Boycott (he was both a member of committee and a contracted player) which, when instituted, left the club in charge of a management committee chaired by the President. It was endorsed by an overwhelming 92 per cent of those in the hall at the 1986 AGM. As Boycott's playing career merged into a new future in the media his influence, and that of his many supporters, was less noticeable.

In more peaceful times Mountgarret, like Churchill, was less successful, but, when he was replaced as President by Sir Leonard Hutton in 1990, he could claim to have done Yorkshire a considerable service, saving them from such a schism that one national newspaper had decided could only be resolved by the creation of two county cricket clubs, Boycottshire and Othershire.

Born in 1936, Richard Henry Piers Butler was educated at Eton, became a Guards officer and in 1966 succeeded his father as the 17th Viscount Mountgarret. He came to public attention in 1982 when he was fined for firing at a balloon advertising a building society. "What do you think you're playing at?" he shouted at the hapless pilot, who was hit in the neck by pellets.

Five years later, he launched a campaign for the reintroduction of the death penalty for certain crimes; during one House of Lords debate he called for the castration of rapists. In 1995 his Bill to put the UK on Central European Time was passed in the Lords, but it never reached the Commons.

A former gamekeeper successfully took Mountgarret to court in 1999 for unfair dismissal, describing his "unpredictable, irrational and intolerable rages". Last year, when his third wife, Ruth, left him, he was again in the press when a nameless person "close to the couple" announced, "All her friends are celebrating."

Derek Hodgson

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