Obituaries Sir Charles Irving

Charles Irving, the former MP, was the most splendid of company. He was a dedicated gossip, never mind whether the gossip was wholly true or not. He was, in an avuncular way, a friend to all. He was inclined to turn every exchange into a joke as, for example, in his riposte to Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman when she sought to interrupt him in the House of Commons: "If you were the only girl in the world, And I were the only boy- I would not give way to you."

On the other hand, he was a man of prodigious (and efficient) industry. He put his name, and his management skills, at the disposal of any number of good causes, particularly to that of the refurbishment (financial as well as physical) of the catering facilities of the House of Commons. "Ah," said a colleague when, as Chairman of the Commons Catering Committee, he first turned in a profit on the operations of the non- parliamentary activities, "but you've only done what Maxwell did". The remark was not seriously meant, but it was seriously taken. "Maxwell was a thief and a liar," Irving exploded. "Are you saying I'm either?" His allusion was to the exceptionally "creative" accounting methods Robert Maxwell used to balance the committee's books when he was chairman: they included selling all the fine wines stocked over the years by the committee - to himself, at a price which it would be exceptionally polite to call advantageous.

The lineaments of Charles Irving's adult character can readily be discerned in his family background. His mother was an actress and an extrovert with a passion for popular and worthy causes: she took the 13-year-old Charles to join a picket outside Gloucester prison to protest against capital punishment in general, and the impending fate of a then inmate in particular. Charles's father was a much quieter soul, revelling in business administration and, in particular, in the development of the original Irving Hotel into a chain of agreeable hostelries.

Charles Irving was miserable at both his schools, Glengarth, in Cheltenham, and Lucton, in Hereford. He evinced no academic bent and when he tried to join the Army he was turned down on the grounds of being insufficiently robust. He tried the Home Guard, but was a good deal less than successful in those ranks, the highlight of his career being the accidental stabbing of a colleague in the hindquarters with a bayonet. It was with relief as well as pleasure that he turned to the family business: he became chairman in 1949.

He also threw himself into local politics. He was elected to the Cheltenham Borough Council in 1947, and to the Gloucestershire County Council the following year. He did two stints as local mayor, in 1958 and 1971. The friendships and alliances he formed over 30 years served him well in the general election of October 1974, when he succeeded the retiring member, Douglas Dodds-Parker.

Local government had begun to pall, and Irving had hankered after a role on the national stage. He made two unsuccessful attempts (in admittedly unwinnable seats) before success came his way at Cheltenham. Once in the House, however, his zeal proved inexhaustible, his range of interests manifold, and his independence of mind formidable. He was a founder member of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, and of the National Victims' Association. He campaigned tirelessly for the improvement of conditions within prisons; he campaigned too against cuts in the National Health Service, for greater provision for the homeless and the mentally ill.

More spectacularly, he rebelled against the Government's decision to de-unionise GCHQ, which was in his constituency, and it was said that the only subject on which he and Margaret Thatcher agreed was Europe, he being the most profound of Eurosceptics. He was, in the most amiable sense, a Little Englander. When he became chairman of the Catering Committee, he insisted that all menus be printed solely in English, that French mineral water should be banished, and that wholesome English fare should predominate. With all this went a vast expansion of the House of Commons kiosk service, including the provision (which delighted him) of Commons humbug and Commons fudge.

Yet this seemingly hyperactive man liked nothing better than to curl up with a thriller and a large cigar. He claimed - this Caesar of committees and St George of the disadvantaged - to be too shy to propose marriage, though he enjoyed a warm, Platonic friendship with Dame Janet Fookes for many years.

In 1992 Irving decided that he had had enough of the House of Commons, with which institution he had become deeply disillusioned. He retired to his own concerns, leaving behind him a feeling that a lamp had gone out, that mirth was diminished, and that a different breed of politician had taken over.

Patrick Cosgrave

Charles Graham Irving, politician: born 6 May 1923; Mayor of Cheltenham 1958-60, 1971-72; MP (Conservative) for Cheltenham 1974-92; Chairman, Select Committee on Catering 1979-92; Chairman, All Party Mental Health Committee 1979-92; Kt 1990; died 30 March 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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 People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor