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.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

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
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home