EVELYN KING, a man of great stamina and restless energy, gave his all to the varied occupations he followed in a long and active life. He was a schoolmaster, a Member of Parliament - unusually for both the Labour and Conservative parties - a journalist, a soldier, a farmer, and a businessman. His former constituents in Cornwall and Dorset will always remember him as 'the perfect MP' and his former pupils will remember him with affection as a wise headmaster with charisma and compassion.
Evelyn King was the youngest of four children of Harry Percy King and Winifred Paulet. His father was a civil servant, and his maternal grandfather had taken part in the Charge of the Light Brigade. After Cheltenham College he went on to King's College, Cambridge, and read for the Bar at the Inner Temple. The journalistic seed was sown at Cambridge when he was University Correspondent for the Sunday Times, and politics were germinated when he was active in the League of Nations Union.
Schoolmastering had begun before Cambridge, but it became a career when in 1933 he accepted the headmastership of Craigend Park School, near Edinburgh, at the age of 26. 'The youngest headmaster in the country', said the press and, when asked his objectives, King replied, 'It is going to be a school which produces good husbands.' Having put Craigend into a viable position he turned south and looked again at Clayesmore School, in Iwerne Minster, Dorset, which obviously had potential but was then in difficulties. In 1935 King bought Clayesmore in an astute deal, which showed the emergence of the businessman, and with unstinting vigour, ably supported by his wife, Hermione, set about putting the school on its feet. The 90 pupils rose to 200 and he turned it into a limited company, with a former parent, Sir Harold Bellman - Chairman of Abbey National Building Society - as Chairman of the Board of Governors. Today, Clayesmore School is a leading coeducational public and preparatory school with nearly 700 pupils.
In 1939 King visited Austria and Germany, saw what Hitler was doing, and returned home convinced that Britain was in dire danger. He was contemptuous of Neville Chamberlain's egotism and his appeasement policy, worried by what was happening in Czechoslovakia and in his autobiography, Closest Correspondence (1989), he noted, 'All this strengthened my view that Clayesmore could not be my life's work.' The Second World War intervened and at the outbreak he was immediately commissioned, being on the Reserve of Officers. Within a short time he was Acting Lieutenant-Colonel in the Gloucestershire Regiment, in charge of aerodrome defence. By 1941 many older officers were returning to civilian life and King was soon back at Clayesmore, which he found in good hands, and thoughts turned to politics.
King had a chance meeting with Herbert Morrison, who talked about the Labour Party with its influence weakened by the wartime coalition. Recalling the pre-war coal strikes, poverty, unemployment and Chamberlain's record, King resolved to 'fight the Tories'. He was selected as the Labour candidate for Penryn and Falmouth in Cornwall, a seat which he won in the 1945 General Election with a majority of nearly 2,800. He had hoped to be involved in education, but in 1947 accepted the appointment of Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. He attacked the job with his usual enthusiasm but disillusionment soon set in. The Boundary Commission abolished his constituency and, in 1950, he failed to win a seat at Poole in Dorset. Labour had become Socialist, he saw the mistakes of nationalisation, and resigned from the Labour Party.
For a short time he took on another school, Embley Park, near Romsey, in Hampshire, and bought the Embley estate (the former home of Florence Nightingale), where he was able to farm. An interest in politics remained and, having joined the Conservative Party, he contested the Southampton (Itchen) seat in 1959 without
In the 1964 general election he was elected MP for Dorset South, winning the seat from Labour. He remained there, with steadily increasing majorities, until his retirement in 1979.
King was a real constituency MP: 'across the deal table' in evening surgeries he became involved in the problems of pensioners, servicemen, farmers and many others. He disliked petty bureaucracy and intransigent local authorities. Another target was the BBC, for its alleged portrayal of violence and biased reporting. He wrote for newspapers and magazines, and often appeared in the letters columns.
When canvassing for Labour in 1945, he was driven around Cornwall by an ex-pupil in an old Rolls Royce with a sign on the back 'This car is like the Tory Party - out of date'. In South Dorset in 1964, as a Tory, he owned a Bentley, which some considered ostentatious - King's comment was that one should not conceal one's origins nor pretend to be anything one is not. He was a great personality and loved by many of all ages. A fascinating conversationalist, a wise thinker and a deeply committed Christian, he took great care to understand and help his fellow man.