Obituary: Lord Bonham-Carter

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The Independent Online
Mark Raymond Bonham Carter, publisher and politician: born 11 February 1922; served Grenadier Guards 1941-45; contested Barnstaple (Liberal) 1945; director, William Collins and Co 1955-58; MP (Liberal) for Torrington 1958-59; member, UK Delegation to the Council of Europe 1958-59; director, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden 1958-82; governor, Royal Ballet 1960-85, chairman of governors 1985-94; contested Torrington (Liberal) 1964; chairman, Race Relations Board 1966-70; chairman, Community Relations Commission 1971-77; joint chairman, Anglo- Polish Round Table Conference 1971- 91; vice-president, Consumers Association 1972-94; vice-chairman and governor, BBC 1975-81; created 1986 Baron Bonham-Carter; married 1955 Leslie St Just (nee Nast; three daughters, and one stepdaughter); died Bussento, Italy 4 September 1994.

THERE used to be a game in which words were attributed to friends of a kind that they would be most unlikely to use and that exactly contradicted their characters, writes Sir Nicholas Henderson. For Mark Bonham Carter the phrases invariably put into his mouth ran something like this: 'Well, of course, I quite agree with what you are saying but there's something to be said on both sides of the question . . .'

There was nothing wishy-washy about Mark in word or deed. The proud bearer of the Liberal principles, the eloquence, the integrity and the looks and the pallor of the Asquiths, he was courageously outspoken in support of his beliefs. Politics was the impulse of his being and if he suffered the inevitable slings of Liberal misfortune I think it could be said of him, as he said of his brother-in-

law Jo Grimond, that he did much to keep the flame of Liberalism alight in this country when it was politically fashionable to think that it was guttering.

For 20 years he ran the British side of the Anglo-Polish Conference which kept alive the links between the two countries when political relations were frozen by the Cold War. It was not a glamorous task but he stuck to it and inspired it with his own particular blend of aloof enthusiasm.

He cared passionately about the arts, particularly the ballet. He was scholarly in his knowledge of literature and, as a member of Index, he fought for the freedom of writers world-wide alongside such luminaries as Stephen Spender, David Astor and Ronald Dworkin.

Notwithstanding this worthy and earnest side of his character, Mark was a great enjoyer and imparter of enjoyment to others. His humour was inextinguishable and he applied it to the serious things of life without thereby thinking that it made him any less serious. Indeed he had the traditional British view that there was no smarter political weapon than humour.

He loved company and, let there be no ambivalence about it, wine, women and song. He was a keen if unorthodox dancer. He loved talk, notably debunking talk, and his friends will remember the spirit he applied to this, ever more abrasive as the night wore on.

If he became more critical and combative with age he was remarkably unbitter about his failure to achieve the political success that had been expected of him; and he evidently found some justifiable sense of fulfilment in his recent active role in the House of Lords.

Many are those who sensed in Mark Bonham Carter an antique faith in personal friendship which was as unshakeable as the many public principles for which he stood, and for which he will be widely remembered.

(Photograph omitted)