OBITUARY : Lord Colyton

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Of the three careers in diplomacy, politics and business of Henry Hopkinson, first Baron Colyton, it is hard not to conclude that he was happiest in the first, although he also enjoyed a fascinating time in Africa in the 1960s.

The high point of his political career, as Minister of State for Colonial Affairs between 1952 and 1955, was a period of great anxiety and disturbance in the colonies, "about as tough and challenging a task as you will find", to quote his friend and chief Oliver Lyttelton, later Viscount Chandos. There was the emergency in Malaya, the Central African Federation with which Colyton was closely associated, Kenya with the convulsion of Mau- Mau, Nigeria, Uganda, British Guiana, Malta and Cyprus.

In an unsympathetic review of Colyton's memoir up to the end of his diplomatic career in 1946, Occasion, Chance and Change (1993), Enoch Powell chose to enlarge on the subject of "the Cyprus Never", which was not mentioned in the book since it did not come up until 1954. "Never say never" may be wise advice and, strictly speaking, despite the jibes of the Opposition, Hopkinson did not. When in that year he addressed the House of Commons on the question of independence for Cyprus he was presenting the policy of the Government, agreed in Cabinet, in words which Lyttelton, his senior minister, would have used had he been there: "The question of the abrogation of British sovereignty cannot arise . . . British sovereignty will remain."

As the historian Andrew Roberts responded to Powell, Britain still, 40 years on, has two sovereign bases on Cyprus and "the presence of alien troops on the northern part of the island rather obviates Mr Powell's claim that Cyprus is today's sovereign, self-governing nation". Powell was, however, correct to say that Hopkinson was "standing at a pivotal point in political history, a point where the imperial past and post- imperial present met", and that he deserves "a moment of respectful reflection".

Born in 1902, Hopkinson spent his early life at Duntisbourne House near Cirencester (he spelt it "Ciceter"), a house which he loved. When it was sold in 1916, he and his two brothers, to whom he was devoted, moved with their parents to London: "For me it was sheer tragedy. I never quite got over it; I felt lost - my roots gone." He had a strong sense of place, a feeling for houses.

From Eton, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge. His half-American mother was determined that Henry should be fluent in French (he was bilingual from the age of two) as she wanted him to go into the diplomatic service. In the examination he came fourth and there were only two places. Luckily there were two withdrawals and he was in.

His first appointment, in 1924, was as third secretary in Washington, where he was private secretary to the ambassador, Sir Esme Howard. Hopkinson was devoted to his chief and his "serene, beautiful and outspoken" Italian wife. Sir Esme he found "the model of the perfect diplomat", with the ability to make all feel equally at home and welcome. In America he met his future wife, Alice Labouisse Eno, whose father, a professor at Princeton University, had no connection with fruit salts. She was golden-haired, lithe, and had a direct manner which proved a great asset when she campaigned for him at Taunton, where he was first elected MP in 1950.

On their return to London in 1929, two years after their marriage, they rented a house in Belgravia from the Marquess and Marchioness of Willingdon and he recalled the latter's passion for mauve: all the sheets, pillowcases, towels, even the curtains and carpets, were mauve. No better corroboration could be found of Sir Edwin Lutyens's complaint of what Lady Willingdon did to Viceroy's Lodge in Delhi. He called her "a mauvais sujet".

In 1931 the Hopkinsons were posted to Stockholm. There they met Alexandra Stjernstedt, who married his brother John and was the mother of the late Marika Hanbury-Tenison, the cookery writer, who was devoted to her uncle Henry. They enjoyed the annual feasting on crayfish in August and, for all the lightness of touch in describing his time in Sweden, Hopkinson played a useful part in the great improvement of relations between the two countries which was to pay off in the Second World War.

Returning in 1932 to London, Hopkinson worked as Assistant Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary, Sir John Simon, whom he criticises for procrastination. Again they were lucky in their menage, finding a small Queen Anne house in Westminster, a nanny for their son, Nicky, who was to stay with them for 40 years, and their butler, Peachey, from Gloucestershire, who had a sangfroid and a wit to cope with any emergency.

After service in Athens in 1938 came their purchase of Netherton Hall near Colyton in east Devon in 1939. "The position, the view, the garden, the stables, the farm acreage, and, above all, the price, were just right." Tudor/Jacobean, with mullioned windows, it was his "heart's desire". It filled the gap left by Duntisbourne. Hopkinson owned it for 35 years and it was to have the advantage of being within easy reach of his constituency. Netherton was the ideal of a country house.

Sir Alec Cadogan, the Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, chose Hopkinson to be his private secretary in succession to Gladwyn Jebb in 1940. Hopkinson's portrait of Cadogan confirms the character of the author of the 1971 Diaries: calm, shrewd, with a gentle welcoming smile, and caustic wit. They worked well together until in June 1941 Cadogan recorded, "Henry H. has been recommended as his [Oliver Lyttelton's] assistant! This really is the limit, but, as a patriot, I must agree to the best man going, to prevent the thing being a flop. But it's the devil. I shall take Loxley."

Lyttelton was then Minister of State in the Middle East. Peter Loxley, tragically killed in 1945, was the star of the Foreign Office, widely tipped by his colleagues one day to succeed Cadogan as Permanent Under-Secretary, which shows how highly Hopkinson was rated - although he himself considered Roger Makins (now Lord Sherfield) "the most brilliant brain of my generation".

Hopkinson worked in Cairo for two years, and was then posted to Lisbon, where he was able to help in the negotiations which secured the air-base at Terceira in the Azores, and from there as Deputy British High Commissioner in Italy from 1944 until 1946.

Sadly Hopkinson's 1993 memoir ends with his diplomatic career, so we do not have his account of his period in politics. (He planned a sequel but only two chapters were completed and those dealt with Africa.) In 1946 Sir Anthony Eden, "a much-maligned man", asked him to join the Conservative Parliamentary Secretariat and Research Department, where he found Iain Macleod, Reginald Maudling and Enoch Powell. The four of them were all elected to Parliament in 1950.

Following the next general election in 1951, Hopkinson was given junior office in Churchill's second and last government, first as Secretary for Overseas Trade and then, at the request of Oliver Lyttelton, now Secretary of State for the Colonies, as Minister of State for Colonial Affairs from 1952.

On Hopkinson's resignation in December 1955, Eden offered him the Governor- generalship of Nigeria or the post of High Commissioner in Australia, but Hopkinson declined and went to the Lords.

His warm personal support for the Central African Federation led to work for the Joint East and Central African Board from 1960 until 1965. He served as chairman of Tanganyika Concessions from 1966 to 1972. Every year he would travel for three months in Africa, and from his wide knowledge of the countries and their leaders he gained a reputation as an authority on the continent.

Henry Colyton possessed initiative and courage. He was delightful company, courteous, shrewd, well-informed, winning and, as his memoir reveals, knowledgeable and prepared to point out what may no longer be fashionable. With Lord Chandos, he set high store by good manners and enjoyed an ease and urbanity to the end.

Ian Lowe

Henry Lennox d'Aubigne Hopkinson, diplomat, politician and businessman: born 3 January 1902; CMG 1944; Deputy British High Commissioner in Italy and Vice-President, Allied Control Commission 1944-46; Head of Conservative Parliamentary Secretariat and Joint Director, Conservative Research Department 1946-50; MP (Conservative) for Taunton 1950-56; Secretary for Overseas Trade 1951-52; PC 1952; Minister of State for Colonial Affairs 1952-55; created 1956 Baron Colyton; married 1927 Alice Eno (died 1953; one son and one daughter deceased), 1956 Barbara Addams (nee Barb); died Monte Carlo 6 January 1996.