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Obituary: Sir John Langford-Holt

John Anthony Langford-Holt, politician: born Studdale, Waldershare, Kent 30 June 1916; MP (Conservative) for Shrewsbury 1945-83; Secretary, Conservative Parliamentary Labour Committee 1945-50; Chairman, Anglo-Austrian Society 1960-63, 1971-82; Kt 1962; Chairman, Select Committee on Defence 1979-81; Chancellor, Primrose League 1989-92; married 1944 Elisabeth Newstadtl (marriage dissolved 1950); 1953 Flora Stuart (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1969); 1984 Irene Kerr; died London 23 July 1993.

THERE WAS one curious side to John Langford-Holt's application to the Shrewsbury Constituency Conservative Association which led to his becoming MP for Shrewsbury in 1945. Most constituency associations hope that their MP will one day hold office, for office reflects glory on their judgement in selection. Langford-Holt, however, made it absolutely clear that he did not want ministerial office, and would not accept it if it was offered. They none the less went ahead, and gave him the nomination and he served them well for 38 years.

Langford-Holt had flown during the Second World War, first with a Hurricane squadron based in Norfolk during the Battle of Britain and then as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm, rising to the rank of lieutenant-commander. He was, for the most part, employed in providing escort and intelligence service during the Battle of the Atlantic to the transatlantic convoys which carried vital American supplies to Britain.

John Langford-Holt was born in 1916, in Kent, but his parents later moved to Shropshire, the home county of the Holts. Like the rest of his family he was educated at Shrewsbury School. His wartime exploits made him something of a local hero and Shrewsbury seemed the natural constituency to apply for. He succeeded in gaining the Conservative nomination, and won the seat in the Labour landslide in 1945. During the war he had married an attractive Austrian wife, Elisabeth Newstadtl and, while they were divorced in 1950, he retained a lifelong interest in matters Austrian and had two periods of office as Chairman of the Anglo-Austrian Society.

Langford-Holt's lack of desire for office in no way implied idleness, nor a desire simply to be a backwoodsman. Comfortably off from his involvement in the family brewing business, Holt's, he devoted himself with zest and dedication to a bewildering variety of interests, both at home and abroad.

He was made Secretary of the Conservative Parliamentary Labour Committee immediately upon this election to Parliament. He served on a string of international bodies and, at one time or another, on the Parliamentary Science Committee, the Estimates Committee, the Expenditure Committee, and the Select Committee on Defence. His energy was enormous, his attention to detail exceptional; and his humour infectious.

But perhaps one of his most interesting undertakings was one that had nothing to do with committees. After the Conservative defeat of 1945, Winston Churchill was melancholy and, after his resignation as prime minister in 1955, he became increasingly feeble. The Tory Whips decided that the great man required constant attention in the House, and physical and social attention when necessary. Thus, they selected a small group of Tory backbenchers to look after him when he was attending Parliament. Langford- Holt was the most assiduous of this group, and he became close to his increasingly irascible and intellectually ineffective hero. He carried out his duties until Churchill was too old and too sick to stay on as a Member of Parliament. And he did so uncomplainingly and cheerfully.

John Langford-Holt was a remarkable politician. He never sought anything for himself, but looked only to serve the public interest. He loved Parliament, and he loved politics, but he kept his eye on the work in hand, and not on the glittering prizes. He never wrote memoirs, for he felt no need to justify himself. In that he was right, for his life of service justified him.

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