Obituary: Sir John Tilney
Wednesday 27 April 1994
JOHN TILNEY was one of the most amiable and worthy of men. He was free with his time and advice to people younger and less experienced than himself, as I found to my great benefit when I was working in Margaret Thatcher's private office during the years of opposition between 1975 and 1979. His wife, Guinevere, was, during this period, an adviser to the Leader of the Opposition (and did much to ensure the smooth progress of the Thatcher tours) and he used frequently to turn up at the House of Commons with her. Like many former MPs (he left the House in February 1974) he liked the flavour of the Palace of Westminster, and nothing better than a quiet drink with old chums such as Airey Neave. But he also drew into the warmth of his personality all the other members of the Private Office: his avuncular character and sage advice was both a delight and a benefit to all of us.
John Tilney was born into a military family: his father reached the rank of Colonel, and won a DSO. He also married into a family: his wife's father, Sir Hamilton Grant Bt, was a distinguished Indian civil servant, and she was the widow of an army captain. Tilney served in the Second World War throughout its duration, was mentioned in despatches, and awarded the Croix de Guerre. But it was after the war was over that he came into his own.
Politics had always been a preoccupation of his and, in 1950, he won the seat of Liverpool Wavertree for the Conservatives. His political force - at least at a local level - was shown by the fact that he held this most intractable seat for nearly 25 years. He was concerned, above all, with defence and the Commonwealth. For four years from 1951 he served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for War. He was then PPS to the Postmaster-General and to the Minister of Transport.
Conservative Party and Commonwealth affairs preoccupied him until the end of the long illness which eventually killed him. He served in office again as Secretary of State for the Commonwealth and Colonies in the dying years of the Conservative government first elected in 1951. But he was, then and thereafter, involved in a plethora of activities. He was Chairman of the Conservative Commonwealth Council - a thankless task if ever there was one; Treasurer of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Council from 1968 to 1970. He sat, moreover, on the executive committee of the Conservative National Union, and he chaired the committee charged with commissioning and erecting the statue of Winston Churchill that now stands in Parliament Square. There were, as well, many boards and organisations to serve in Liverpool itself. But perhaps, out of these and many other activities, that which gave him greatest pleasure was his chairmanship and presidency of the Airey Neave Memorial Trust, set up after Neave was murdered by the IRA in 1979. Neave had been a great and dear friend. Tilney was loyal to him, and to his memory.
It is as a man humorous and affable, loyal and devoted, that John Tilney will be remembered.
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