Rebecca Tyrrel: 'Powell took up fox hunting for the enticing possibility of breaking his neck'

Share

Who knew that when Enoch Powell, who would have been 100 years old today, was a member of Harold Macmillan's government in the early 1960s, the Prime Minister rearranged the seating plan at the Cabinet table to avoid his gaze? It hardly goes with the SuperMac image, but Macmillan was caught by a colleague furtively moving the Health Secretary's placement card so as to avoid Powell's "mad eyes".

Powell had that effect on many other people, of course, although after the legendary, race-baiting "Rivers of Blood" speech in 1968, for which Edward Heath instantly fired him from the Shadow Cabinet, he became much the most popular politician in the country. The speech has been credited with winning the Tories the 1970 General Election, while his later resignation from the Party and advice to the electorate to vote Labour in 1974 (on anti-European grounds) has been cited as the cause of Heath's defeat in 1974.

Whether Powell was as mad as those piercing blue eyes, or a disregarded prophet in his own land, has been the source of debate for decades, although the lack of blood flowing through the streets of Britain hints at the former. As perhaps does his drama-queen claim about the major sadness of his life.

Living to open his telegram from the Queen today was not an obsession. Powell's greatest regret, he often claimed, was his failure to die in action. "I should have liked to have been killed in the war," he once said. So it was a bit silly then, Enoch, to become an intelligence officer. Such a famously brilliant intellect (a professor of Greek at 25, speaker of more than a dozen languages) could surely have calculated that the odds against death by faulty wiring on an Enigma machine were long.

In later life, he took up fox hunting, though more for the enticing possibility of breaking his neck – he was a reckless jumper of hedges – than the sport itself. His death wish was eventually granted in 1998. He shuffled off the mortal at the grand old age of 85; disappointingly, it was natural causes that got him in the end. If he was wrong about Britain being plagued with race riots on the scale of the American South, he was accurate in predicting that his words would "go up 'fizz' like a rocket", and depressingly there will be those lighting a metaphorical candle to his memory today.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The traditional Boxing Day hunt in Lacock  

For foxes' sake: Don't let the bloody tradition of the Boxing Day hunt return

Mimi Bekhechi
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all