The Earl of Longford

Saturday 01 March 2014 06:15

Francis Aungier Pakenham, politician, banker and publisher: born London 5 December 1905; Lecturer in Politics, Christ Church, Oxford 1932, Student in Politics 1934-46, 1952-64; personal assistant to Sir William Beveridge 1941-44; created 1945 Baron Pakenham; Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, War Office 1946-47; Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 1947-48; PC 1948; Minister of Civil Aviation 1948-51; First Lord of the Admiralty 1951; Chairman, The National Bank 1955-63; succeeded 1961 as 7th Earl of Longford; Leader of the House of Lords 1964-68; Secretary of State for the Colonies 1965-66; Chairman, Sidgwick and Jackson 1970-80, Director 1980-85; KG 1971; married 1931 Elizabeth Harman (four sons, three daughters, and one daughter deceased); died London 3 August 2001.

Frank Pakenham, the seventh Earl of Longford, was an amiable and eccentric aristocrat, yet a man of serious purpose and achievement. He boasted that he had had four main careers: university don, politician, banker and publisher; and that he had also had three vocations, as social worker, social investigator and author of 20 books or more.

Yet, though he served for nine years in the governments of Attlee and Wilson, the public knew him for two other things: as "Lord Porn", dauntless investigator of the market in pornography; and as the prison-visiting friend of Myra Hindley, Ian Brady's accomplice in the Moors Murders, the most horrifying crimes of our day. These two concerns evoked massive publicity.

Just before publication in 1972 of Pornography, the starkly titled report of his large and distinguished committee on the subject, Longford took part in as many as nine radio and television programmes, and also a large and hectic press conference. It would be unjust to accuse him of seeking personal publicity. The media thrust it upon him. But he certainly did not shrink; indeed he basked unashamedly in it and defended it as necessary to his cause.

The height of his political career was reached in 1964 when Harold Wilson put him in the Cabinet as Leader of the House of Lords. He was not wholly happy. Never having been in the House of Commons, he felt a bit of an outsider, unaware of government gossip and the personal ties and rivalries of his colleagues.

People who served with him would say that when he spoke in Cabinet, he was inclined to go on too long, unable to sense that he was boring or exasperating other ministers. Yet, in the Chamber of the House of Lords, he could be brilliant in his defence of the government and in his attacks on the opposition front bench. He would turn swiftly and unexpectedly from sweet reasonableness to asperity, even when contending with a noble kinsman. Longford resigned after four years as Leader when the Government deferred the raising of the school leaving age. His replacement by his deputy Lord Shackleton was, however, already in the offing.

His devotion to the Lords, his earnestness and physical stamina remained with him until late in life. He continued to address the House, on a wide range of subjects – education, criminal justice, divorce, drug misuse, the European Community, homelessness, the mentally ill, prisons, Northern Ireland, police custody, sport and war crimes. His style of speech had now become less attractive – a flat conversational one – but the words in Hansard always read well.

People used to wonder how an aristocrat, a scion of the Protestant Ascendancy, could become a socialist and a Roman Catholic. The answer is given in Born to Believe (1953), the best of his three autobiographical books, written when he was 49.

At Eton – where he was a contemporary of Quintin Hogg and, incidentally of Orwell and Connolly – his passion was for games, not for scholarship. It was not until he was 17 that his headmaster, Cyril Arlington, was able to report favourably on his school work. "He is no longer such a contented dweller in Philistia."

The greatest influence on his life was his mother, Lady Mary Child- Villiers, daughter of the Earl of Jersey. His father had been killed heroically leading his brigade at Gallipoli, and his brother had inherited the title and Pakenham Hall in County Westmeath, which, in its heyday, had 14 servants and up to a dozen gardeners.

Frank Pakenham kept up the sport but worked hard on his studies at New College, Oxford. He took an outstandingly good First in Modern Greats, specialising in banking and currency. His friends were fashionable Conservative intellectuals including Evelyn Waugh and later Randolph Churchill. He was a member of the Bullingdon and rode in an hilarious point-to-point. Years later his friends used to ascribe his conversion to socialism to the concussion he sustained when falling in that race.

But at Oxford he also met one of the most talented socialists of his day, Evan Durbin, and tried in vain to persuade him that the Tory mixture of social inequality and private enterprise would do more to raise living standards than would socialist equality and planning. Pakenham also made a friend of Hugh Gaitskell with whom he shared lodgings and it was at a party to celebrate Gaitskell's First that he met the girl he was going to marry, Elizabeth Harman.

The first effective assault on his Conservatism came from A.D. Lindsay, Master of Balliol, who persuaded him to take a university tutorial class at Stoke-on-Trent. All his pupils there were working men and socialists. "The deprivations and human waste were unmistakable," Pakenham found. "My personal devotion to them affected me at all levels." Though shaken, he remained a Conservative, hoping for a One Nation form of reconciliation of the classes.

He went to London to work in the Conservative Research Department, but when he met Elizabeth again he got her a job as a W.E.A. tutor in the Potteries. They were married in 1931 at St Margaret's, Westminster. By this time Elizabeth had become a socialist and eventually she was to convert him.

It was not until 1935 that he resigned from the Carlton Club on the grounds that his wife was to be the Labour candidate in Cheltenham. And in that election, though he spoke for her, it was only to commend her personal qualities. He took care to say that he himself was not a socialist.

In 1936 Oswald Mosley addressed a meeting in Oxford in a provocative way that evoked a defiant response in the audience. Then the blackshirted Fascist thugs moved in and fighting broke out all over the hall. Pakenham joined in and some people said he put paid to several of the assailants. But he suffered blows and concussion and it was while he lay in bed recovering from his bruises that he decided to join the Labour Party.

It was a very left-wing party and Pakenham had the zeal of a convert. After Munich, he supported Stafford Cripps's Popular Front Movement with its dream of forming a united opposition to Chamberlain ranging from Churchill to the Communist leader Harry Pollitt. In that year of 1938 there was a by-election and Pakenham, by now an Oxford City Councillor, supported those in the party who, under concealed Communist influence, wanted to drop their candidate, Patrick Gordon Walker, his colleague at Christ Church, and run A.D. Lindsay, of Balliol, as an independent who would unite all people who were against Chamberlain.

So he may have done but Quintin Hogg, as Lord Hailsham was then known, won the election. Pakenham now became the prospective Labour candidate for Oxford and he was filled with guilt at his role in the dismissal of Walker. In 1945 it was his turn to fight Hogg and to lose, and then be appointed to the Lords.

It was in the anguished year of 1938 that he underwent his second conversion, to Catholicism. He was now an established Oxford don in political studies meeting all the glittering political notables of the day. But he came to the conclusion that there was little meaning in life without religious certainty. And for long, though he was a nominal Christian, he had had doubts. Because as a scholar he believed he must face the intellectual difficulties of Christianity, he asked Father D'Arcy, the Master of Campion Hall, to be his mentor.

While he was studying Catholic theology, the Labour Party opposed the government scheme of conscription and Pakenham, willing to believe that a voluntary army was preferable, volunteered for the territorial battalion of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. When the Second World War began, he was invited to apply for a commission in that regiment. But soon his health broke down. He had several attacks of gastric flu and in May 1940, the son of the hero of Gallipoli was invalided out of the Army. Just before this, Evelyn Waugh, finding out that Pakenham was not yet a member of his Church and that his company was about to go abroad, advised him how the process could be speeded. He was received into the Church in January 1940.

For three years of the war Pakenham was assistant to William Beveridge as he laboured at the work that was to create the pillars of security on which the welfare state was to rest. He got to know Clement Attlee and Arthur Greenwood pretty well and after he had been beaten by Quintin Hogg in 1945, he received a sympathetic note from the new Prime Minister. A week or two later Attlee asked: "Would you like to join us in the Lords?"

Still suffering from his war-time failure, Beveridge's assistant did not want the junior ministerial job at National Insurance to which he had been logically appointed. He asked if he could be transferred to something connected with the services.

The Prime Minister moved him to the War Office and then made him Minister of State for Germany. Pakenham was deeply moved by the sight of so much hardship and suffering and he cut across Ernest Bevin by advocating prematurely what he saw as Christian policies of equal partnership with Germany. With uncharacteristic gentleness, Attlee sent this inconvenient man to the softer airs of Civil Aviation. Three years later he made him First Lord of the Admiralty. "I'm too eccentric," Pakenham protested. "The Navy survived Winston and Brendan," Attlee answered. "It will probably survive you."

Pakenham remained a minister to the end of Attlee's second government in 1951. It was still part of Labour's myth that bankers were its most powerful enemy and members were astonished when Pakenham became chairman of the National Bank in 1955. People wondered what qualifications he could have that fitted him to be chairman of a London clearing bank. Pakenham was able to explain that two-thirds of the business of the Bank was in Ireland, that like some prominent bankers he was an Etonian, that he was also an ex- minister and a Roman Catholic who came from a Protestant family. As chairman, he presided over collective decisions and kept the staff happy. When he left the Bank eight years later, he could claim that he had left an increasingly prosperous institution.

During all the time he was a bank chairman, he remained on Labour's front bench – both bank and party were remarkably generous. His next career began after Labour had been defeated. In 1970 Lord Forte invited him to become chairman of Sidgwick and Jackson, the publishers. He was happy in this job, being a writer himself and the head of a family in which everybody seemed to write and publish.

Pakenham had been a prison visitor even before the war but his interest in crime did not come to a head until 1952. How was it, people were now asking, that moral standards seemed to be declining despite material improvement and the creation of the welfare state? Pakenham persuaded the Nuffield Foundation to provide £2,000 to £3,000 so that, with three assessors he could spend 12 months on a critical appraisal of the causes of crime. The foundation later consented to an extension of time but Pakenham was then appointed to his post as a banker and the inquiry came prematurely to an end.

The foundation refused to publish his "illuminating but massive report" which they thought "rightly drew attention to the smallness of established knowledge in the field". They saw, in fact, that in this project they had backed a loser.

Pakenham, however, with the vital assistance of the statistician Roger Opie, published Causes of Crime (1958) which presented the varying views of judges, psychologists, sociologists, Home Office officials and others working on the problems. What was remarkable was that Pakenham visited half the main prisons in Britain and talked to murderers, homosexuals, forgers and burglars as well as to prison governors and warders.

It was his prison visiting which brought him notoriety. He met some of the most newsworthy prisoners including the Kray brothers. His justification for his friendships with the unsavoury was that a Christian should hate the sin but love the sinner. But this, he found, was an attitude struck from a moral pedestal. Better to say: "Condemn the offence, care for the offender." He thought deeply about punishment and came to the conclusion that retribution was necessary both to the community and the offender himself. As a Christian he held that the supreme force was love and that all human beings were capable of redemption. Kindness would bring about kindness and cruelty, cruelty.

Frank Pakenham had inherited from his brother in 1961 and became Frank Longford. It was by this name that he became known to the readers of popular newspapers.

Ian Brady and Myra Hindley came into Longford's life in 1968, three years after receiving their life sentence. Hindley asked him to help to get permission to visit Brady, her common-law husband. He found her a quiet, unassertive dark-haired woman quite different from the Medusa-like blonde of the police photographs. Pakenham tried in vain for three years to get permission for this meeting but then gave up as the couple were mentally drawing apart. Hindley was now spiritually reborn, he found, and a practising Catholic.

In the mid-Fifties Longford had started with others one of the most practical pieces of his social work: the New Bridge, a society for befriending ex-prisoners which developed wider responsibilities. He became chairman of a committee of the organisation named Justice which was to draw up a plan for compensating victims of violence and had the satisfaction of finding it followed by a government measure.

Wilson, as leader of the Opposition, asked Longford to preside over a committee on the treatment and prevention of crime. It included no fewer than eight people who were soon to be members of a Labour government that passed the Children and Young Persons Act and introduced the parole system, a remarkable advance in penal reform.

New Bridge was able to do little for youth and on coming out of government in 1968, Longford brought together people to create the New Horizon Youth Centre in Soho to help all young people with problems whether they were delinquent or not.

It was Oh! Calcutta! which inspired Longford's interest in pornography. Theatre censorship had been abolished and Longford set about organising a full day's debate in the Lords on current pornography. It was 1971 and he claimed that pornography had increased and was increasing and ought to be diminished. How was it possible to curtail pornography without extending censorship? He rejected an Arts Council report which had said in 1969 there was no evidence to show that obscene publications did any harm and there should be no restrictions. As the government did not intend to set up an inquiry, Longford said he and some friends would do so.

He surrounded himself with a large, noteworthy committee that included such celebrities as Kingsley Amis, Malcolm Muggeridge and Peregrine Worsthorne. They all wrote essays in the final report. The committee also recruited the Archbishop of York, Lord Soper, the Methodist, Lord Justice Edmund Davies and Sir Fred Catherwood.

It was an error for Longford, now aged 65, to lead a small delegation to Denmark where, it was said, the abolition of the laws of obscenity had resulted in a reduction in sexual crime. The statistics had already been seriously challenged.

The aircraft carrying the party was full of national newspaper men and on arrival they found the BBC there in strength. In the evening, Longford went to a small club and found 50 people watching a girl who was stimulating unsuccessfully a fat red-faced man. When the audience was invited to help, Longford fled. And at the next club he found a naked woman sitting on the lap of a neighbour and indulging in indescribable caresses. Fearing that he would be the next victim, he fled. The episode brought the committee and Longford into ridicule.

However the committee went on with its work and produced a report which most serious newspapers quoted at length and made the subject of comment, a good deal of it sympathetic; a lot of writers still preferred the unquantifiable risks of pornography to the limitations of censorship.

Longford was always conscious of his own Irish dimension. The brother whom he succeeded was an Irish senator and a director of the Dublin Gate Theatre. Frank Longford regarded himself as an Irish nationalist, wrote Peace by Ordeal in 1935, dealing with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1931, and was joint author of a biography of De Valera (Eamon de Valera, 1970).

In the Lords he spoke often on Irish affairs and almost resigned from the government in protest against the Government of Ireland Act of 1949. He got Attlee to allow him to appear before the Cabinet and explain his opposition. They were not impressed. Indeed, his predilection for Ireland fitted oddly with his Etonian and Oxford manner. Yet he travelled, even as an English minister, on an Irish passport.

The last two decades Longford spent making speeches in the Lords – and elsewhere – on Ireland, and on questions of education and prison reform which had occupied him for so many years. He was a popular figure in the Lords, though his friends sometimes felt that if he had supported fewer causes with less excessive zeal, his considerable achieve- ments might have been even greater.


As few others manage to do in great old age, Frank Longford remained news, writes Tam Dalyell. Over the years, the column inches did not diminish; they increased.

The unusual interest in the doings of a late octogenarian and early nonagenarian cannot even largely be attributed to colourful eccentricities or over-embellished supposedly comic episodes. Rather, much of the press recognised, possibly subconsciously, that here was a brave man of principle whose views, right or wrong, and however much at variance with received wisdom, deserved a hearing. As his friend Cardinal Cormac Murphy- O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, put it, "I remember him as a friend and as a man not afraid to be different."

Yet, perhaps only a 95-year-old Knight of the Garter could have got away, this June, with toasting his friend Charles Bronson, arguably Britain's most violent prisoner, on the occasion of his marriage to Saira Rehman inside a maximum security unit. Longford was making a point – as he always made points

"Ifs" in political history are always dodgy. But let me venture this line of thought. If Hugh Gaitskell had lived (and won the 1964 general election), Frank Pakenham, as he was still known throughout the Labour movement at the time, would have been a meaningfully important ministerial influence. The antagonism of Wilson, Crossman, and Wigg, who banished him to the outer edges of the Cabinet in 1964, would not have mattered. Longford would have had Prime Minister Hugh Gaitskell's ear.

And, I suspect that as soon as Jimmy Dickens, Kevin McNamara, Stan Orme, Paul Rose and other able young backbenchers became immersed in the late 1960s in the problems of discrimination against a Catholic community in Northern Ireland, Longford would have persuaded the inner leadership of the Labour government to address the problem vigorously. Had that happened everything from Bloody Sunday to Ealing Broadway might have been different.

*Lord Ardwick died 18 August 1994

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