Obituary: Sir Alan Glyn

Tam Dalyell
Friday 08 May 1998 23:02

IT IS a great mistake to haunt the corridors of the Commons and of the Palace of Westminster too long. I fear that most current members of the House will remember Alan Glyn as a creaky, occasionally cantankerous old buffer. This is a pity.

The Alan Glyn whom I first knew as MP for Clapham in the early 1960s, and later in his first decade as MP for Windsor, was shrewd, interesting, wittily sardonic, well-informed with first-hand information and a delightful companion on all-party parliamentary visits. He was an observer of the spread of Communism across the international scene and had personal experience of many of the trouble spots of the post-war world. That he was able to travel at personal expense, beholden to no one, made his impressions and insights the more valuable.

Glyn was then a potentially considerable member of the House of Commons as a London MP; later to be personally anointed by the austere and heavyweight Sir Charles Mott- Radclyffe as his successor in the safe Tory Windsor constituency. Mott-Radclyffe - who was the captain of the House of Commons cricket team - told me in 1969 that Alan Glyn was "an excellent all-rounder" in both cricketing and non-cricketing terms.

Alan Glyn was born in London, the son of a barrister, John Paul Glyn, who had been an officer in the Royal Horse Guards - later one of his son's many credentials as representative of Combermere Barracks and all that goes with the Household Cavalry and Windsor. Glyn's association with the Blues was to be lifelong, even after he retired as an honorary major in 1967. His mother, Margaret Johnston, came from a distinguished Edinburgh legal family.

After Westminster he read Natural Sciences at Caius College, Cambridge. He was taught by Joseph Needham, later to be a Companion of Honour and Master of the college, but famous as the historian of Chinese science. Glyn told me that, though his political views were at the other end of any spectrum from those of Joe Needham, it was Needham who had first interested him in the Far East.

At the outbreak of war Glyn enlisted as a trooper in his father's old regiment and was commissioned in 1940. He volunteered for service in the Far East, having graduated at Staff College, and went to India and Burma in 1942; he was demobilised as a Brigade Major in 1946.

Resuming his medical studies he qualified in 1948 and went into general practice. As a doctor he had a favourable reputation and was certainly held in the highest esteem by colleagues of all parties in the House of Commons. In the 1960s and 1970s anyone who became ill in the Palace of Westminster was treated by Dr Barnett Stross, Dr Maurice Miller, Dr David Owen, Dr David Kerr or any other doctor MP who could be found. Alan Glyn excelled in such fraught situations; he was good at diagnosis, nothing too much trouble.

Having also qualified in law, Glyn was chosen for Clapham, partly by virtue of the impression which he had made as a co-opted member of the old London County Council education committee. He was elected by a majority of 22,266 to the 20,390 of the sitting Labour member, Charles Gibson, in 1959, losing his seat by 556 votes to Mrs Margaret McKay in 1964.

In his maiden speech on 10 February 1960 he described how he had been in Hungary at a crucial moment in world history:

I am influenced, I must confess, in my approach to foreign affairs by the events of 1956. At that time, I was fortunate - or unfortunate - enough to be in Hungary during the revolution. I witnessed the Russian armies invading that country, in contravention to a treaty and an agreement which had been made only three days previously by which the Russians guaranteed that they would leave Hungary and never invade it again.

As I journeyed from Hungary towards Romania, I saw the Russian armies advancing from Russia. It occurred to me then, and it has occurred to me ever since, that there was nothing in Europe at that time in the way of conventional forces which could possibly have stopped those armies proceeding westwards through Aus-tria and right through Europe. There was only one factor which could stop them and that was the fear of the atomic deterrent. I am quite convinced that that was the factor which deterred them.

Glyn was a champion of the possession of nuclear weapons, but not an unthinking one. When he lost his seat in 1964, he made excellent use of his absence from the Commons by going, as a war correspondent, to Vietnam. He wrote Witness to Viet Nam: the containment of Communism in South-East Asia, published in 1968, in which he addressed with perception key questions of the day. How did the war start? Who were the Vietcong? How was it that the struggle between such unequally armed combatants, the United States on one hand, and the ill-armed guerrillas on the other, was lasting so long? He was among the first to predict the terrible consequences for Laos and Cambodia.

On his return he told George Scott of the BBC Home Service Ten O'Clock Programme,

It can't be solved by war alone, this is quite clear. It will have to be solved by . . . beating the Vietcong militarily, but at the same time you have got to produce three essential things for the people of Vietnam. First of all, you have got to give them security from attack by the Vietcong; secondly, you have got to be able to produce a better standard of living than that which is offered by the Communists; and lastly you have got to give them the feeling that they can go about their business, tend their fields, in liberty and freedom, and live a normal family life not any different from any other community in the world.

When Glyn returned to the Commons his first speech was on 9 December 1970 when he gave us first-hand experience not only of Vietnam but of China, Algeria, Fidel Castro's Cuba, Cyprus, the West Bank and many other areas to which he had been.

Crucial to Glyn was the support of his feisty and charming wife of whom he used repeatedly to say, "When I went anywhere dangerous, Rosula would tell me, 'If you really must, get killed. But for pity's sake, whatever you do, do not get yourself taken prisoner and cause complications for all of us.' "

In the early days of his parliamentary return it was a sadness to him that his experience could not have been put to use on the front bench of either the Foreign Office or the Ministry of Defence. However, whatever his unfulfilled ambitions, Glyn was an assiduous Member - "a most conscientious attender," in the words of Michael Jopling, "even when he was a far-from- well man" - who would go to enormous trouble to make sure that he voted to support his party in government whenever they needed him. Service was his yardstick.

Alan Glyn, journalist, physician, lawyer and politician: born London 26 September 1918; called to the Bar, Middle Temple 1955; MP (Conservative) for Clapham 1959-64, for Windsor 1970-74, for Windsor and Maidenhead 1974- 92; Kt 1990; married 1962 Lady Rosula Windsor Clive (two daughters); died London 5 May 1998.

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