Jenkin, Patrick (1 of 2). The History of Parliament Oral History Project
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House of Lords, London
Jenkin, Patrick, 1926-2016 (speaker, male)
Greenwood, Mike, 1959- (speaker, male)
Part 1: [Session one: 18 April 2012] Lord Jenkin [PJ] born in Edinburgh, first child. Parents were living in Maida Vale. Father a chemist working for Shell. Father went to California, mother and chid followed. First 10 years of life lived near refineries in California, with regular visits back to UK. Mother trained as elocution teacher and worked in the theatre. Talks about family background – grandfather first professor of Engineering at Oxford, and Great Grandfather first professor of Engineering at Edinburgh [03.20]. He was a Classicist at school – the prevailing fashion – and didn’t do Science. Science and Technology featured subsequently in his career [04.50]. Explains how it was in some way important to be a layman: when he chaired the influential House of Lords Select Committee Enquiry into Science and Society, he was told that it couldn’t have been written with a scientist as Chairman, because it’s no good talking to the public in language they don’t understand. [00.06.10] Talks about his childhood in California [07.00] where his father was Superintendent of Refineries. Lived initially in Martinez, San Francisco, later on at Wilmington, near Los Angeles, in a compound, superb for children. Most senior people English or Dutch. Mother thought Americans couldn’t run things. Was screentested for MGM’s David Copperfield, though didn’t get the part. Shirley Williams also was screentested, for National Velvet, whilst she was an evacuee during the war. [11.00] Enjoyed American life although education wasn’t great. Describes return to UK in 1936, to Dragon’s School. Fears of polio in America. Has always liked Americans. When involved later with mobile cell telephony he was able to visit for research. [14.45] Talks about America in the Depression, and prosperous oil refineries surrounded by detritus of Depression. Describes values and beliefs at home. [16.55] His family were churchgoers, who sang in the choir. Politically his parents were on opposite sides –Mother a Conservative, father from a Liberal background [18.20]. Uncle was in local government, dismissive of his ambitions to go into politics. Mother worked for Conservatives in 1945 election. Father died in 1938 leaving widow and four boys under 13, now back in UK. Unaware of gathering clouds of coming war. Father fought in WW1. [rattling noises off]. Describes life at Dragon’s School, Oxford. [00.25.00] Tells story of grandmother’s charity and the awful conditions some children were living under, although he was otherwise unaware of it. Mentions outbreak of war. [00.28.00] Describes trenches being dug in playing fields, although Oxford never bombed because too many of Hitler’s friends lived there. [28.15] Describes move to Clifton School, Bristol, where he witnessed bombing, which he found exciting. Says he was good at school, and was thinking about winning a scholarship to Oxbridge. Read the usual children’s books –Ransome etc. Holidays were spent in hut in West of Scotland. Scotland important to family [33.10]. Never had any sympathy with nationalism –“a nonsense”. School transferred to Cornwall for rest of war and did well in response to being “shaken up” –a lesson for political life [37.15]. Admired teachers. Active musical life at school –music always important to him. Aware that one of his teachers at Dragon’s School was not a Conservative –otherwise completely unaware of contemporary issues and politics –didn’t read a newspaper -politics suspended during war “except for the Labour party who made hay whilst their opponents were busy fighting the Germans”. [41.35]. 1944 Volunteered for the army, commissioned into Cameron Highlanders. Great Uncle was a general. Well-connected upper middle class upbringing. Had a scholarship at Cambridge –the “next stage” [44.25]. Experience of life in the army –for the first time faced with “all sorts and conditions of men”. Great experience. Officer had been a dustman at Aldershot before the war; v proletarian surroundings [47.00]. Lot of swearing, lots of boasting about girls (not for him at that stage). Selection for leadership. Was put on a charge for using obscene language to an NCO (“bollocks”) [49.45]. Context of the times –Churchill, the post war election and the Labour Government. [52.00] Sense that pre-war period had been a disaster for Britain-time for something new, led by armed forces; effective Labour propaganda. He was never tempted. Talks about commanding men in Trieste –porridge story. Enjoyed opera in the castle at Trieste. Not aware of wartime destruction. Things he learned in the army that helped his political career? [59.45] Commanding a platoon. Never saw shot fired in anger. Political experience came through Cambridge –Tories by then (1948) were fighting back. Cambridge –Jesus College [1.01.20] Became college rep for Conservative Association. Joined the union –bowled over by speeches and spoke himself. Didn’t hold office in Union. Interested in singing –talks of singing St Matthew Passion in Kings Chapel. [telephone interrupts 1.04.00] Some Cambridge associates are colleagues today -Geoffrey Howe, Norman St John Stevas. Federation of Cambridge University Associations. Describes work for Conservative Association –campaigning for Tory candidate (Hamilton Kerr) in 1951 election [1.05.30], canvassing, speaking. Not so much of that done nowadays (beyond immediate staff of candidate), very useful for later in life. [1.07.50] Career was “next stage” switched from Classics to Law as stepping stone to Parliament –an established route. Tells story of Billy Rees Mogg (later corrected to Rees Davies) who sabotaged a trial in order to be released for a three line whip –“disreputable” [1.09.00]. Got First Class degree in Law, called to the Bar with Scholarship. Started in Divorce Chambers. At Inns of Court Conservative Dinner met a “Silk” who invited him to join Tax Chambers –but got little work from them. [1.12.15] Had to leave to find a better job (wife and family to support) –got a job in Chemical industries -Distillers Company. Read schoolbook on Organic Chemistry. [1.14.40] Value of industry experience, basis of running a business. Good preparation for Parliament. Family life [1.15.40]; tells story of meeting wife in Scotland; four children. Income was £90 per month. Started living in three rooms -had originally shared the digs with Geoffrey Howe, who moved out. Building a parallel career in politics –didn’t cost anything. Active in Bow Group. Signed up at Central Office as a speaker and went round 100s of branches of Young Conservatives –that’s what one did [1.19.40]. Won Public Speaking competition –got noticed. Never been an orator. [1.21.35] First got into Parliament in 1964 –had been selected for Woodford in 1963. Before that he had already been adopted for Enfield East –went to Central Office to ask if it was possible to change to go for Woodford instead; told it wasn’t possible. Chance meeting led to opportunity to go for selection in Woodford after all [1.24.35]. Interviewed and finally selected over two others (one was drunk and the other wouldn’t support Profumo). Had spent time in Library reading local Woodford papers-unusual to be so diligent then. Selection got a lot of publicity. Heseltine was disparaging (he hadn’t got onto the list at all) [1.27.15]. Churchill had been MP for Woodford. Before selection he had been on local council. Living in Highgate. On Executive of local Conservative Association. 1960 [later corrected to 1957] fought seat in Finsbury Park. Didn’t win. Eventually elected [for Stroud Green 1960]; he tells story of a later election  where the Liberals fielded a candidate with same name to confuse the ballot paper –he lost his seat – “a dirty trick” [1.32.55]. Six weeks later he became candidate for Woodford. Felt you can’t do Parliament properly unless you’ve served in local government (he had been Chairman of Housing). 1964 campaign for Parliament. Mentor was Iain Macleod (another local MP) –“my star” –worst day in politics was day he died. [1.36.00]. Discovered it made no difference who your predecessor (ie Churchill) was. Constituency characteristics– people asked him if he was a Zionist – lots of voluntary bodies. Held fortnightly surgeries; “you’ve got to give your constituents your best” [1.38.35]. First impressions of Parliament –he got lost and was accosted by Serjeant at Arms. People from across the parties had fierce arguments but remained on friendly terms. Harold Wilson a formidable character at the time , ran rings around Alec Douglas-Home. [1.41.40] Under Heath he became Junior Shadow spokesman on Treasury –had taken part in two bills, about Nuclear Industry and Gas Bill, drawing on his experience of Chemical Industry. Refers to how, recently, MPs have been drawn from too narrow a base [1.43.30]. Describes the value of experience of Industry and Law. Kept both careers going until he became a Minister. Had worked for Distillers and they had originally been disapproving of their staff also working in politics -couldn’t do both. They changed their mind when they realized the importance of having a voice in Parliament to represent the industry [1.47.35]. Distillers kept his salary going. By then MPs were being paid.
Life story interview with Lord Patrick Jenkin (1926-2016), former Conservative Member of Parliament.