British Conservative Politician and Author
Born 1922 Died 2006
Antony Lambton, also known as the Lord Lambton, and very briefly as the 6th Earl of Durham, was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Berwick-upon-Tweed between 1951 and 1973, who became a junior minister under Edward Heath until his political career was cut short by a call-girl scandal which forced his resignation in 1973.
Early Life and Career
Born Antony Claud Frederick Lambton on the 10th July 1922, he was the second son of the 5th Earl of Durham and only become heir to the title in 1941 after his older brother John Roderick died in a shooting accident. As the heir apparent to an earldom (as well as the family's extensive estates in Northumberland and County Durham) Antony adopted the courtesy title of the Viscount Lambton, and was thus commonly known as the Lord Lambton. with his father’s death on the 4th February 1970 Lambton became the 6th Earl of Durham but renounced the title some three weeks later on the 23rd February 1970 but nevertheless insisted that he should continue to be known as the 'Lord Lambton'.
Educated at Harrow he joined the Hampshire Regiment in 1941. He subsequently suffered from eye trouble, was invalided out in the following year and went to work as a machinist at a munitions factory in Wallsend. There he met Belinda Blew-Jones, the eighteen year old daughter of a major in the Life Guards, who was employed in the tracing office at the same factory, and after a week-long engagement they were married by registrar on the 10th August 1942.
With the end of World War II he decided to go into politics and stood as the Conservative candidate at Chester-le-Street in 1945. Two years later in 1947 he was elected to both Durham City Council and the Durham County Council where he almost immediately caused controversy by calling on both councils to rescind their support for the closed shop. The reaction may have been responsible for his decision not to stand again in 1949, and to focus on a Parliamentary career. He contested Bishop Auckland in the 1950 General Election where he lost out to Hugh Dalton of the Labour Party before meeting more success at Berwick-upon-Tweed in the 1951 General Election.
Lambton therefore took his place in the House of Commons as one of the supporters of the first post war Conservative government. He made his maiden speech on the subject of the population crisis, spoke in favour of the liberalisation of the laws on obscenity and homosexuality, attempted to introduce a Bill of Rights, as well as a private member's Bill to enable MPs to renounce any peerage title they should inherit. (And was later to emerge as a supporter of Tony Benn's efforts to remain in the Commons after he inherited the title of the Viscount Stansgate)
In 1954 Antony became parliamentary private secretary to Selwyn Lloyd who was then the Minister of Supply, and later Foreign Secretary between 1955 and 1957. Antony was therefore at the Foreign Secretary’s side during the Suez crisis of 1956, which resulted in the resignation of Anthony Eden as Prime Minister, and his replacement with Harold Macmillan. Lambton himself resigned in protest over the government’s handling of the crisis, and in particular always believed (with some justification) that Macmillan had betrayed Eden, and manipulated events to suit his own purpose. During his subsequent years on the backbenches he wrote a number of articles for the press, principally the Sunday Express and the Evening Standard, and took every available opportunity of attacking Macmillan, and was later to refer to his period in office as "a seven-year rule of wasted time". For his part Macmillan himself recognised Lambton as one of "the small group of people who really hate me". Somewhat ironically (in the light of later events) Antony was very critical of Macmillan's response to the Profumo scandal of 1963, arguing that Profumo should have been forced to resign the moment the affair became public. He later decided to abstain on the key House of Commons vote in 1963, which almost brought the government down.
Lambton was better disposed towards Macmillan's successor Alec Douglas-Home, but then they were cousins, and subsequent to Douglas-Home's resignation in 1964 became one of the principal organisers of Reginald Maudling's unsuccessful campaign for the Conservative leadership. He was nevertheless reasonably well regarded by Edward Heath who appointed him as an opposition defence spokesman, and following victory in the 1970 General Election gave him a job as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Defence in 1970 with responsibility for the Royal Air Force.
"Surely all men patronise whores?"
With all the excitement generated by the decision to join the Common Market and sundry domestic problems, the Defence portfolio was hardly at the forefront of public consciousness during Edward Heath's period in office and Lambton was a reasonably anonymous member of the government. This would all change with the Lambton-Jellicoe affair, which brought with it certain echoes of the Profumo scandal.
It all began in March 1973 when the police carried out a routine raid on a pornography shop in Soho. The shop was run by one Colin Levy, whose wife Norma was a member of a call-girl ring dedicated to servicing the requirements of "millionaires and top people". As it happened amongst these top people was a certain Mr Lucas, alias Anthony Lambton, who had been one of Norma's clients for the past year or so. Now that his career as a retail entrepeneur had been placed on hold, Colin Levy looked for an alternative source of income and approached the News of the World who installed a secret camera and a recording device, which amongst other things, captured Lambton cavorting naked on a bed with Norma Levy and another prostitute called 'Kim' while smoking marijuana. For reasons that are not entirely clear the News of the World initially decided not to publish, but the evidence neverthless ended up in the hands of the police. Antony was confronted by this evidence during a police interview on the 21st May, and on the following day resigned both his office and his parliamentary seat.
Further embarrassment followed on the 13th June 1973 when he appeared before Marylebone Magistrates where he was fined £300 for the possession of cannabis and amphetamine, although he insisted that the drugs found were not for his own use. His resignation triggered a byelection in Berwick, duly won by the Liberal Party who put forward a sober Methodist named Alan Beith as their candidate.
Some thirty years later in January 2004, when the official papers on the affair were released, it was revealed that Antony had told an MI5 official that the sheer futility of his government office coupled with the frustation caused by a dispute with the Commons over the use of his title had driven him to seek solace in frenzied bouts of "gardening and debauchery".
The King of Chiantishire
The scandal effectively brought an end to his political career although in the words of The Times it was "not outstanding in achievement". Given the opinion of Peter Carrington, his boss at Defence, that he was "exceedingly competent and a very clever man who did his job wonderfully well", he might have been expected to progress further than junior ministerial level. However, his principled opposition to Macmillan in the late 1950s denied him the opportunity to progress in politics just at the time when he might have been expected to have first held office, and whilst others agreed that he was clever, they also noted a pronounced tendency towards arrogance.
Following his resignation Antony gave a number of television interviews appearing with Robin Day on the BBC and Barbara Walters on NBC, but after this brief period of prominence he faded from public view, and although he would regularly return to his estates each August for the shooting, Antony chose to spend most of the remainder of his life in Italy.
In 1977 he purchased the seventeenth-century Villa Cetinale at Sovicille, near Siena which had originally been built for the Chigi banking family. There he set up home with his mistress Claire Ward and busied himself with restoring the house and gardens, whilst leaving his wife in charge of the ancestral pile at Biddick Hall. At the Villa Cetinale Antony presided over a community of wealthy English expatriates, where he became famous for his lavish hospitality and entertained such notable guests as Prince Charles and Tony Blair.
He was, as one account puts it, a "prodigiously unfaithful husband", and apparently sought to escape the boredom of life in Italy by attempting to seduce his female guests; according to The Guardian "one of his most famous conquests being the then wife of a British rock star" although sadly it doesn't tell us which one. When he wasn't pestering his female guests he amused himself in the study of the local antiquities and over the years he built up an impressive knowledge of the neighbouring churches and other historical monuments in the area, but maintained curiously ignorant of the Italian language and never progressed beyond knowledge of 'grazie' and 'prego'.
Denied a political career he returned to journalism and contributed a number of book reviews to the Literary Review and the Sunday Telegraph, whilst developing a second career as an author. He was the author of two short story collections Snow and Other Stories (1983) and Pig and other stories (1990), and two novels, Elizabeth and Alexandra (1985) and The Abbey in the Wood (1986). These as they say "showed some promise" without necessarily attracting much attention. It was a different story with the publication of the The Mountbattens (1989). Intended to be the first part of a two-volume study, this became something of a 'succès de scandale' as a result of his portrayal of Louis Mountbatten as a social climber who sought to manipulate the past in order to disguise his own German ancestry and enhance his own role in World War II. Antony was apparently persuaded to abandon the proposed second volume.
Antony Lambton died in Italy on the 30th December 2006 and despite effectively abandoning his wife Belinda some thirty years previously, they were never divorced (she predeceased him in 2003). Together they had one son Edward who succeeded as the 7th Earl of Durham and five daughters, one of whom is the journalist and author Lucinda Lambton.
Antony's assumption of the title Lord Lambton
Having renounced his peerage in February 1970, Antony became most put out when the returning officer for Berwick in the subsequent General Election insisted on referring to him as 'Mister' rather than 'Lord' Lambton. He subsequently met much opposition in the House of Commons when he again insisted on being referred to as the 'Lord Lambton' in the House. The matter was referred to the Committee of Privileges and developed into a protracted dispute. According to The Times the Committee "ruled that he should be styled Mr Lambton", on the other hand The Independent claims that the dispute was "resolved in his favour eventually". As it happens The Independent is wrong; other sources including the Daily Telegraph confirm that the Committee ruled against him; however matters subsequently became confused when two speakers of the House of Commons, Horace King and his successor Selwyn Lloyd, gave rather contradictory rulings. It would be more true to say that the matter was never resolved, since Lambton resigned from the Commons before the House had an opportunity to finally make a decision.
The Telegraph further refers to "two leading constitutional authorities", being Antony Wagner, the Garter King of Arms, and George Squibb, the Norfolk Herald Extraordinary, who published an article in the Law Quarterly Review, which argued that with the death of 5th Earl, Anthony Lambton became the 6th Earl of Durham and lost the courtesy title which passed to his eldest son. Having disclaimed the former, they claimed that could not then claim the latter. However with due regard to Messrs Wagner and Squibb, no one has any particular legal right to a courtesy title, it is merely a matter of social convention. In fact as the Duchess of Kingston's cases established way back in the eighteenth century there is no property in a name and thus Antony was quite entitled to call himself the 'Lord Lambton' if he so desired, although he had no more 'right' to do so than anyone else.
- Matthew Paris and Kevin Maguire Great Parliamentary Scandals(Revised edition, Chrysalis, 2004)
- The Times Obituary, January 02, 2007
- Edward Pearce, The Guardian Obituary, January 2, 2007
- John Barnes, The Independent Obituary, 02 January 2007
- The Daily Telegraph Obituary, 02/01/2007
- Neil Tweedie and Christopher Hope, Lambton, minister with call girl penchant, dies, 02/01/2007