ROEBUCK, Roy (b.1929).



Harrow East
31 March 1966 - 18 June 1970


Roy Roebuck was born in Manchester in September 1929, and first became interested in politics as a teenager during the 1945 election campaign. He joined his local Labour party and became a member of its Executive Committee aged 17. He served in the RAF for his national service before pursuing a career firstly as a journalist before he was called to the Bar in 1974. In 1957 he married Dr Mary Oglivy Adams, together they have a son.

Roebuck contested Altrincham and Sale in 1964 and 1965, before becoming MP for Harrow East between 1966 and 1970. He unsuccessfully contested Leek in 1974, and continued his career as a barrister.

Click here to listen to the full interview with Roy Roebuck in the British Library.

Transcript of clip

They gave me enormous and tremendous support. Wonderful people – in fact they hadn’t had a voice, I think, for a long time. Because I’d been in newspapers and knew how to get stuff into newspapers, I filled the local newspaper every week, virtually: that produced great joy among them. They were lovely and enormously supportive – as were in fact the party in Altrincham and Sale, they were enormously supportive, really great people. F. Trevor Evans, who was the chairman, he was a good fella, he was a bus inspector or something. These were tremendous people: really good-hearted, the sort of Englishmen who were at Trafalgar and so on. They were really great characters, wonderful folk.

Summary of interview

Track 1 [00:00:14] Test track.
Track 2 [0:50:35] [Session one: 25 May 2012] Roy Delville Roebuck [RR], born Manchester, 1929. Description of first interest in politics aged 14 in run-up to 1945 general election, developed through reading at public libraries. Praise for public libraries. Remarks on elementary education and not taking 11+. Describes being taught to read aged three and first visits to school library. Comments on Manchester Central Library and daily trips there. Remarks on reading complete nineteenth-century ‘Hansard’ there by age of 18. Comments on subscribing to ‘Hansard’ at aged 15. Alludes to weekly earnings as unpleasant memory. [07:23] Comments on membership of local Labour League of Youth and reading parliamentary news in ‘The Guardian’. Comments on today’s politicians’ lack of debating skills. Mentions no one compares to Barbara Castle [BC] or Margaret Thatcher. Mentions visiting Harrow School. Description of learning debating skills at Labour Party meetings. Description of Labour Party meetings and discussion of suggestions sent from Transport House, Labour party headquarters [15:15]. Description of Alan McAnulty’s involvement. Mentions brothers Alf Morris and Charles Morris. Mentions getting political ideas from books produced by Gollancz [Left Book Club] and the Plebs League. Comments on first ambition to enter the House of Commons. Description of joining air force aged 18, and first posting to RAF Padgate.[21:26] Comments on becoming wireless operator, making friends with Reg Richmond. Comments on knowing more about politics than his contemporaries. Description of ‘The Roses’ club formed with others from Yorkshire and Lancashire. Description of six-month training course at RAF Barton Hall, Preston and then posting to RAF South Cerney. Description of consulting atlas in library to find his next posting, ‘Feaf’, only to learn it meant Far East Air Force. Description of being kitted out at RAF Hednesford then heading to Ceylon on MS Dunera. [32:03] Description of decision to join RAF and being lucky to get in. Story about Jim Callaghan [JC] fighting to get into the navy and not the army. Comments on how JC being a lieutenant won him his seat. Description of how RR came to leave ship in Colombo rather than continue to Malaya. Comments on experiences in Ceylon. Remarks on Sinhalese staff who observed both Roman Catholic and Buddhist holy days. Comments on living so far from home. Description of enjoying local attractions such as the Temple of Truth, collecting coconuts on the beach or having tiffin at local hotel. Remarks on enjoying colonial life and witnessing the benefits it brought to Ceylon. Comparison between British influence and Belgian and German colonial rule. [46:48] Reflection on war years as marvellous experience. Mentions himself, Reg Richmond, Ginger Seddon and McBride as still being in touch. Description of being offered officer training at Cranwell but deciding to go into politics and journalism.
Track 3 [52:47] Describes hunting for newspaper job and joining ‘Stockport Advertiser’. Comments on weekly wage and editor Roland Wilson’s opinions. Remarks on working as local news reporter and subsequent sub-editor jobs at ‘The Northern Daily Telegraph’ and ‘Yorkshire Evening News’. Story about how he got a sub-editing job at ‘News Chronicle’ in Manchester. [10:10] Remarks on wages at each paper. Description of going to The Press Club and the view of Manchester Town Hall. Description of invitation to join ‘Daily Express’ in Manchester run by Lord Beaverbrook. Comments on Beaverbrook’s political connections with Churchill. Description of his move to ‘The Daily Mirror’ when it came to Manchester. [14:15] Mentions George Thomson [GT], MP for Dundee East, editor of Scottish socialist newspaper ‘Forward’. Mentions RR’s membership of Lancashire, Cheshire and High Peak of Derbyshire Labour Party Executive Committee at age 17. Comments on GT’s wish to move ‘Forward’ south to combat the Bevanite paper ‘Tribune’.  Remarks on Bevanites and Hugh Gaitskell [HG].  Description of move to ‘Evening Chronicle’ to allow time for politics and producing ‘Forward’. Mentions his marriage to a doctor and membership of Labour party at that time. Mentions meeting Betty Boothroyd [BB] at a meeting in Yorkshire when they were both in the Labour League of Youth. Remarks on relationship with BB. [20:20] Remarks about Morris brothers who helped in production of ‘Forward’. Description of writing for ‘Forward’ and the issues covered: Ghana’s independence, Bevanites, the Common Market. Comments on Bevanites’ ideology and RR’s support of HG’s values. Remarks on Nye Bevan and HG. [27:32] Description of friendship and working relationship with George Wigg [GW]. Mentions Civil War as basis for RR’s thinking. Description of GW’s influence. Comments on 1959 election and HG’s performance, demise of ‘Forward’. Description of invitation to join ‘The Daily Herald’ in London. Description of meeting his Scottish wife Mary Adams [MA] in Heaton Moor and subsequent courtship. Mentions MA was brought up Presbyterian and RR Methodist and Congregationalist. Anecdote about Scotsman who brought Christianity to Malawi. [37:22] Remarks about Methodists’ contribution to the Labour movement and influence on his own politics. Mentions Denis Healey’s comments on this subject. Comments on Hewlett Johnson’s [HJ] ‘The Socialist Sixth of the World’. Comments on HJ’s career and HJ’s visit to Russia with Bernard Shaw. [43:48] Remarks on ‘The Daily Herald’, early days in London and buying a house in Stanmore. Description of letter in 1963 from Reg Wallis, secretary of Lancashire, Cheshire and High Peak of Derbyshire Labour party, about seat available in Westmoreland. Description of selection as candidate for Altrincham and Sale in 1964 general election. Comments on opponent Freddie Erroll and RR’s experience of the contest.
Track 4 [1:06:45] Description of being recalled to RAF in 1951 and serving at RAF outpost in Stanmore. Remarks on becoming candidate for Harrow East and winning seat in 1966. Detailed description of scandal surrounding Conservative candidate Anthony Courtney’s [AC’s] involvement with a Russian woman. Comments on GW’s support for RR and assurance he received from MI5. Mentions letter published in ‘The Times’ about this. Comments on winning the seat and feelings on entering the House of Commons. Description of earnings from column he wrote for ‘Evening News’. Comments on politicians’ earnings. Description of support during general election. Mentions election addresses he wrote for other candidates, including David Owen. Expansive praise for local activists such as F Trevor Evans. [12:15] Description of electioneering and wife’s support. Remarks on campaign funding. Remarks on family’s reaction to his success. Description of maiden speech and deciding where to sit in the Chamber. Remarks on Horace King, speaker of the House of Commons. Description of avoiding bars but enjoying breakfast on the Terrace. Description of wife’s attitude to RR being an MP. Remarks on opposition to the Common Market. Mentions working with Douglas Jay [DJ] and HG on this issue from 1967. [21:45] Comments on Enoch Powell and Derek Walker-Smith sharing their view. Comments on pairs. Detailed description of dealing with letters from constituents. Remarks on being able to type his own letters rather than relying on parliamentary staff. Mentions local surgeries. Anecdote about RR telling a constituent he had written to the Queen on her behalf. Comments on difficulty when receiving letters from neighbouring constituencies. [30:40] Remarks about Eric Lubbock. Comments on being a backbencher. Mentions Ted Short and GW both asking RR to be their parliamentary private secretary. Description of ambition to become a barrister. Story about someone thinking RR was already at the bar after hearing RR grill a civil servant in a committee. Description of going to Gray’s Inn to enrol while still a MP. Description of losing his seat. Remarks on not wanting to return to newspapers and desire to get back to the House. Description of studying for the bar, his pupillage and pupil master Frank Hiorns. Describes editing Reader’s Digest books to earn income while studying. [42:18] Comments on missing Parliament and GW’s advice to become candidate for Leek. Remarks on losing Leek and being busy working at the bar. Mentions regret at not returning to the House of Commons. Remarks on why Leek was lost due to changing demographics. Mentions involvement of Ivor Richard and expense of the campaign. Remarks on Harold Wilson [HW] and Harold Davies, former MP for Leek. Comments on disappointment of losing Leek and concentrating on the bar afterwards. [49:48] Lengthy repetition of story about fight against AC in Harrow East. Comments on first meetings with GW and subsequent working relationship. Remarks on GW’s career. Mentions serving on parliamentary committees. Comments on not expecting to win a seat at all. [1:00:00] Mentions mistake in not pursuing Stoke seat that Jack Ashley gave up, and not finding a northern seat. Comments on it being terrible personal mistake. Mentions John Morris, falling out with BC, Arthur Davidson [AD], MP for Accrington, friendships with AD and GW. Remarks on admiring HW, DJ, Frederick Elwyn Jones, Dingle Foot. Comments on completing Masters degree.