CHICHESTER-CLARK, Robin (b.1928).



26 May 1955 - 28 February 1974


Robert (Robin) Chichester-Clark was born in Londonderry, Northern Ireland on 10 January 1928. He was educated at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth and Magdalene College, Cambridge. He married Jane Helen Goddard in 1953 (marriage dissolved 1972) and Caroline Bull in 1974.

Chichester-Clark first worked as a journalist and public relations officer, but in keeping with the family tradition he entered political life in the 1950s. Three previous generations of his family represented Northern Irish constituencies in Westminster and Stormont, and his brother, James Chichester-Clark, was Prime Minister of Northern Ireland (1969-1971). Sir Robin became the Ulster Unionist MP for Londonderry in 1955, and held the seat until he retired from Parliament in 1974.

Chichester-Clark was a government whip from 1959 to 1964. During the ensuing Labour government he became the Chief Opposition Spokesman on Northern Ireland (1964-1970) and on Public Building and Works and the Arts (1965-70). In Ted Heath’s government he served as Minister of State for Employment (1972-74).

Click here to listen to the full interview with Robin Chichester-Clark in the British Library.


Transcript of clip

"I was 27 when [the Suez crisis] happened. I was pretty horrified by what had happened. Most of us were terribly uneasy about it. It was very distressing. In those days I suppose we were all more ‘empire minded’ or something like that. … I’ve always been very pro-American and the idea that we were upsetting the Americans to the extent that they did what they did was very foreign to me. I remember particularly one evening going home after the House had risen and getting back to my house in Chelsea, I was on my own, and I remember sitting down and for want of anything else to do – I’ll never forget this, because I feel funny whenever I hear it again – I turned on Strauss’s Four Last Songs, and within seconds for the first time in my life I was actually shedding tears: This is the end of empire, we can’t do anything, there’ll be Soviet submarines in the Mediterranean. It was an enormous adjustment in everyone’s life."

Summary of interview

Track 1 [46:06] [25th June 2012] Talks about growing up in Northern Ireland (NI). Description of Georgian house and growing up with nannies. Talks about forebears being in politics. Idea had to do something in public service thrust onto them. Anecdote about getting train to Switzerland with family. Mentions father’s death when RCC 5 years old. Describes funeral and profound effect it had on RCC. [5:27] Mentions only has few memories of father being in politics. Mentions father gaining seat in NI parliament. RCC’s grandmother had seat before his father. Grandmother had first cabinet position in NI parliament. Mentions George Robert Dawson great great great grandfather, who also defended Londonderry seat and advised Robert Peel on catholic emancipation. Mentions the various Londonderry seats relatives held. [9:23] Mentions feels Dawson had similar political/religious experiences to RCC. Mentions getting booed for thinking marches should be about pageantry not just a show of strength. [10.50] Tells story about father taking him out and picking up acorns. Describes how in RCC’s family there was a sense you didn’t speak about death. Mentions not knowing what had happened to his father. Describes how people were always talking about dead people. Tells anecdote about cycling around dead body. [14.35] Mentions religion didn’t play enormous role in his house. Mentions going to church because told it was thing to do. States that RCC is not a religious person at all, and that made it easier to deal with Northern Irish problems. Mentions they employed Catholics. Refers to brother’s funeral, who had been Prime Minister of NI. Mentions he and his brother always thought if Republicans had won over majority or Northern Irish electorate would have accepted it. Description of expectation of being a member of the Orange Order. Mentions being criticised for attending roman catholic funerals. Describes how Orange Order helped sooth class distinctions and avoided worse treatment of Catholics.  [21:34]

Track 1 [cont. from 21:34] Describes prep school in Kent that RCC attended. Mentions travelling and avoiding U-boats. Mentions mother suggesting RCC sent to Dartmouth Naval College at 13 years old. Mentions interests are art, history, literature and wasn’t much of that at naval college. Refers to end of WW2. Mentions learning Latin to go to university. Mentions going to Cambridge at 17. [25:16] Describes brother getting badly wounded in Italy in WW2. [27:12] Mentions felt too young at Magdalene, Cambridge. Remarks that feels did not attend as many lectures as should have done. Mentions going to America after university.  Mentions working as a ‘tea boy’ for Time magazine. Remarks he felt America was entirely run by women.  Describes hitch-hiking. [32:12] Describes enjoying his tutor who wanted to play bridge every evening with RCC. Describes how his History tutor Salter taught RCC a lot about life.  Describes going fishing with Law tutor.  Refers to helping Philip Ziegler with his biography of Edward Heath. [35:05] Refers to scholarship from American government. Refers to Goldwater/Nixon election. Mentions travelling on greyhound busses and the polio plague. [38:47] Mentions working for Portsmouth Evening News and Hampshire Telegraph. Story about eating bread and butter in flat in Southsea and developing an ulcer. Describes working at Glyndebourne and meeting RCC’s first wife there. Mentions working for Oxford University Press. [43:28] Asserts that ‘Bruno’ Brown (Sir John Brown) taught RCC how to grow up. Describes working for John Brown.

Track 2 [37:10] Describes predecessor for his parliamentary seat standing down. Asserts that RCC wanted to show how people from NI could take wider interest in the world. Refers to feeling like he should have had more experience of local government before being an MP. Mentions his Sinn Fein opposition called Canning was serving in prison during the election. Story about spoilt ballot. [4.08] Describes shortcomings of his predecessors, that they did not take interest in other things other than the border issue. [6.10] Description of the group of MPs he used to meet with. Anecdote about buying a good bottle of wine when government ministers visited him, except the chief whip who got South African wine. Mentions becoming Principal Private Secretary to Financial Secretary to Treasury, Jack Simon. Mentions becoming unpaid Junior Whip under Ted Heath (TH) when TH was Chief Whip. Refers to Willie Whitelaw. Mentions becoming Royal Commission of the Treasury. [10:32] Description of process of being selected for his parliamentary seat. Description of seeing delegates from each part of the constituency party. Comments that felt delegates didn’t actually listen to what you said. Briefly mentions Enoch Powell performed well in NI because delegates wanted to see how long you could go on for. [13:36] Describes finding the 1955 election campaign locally quite easy. Comments did not have the same problems as did later. [15.31] Long description of issues RCC got involved in as a parliamentarian. Mentions interest in East African issues. Long description of being part of a delegation to Uganda. [20:06] Very briefly mentions interest with Egyptian refugees. Story about being a part in clamping down on antiquarian booksellers ring.  Refers to Basil Blackwell, of Blackwell’s.  [24:18] Describes being Comptroller of the Household. Mentions diplomatic garden parties with Prince Philip and the Queen. [26:08] Description of the people in the Whips’ office. Recalls how being a Whip meant you got to know what was going on in people’s private lives and you had to become more secretive. Asserts that being a whip helped break up his first marriage because couldn’t get away and because had to keep secrets even from his wife.  Mentions flying back to have his constituency surgeries. Mentions being run by Terence O’Neill, PM for NI. [31:10] Describes the ‘count’ in parliamentary proceedings. Anecdotes about ringing up MP’s homes in order to get them to vote. [32:44] Description of constituencies surgeries. Mentions you needed to be seen to be interested. Describes hesitating when constituents came to him with personal issues. Remarks that had to find other ways to advertise surgeries, such as word of mouth, due to security considerations.

Track 3 [1:34:56] Comments on friends on other side of the house. Refers to Ben Whitaker. Refers to Ray Carter and tells story about delegation to Iran in 1971. [6.05] Story about being in America with Merlyn Rees. Mentions being friends with Speakers of the House. Briefly mentions giving Selwyn Lloyd a hard time of the Suez crisis. Remarks that George Thomas was RCC’s pair. Anecdote about George Thomas wearing an old etonian tie. Mentions Horace King. [9:33] Comments that first speech in the house was dreadful. Comments he didn’t want to talk about Ireland. Recalls seeing Anthony Eden walking out of house as RCC made first speech. [10:37] Describes reaction to the Suez crisis. Anecdote about listening to ‘Strauss – Four Last Songs’ one night during Suez crisis and shedding tears.  Mentions that during the 2003 march against the War of Iraq RCC told friends that he couldn’t go because he did not believe Tony Blair would be doing what Eden did, i.e. telling lies to the house. [14.27] Mentions Ted Heath kept RCC in the government. Anecdote about Nigel Nicholson asking Ted Heath for assurances about Suez, which TH didn’t give. Comments that though Ted Heath, being unmarried, did not always realise other whips needed to see their families. Remarks on Ted Heath visiting RCC in NI. [18:43] Mentions that RCC warned Brian Faulkner, PM of NI that the Stormont government would be prorogued. Remarks that RCC introduced Ted Heath to Brian Faukner. Story about being phoned by Ted Heath after 1970 election on green telephone where Ted Heath says RCC cannot be in the government while James Chichester Clark was PM of NI. Remarks Ted Heath remembers it wrong in the autobiography. Mentions that RCC advised Ted Heath on the election manifesto in regards to NI. [24:49] Briefly mentions being praised by Harold Wilson. Anecdote about Harold Wilson mentioning private conversations between him and RCC in press conference. Comments made it difficult between RCC and RCC’s constituency. Comments that Harold Wilson kept UK out of Vietnam war. [27:23] Mentions that his brother very different to RCC. Refers to brother as a soldier, not a politician. Comments that there were no collusion between Terrence O’Neill and James Chichester Clark. Long description James Chichester Clark’s premiership of NI.  Comments on problem of segregated schools in NI. Anecdote about asking Catholic and Protestant schools what radio stations they listened to. [34:50] Story about being advised to drive at night 50 miles away from Londonderry city during problems in the 1950s with a revolver in their pocket. Describes having to have bullet-proof windows installed. Mentions getting death threats. Mentions RCC’s children having to be watched at school due to threats. Describes night received phone call informing him. [41:55] Mentions rejoining British Government after Stormont government prorogued. Remarks that considers himself a ‘Brit’ rather than an Ulsterman. Refers to William Craig. Story of William Craig coming to see RCC about getting rid of Basil Brooke.

Track 3. [Cont. from 44:50] Comments that headquarters of Unionist party had no research department and only cared about one thing; that no one lost an election on a border issue. Comments that people involved in the Unionist party tended to not make contribution to British issues and left things to civil servants. Long elaboration of views on Irish partition. Comments that people in Ulster did not travel enough. Comments that Brian Faulkner said what people wanted to hear and was not wordly enough.  Refers to Queen Elizabeth II shaking hands with Martin McGuiness. [54:34] Mentions would have preferred to work with whichever major party supported the continuation of partition.  Remarks Conservative party seemed most likely, even if some knew very little about NI. Anecdote about lunch party with R.A.B. Butler and Harold Macmillan. Anecdote where Knox Cunningham complains to Harold Macmillan about bombings and Macmillan says it is good for loyalty. [58:46] Comments on influx of Irish to urban and northern areas having an effect on Labour MPs. Refers to Paul Rose. Comments there was some resentment of Irish MPs being able to talk about devolved powers. [1:03:34] Mentions being friends with Gerry Fit. Remarks that did not see opposition NI MPs very much. Mentions almost enjoyed leaving government for opposition after 1964. [1:08:29] Describes becoming unpopular with hardliners in NI after joining government.  Comments that RCC chose not to stand again in 1974 because there were not enough moderates and would not be reselected. Story about Ted Heath asking RCC if he wanted to go to House of Lords. Comments he wanted to stay in the Commons with English constituency. Comments Ted Heath wanted someone to start a Conservative party in NI. [1:13:10] Describes trying to be selected as candidate for Lewes, South Norfolk and Dorset. Mentions getting angry about things after leaving parliament. Briefly refers to Miner’s Strike and being anti-Margaret Thatcher.  Mentions being consultant to NFBTE and a headhunter. Mentions felt like had more power and could help more being involved in charities than politics. Refers to RAFT, a medical charity. Mentions Arvon Foundation.  [1:20:26] Comments that select committees have changed. Comments that shorter hours in parliament are good and that all-night sittings were ridiculous. Mentions that Margaret Thatcher could not have tackled the unions without the Heath government and James Callaghan. Remarks that Margaret Thatcher was beyond showing magnanimity to the unions she had defeated and ruined manufacturing capacity of the UK. Very briefly mentions Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. [1:26:07] Mentions proud of looking after particular constituents. Mentions being proud of not going on too long. Mentions being a moderate. Story about going to Catholic funerals even though constituency party did not want him to.

Track 4 [4:20] Describes being proud of being first MP to denounce what Ian Paisley was saying about minority religion in NI. Comments that Ian Paisley catalyst for the IRA. Comments that Ian Paisley made him ashamed to be from the same part of the world as RCC did.