Robert John Graham Boothby, Baron Boothby, KBE (12 February 1900 – 16 July 1986), often known as Bob Boothby, was a British Conservative politician.
The only son of Sir Robert Tuite Boothby, KBE, of Edinburgh and a cousin of Rosalind Kennedy, mother of the broadcaster Sir Ludovic Kennedy, Boothby was educated at St Aubyns School, Eton College, and Magdalen College, Oxford. Before going up to Oxford, near the end of the First World War, he trained as an officer and was commissioned into the Brigade of Guards, but was too young to see active service. After Oxford he became a partner in a firm of stockbrokers.
He was an unsuccessful parliamentary candidate for Orkney and Shetland in 1923 and was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Aberdeen and Kincardine East in 1924. He held the seat until its abolition in 1950, when he was elected for its successor constituency of East Aberdeenshire. Re-elected a final time in 1955, he gave up the seat in 1958 when he was raised to the peerage, triggering a by-election.
He was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill from 1926 to 1929. He helped launch the Popular Front in December 1936. He held junior ministerial office as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food in 1940–41. He was later forced to resign his post and go to the back benches for not declaring an interest when asking a parliamentary question. During the Second World War he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and served as a junior staff officer with Bomber Command, and later as a liaison officer with the Free French Forces, retiring with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. In 1950 he received the Legion of Honour for his latter services.
In 1954 (echoing words he had said in 1934) he complained that for thirty years he had been advocating "a constructive policy on broad lines" but that this had not been taken up: "The doctrine of infallibility has always applied to the Treasury and the Bank of England". Boothby opposed free trade in food stuffs, and claimed that such a policy would invalidate the Agriculture Act 1947 and ruin British farmers. This economic liberalism of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rab Butler, led to Boothby complaining that "The Tory Party have in fact become the Liberal Party" and cited what the leader of the Liberal Party (Clement Davies) had said to him about Butler: "Sir Robert Peel has come again." In response Davies claimed that Boothby "has been sitting on the wrong side of the House for many years. Undoubtedly he said tonight that he is the planner of planners. I do not believe in that kind of planning. The hon. Member seems to know better than the ordinary person what is good for the ordinary person, what he ought to buy, where he ought to buy it, where he ought to manufacture and everything else of that kind. There is the true Socialist"
Boothby was a British delegate to the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe from 1949 until 1957 and advocated the United Kingdom's entry into the European Economic Community, which later evolved into the European Union. He was a prominent commentator on public affairs on radio and television, often taking part in the long-running BBC radio programme Any Questions. He also advocated the virtues of herring as a food.
He was Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Economic Affairs, 1952–56; Honorary President of the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, 1934, Rector of the University of St Andrews, 1958–61; Chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, 1961–63, and President, Anglo-Israel Association, 1962–75. He was awarded an Honorary LLD by St Andrews, 1959 and was made an Honorary Burgess of the Burghs of Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Turriff and Rosehearty. He was appointed an Officer of the Legion of Honour in 1950, a KBE in 1953.
Boothby was raised to the peerage as a life peer with the title Baron Boothby, of Buchan and Rattray Head in the County of Aberdeen, on 22 August 1958. There is a blue plaque on his house in Eaton Square, London. He was the subject of This Is Your Life in October 1963 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at BBC Television Centre.
Boothby had a colourful, if reasonably discreet, private life, mainly because the press refused to print what they knew of him, or were prevented from doing so. Woodrow Wyatt – whose reliability has been questioned – claimed after the death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother that she had confided to him in an interview in 1991 that "The press knew all about it", referring to Boothby's affairs, and that she had described Boothby as "a bounder but not a cad".
He was married twice: in 1935 to Diana Cavendish (marriage dissolved in 1937) and in 1967 to Wanda Sanna, a Sardinian woman 33 years his junior. His second cousin, writer and broadcaster Sir Ludovic Kennedy, asserted that Boothby fathered at least three children by the wives of other men ("two by one woman, one by another)."
From 1930 he had a long affair with Lady Dorothy Macmillan, wife of the Conservative politician Harold Macmillan (who would serve as prime minister from 1957 until 1963). He was rumoured to be father of the youngest Macmillan daughter, Sarah, although Harold Macmillan's most recent biographer D. R. Thorpe discounts Boothby's paternity. This connection to Macmillan, via his wife, has been seen as one of the reasons why the police did not investigate the death of Edward Cavendish, 10th Duke of Devonshire, who died in the presence of suspected serial killer Dr John Bodkin Adams. The duke was Lady Dorothy's brother, and it is thought the police were wary of drawing press attention to her while she was being unfaithful.
Sexuality and the Kray twins
- Main article: The Boothby Affair
Boothby was openly bisexual, in a time when male homosexual activity was a criminal offence. While an undergraduate at Magdalen College, Oxford, Boothby earned the nickname "the Palladium", because "he was twice nightly". He later spoke about the role of a speculated homosexual relationship in the drowning of his friend Michael Llewelyn Davies (one of the models for Peter Pan) and fellow Oxonian Rupert Buxton. He did not start to have physical relationships with women until the age of 25. From 1954 he campaigned publicly for homosexual law reform.
In 1963 Boothby began an illicit affair with East End cat burglar Leslie Holt (d. 1979), a younger man he met at a gambling club. Holt introduced him to the gangster Ronald Kray, the younger Kray twin, who (allegedly) supplied Boothby with young men and arranged orgies in Cedra Court, receiving personal favours from Boothby in return. When Boothby's underworld associations came to the attention of the Sunday Express, the Conservative-supporting paper opted not to publish the damaging story. The matter was eventually reported in 1964 in the Labour-supporting Sunday Mirror tabloid, and the parties subsequently named by the German magazine Stern.
Boothby denied the story and threatened to sue the Mirror. Because Boothby's close friend Tom Driberg – a senior Labour MP, and also homosexual – also associated with the Krays, neither of the major political parties had an interest in publicity, and the paper's owner Cecil King came under pressure from the Labour leadership to drop the matter. The Mirror backed down, sacked its editor, apologised, and paid Boothby £40,000 in an out-of-court settlement. Consequently, other newspapers became less willing to cover the Krays' criminal activities, which continued unchecked for three more years. The police investigation received no support from Scotland Yard, while Boothby embarrassed his fellow peers by campaigning on behalf of the Krays in the Lords, until their increasing violence made association impossible. It has been claimed that journalists who investigated Boothby were subjected to legal threats and break-ins, and that much of this suppression was directed by Arnold Goodman.
In his book on Winston Churchill, Boris Johnson characterizes the effect on reputations of prominent British MPs and aristocrats for favourable comments after meeting Hitler in Germany in the earlier 1930s. He singles out Boothby for avoiding such an effect by his response there to the “Heil Hitler!” salute, which was “Heil Boothby!"
After his death from a heart attack in Westminster Hospital, London, aged 86, Boothby's ashes were scattered at Rattray Head near Crimond, Aberdeenshire, off the coast of his former constituency.
|People associated with The Krays|
|Kray Family||Ronnie • Reggie • Charlie • Violet • Charles|
|Shea Family||Frances • Frank • Elsie • Frank Sr.|
|Lee Family||Cannonball Lee • Grandma Lee • Aunt Rose • Aunt May • Uncle John|
|The Firm||Albert Donoghue • Ian Barrie • Leslie Payne • Big Pat • Ronnie Bender • Ronnie Hart • Teddy Smith • Jack Dickson • The Bear • Chris Lambrianou • Tony Lambrianou • Connie Whitehead|
|The Richardsons||Charlie Richardson • Eddie Richardson • George Cornell • Mad Frankie Fraser • Roy Hall • Jimmy Moody • Barry Harris • Albert Longman • Tommy Clark|
|Gangsters & Criminals||Freddie Foreman • Jack Spot • Billy Hill • Bert Rossi • Albert Dimes • Eric Mason • Johnny Squibb • Ginger Marks • Leslie Holt|
|Civilians||The Barmaid • Blonde Carol • Maureen Flanagan • Nipper Read • Lord Boothby • John Pearson • David Bailey|
|Victims||George Cornell • Frank Mitchell • Jack the Hat|