Pardoe was educated at Sherborne School, a boarding independent school for boys in the market town of Sherborne in Dorset, followed by Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He was active in the famous Footlights drama club; one critic of their 1955 revue panned future comedian Jonathan Miller whilst predicting a bold comedic future for Pardo.
In the 1964 general election, Pardoe stood as the Liberal candidate against Margaret Thatcher in Finchley. In the 1966 election, the Liberal Party increased its number of MPs from nine to twelve: one of them was Pardoe, who captured the North Cornwall seat from the Conservative Party's James Scott-Hopkins. He rapidly became the party's Economic Affairs spokesman in parliament and was respected for the intellect of his views, if not for the often partisan nature of his comments.
In 1978, John Pardoe MP played the fairy-tale Liberal prime minister in BBC Radio 4's Christmas Pantomime, Black Cinderella Two Goes East, on the basis that Liberal prime ministers exist only in fairy tales. The 'often partisan nature of his comments' became a running gag within the programme.
In the 1979 general election, he lost his seat, possibly because of his outspoken support for neighbouring MP Jeremy Thorpe, who was then standing trial at the Old Bailey for conspiracy and incitement to murder.
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by John Pardoe
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