Alan Watkins

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Not to be confused with Allan Watkins or Henry Watkins Allen.

Alan Rhun Watkins (3 April 1933 – 8 May 2010)[1] was for over 50 years a British political columnist in various London-based magazines and newspapers. He also wrote about wine and rugby.

Life and career[edit]

Born in Tycroes, Carmarthenshire, with parents who were teachers,[2] he was educated at Tycroes Primary School and Amman Valley Grammar School before studying law at Queens' College, Cambridge.[3] After National Service he was called to the Bar.[2]

Much of his long career as a commentator on politics was spent at The Observer newspaper (1976–93), but he also wrote for The Sunday Express (1959–64),[2] The Spectator (1964–67), the New Statesman (1967–76), the Sunday Mirror, and the London Evening Standard.

He was noted for coining the political phrase "the men in grey suits", indicating a delegation of senior party figures who come to tell a party leader that it is time to go. But as he wrote in a footnote in A Conservative Coup:

The original phrase was 'the men in suits'. It was used, for example, by the present writer in the Observer, 6 May 1990. During and before the 39 hours it became transformed into 'the men in grey suits', which stuck. As Lord Whitelaw observed on television, it was an inaccurate phrase, because on the day in question, 21 November, his interviewer could see that he was wearing a blue suit. And, indeed, the typical Conservative grandee tends to wear a dark blue or black suit, with chalk- or pin-stripes, what may be called a White's Club suit. The original phrase 'the men in suits' is the more accurate.[4]

His style might best be described as that of a political raconteur, gently reminding readers that, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

He coined a number of phrases that have passed into common journalistic parlance, such as "young fogey" (1984).

At the end of each year he wrote a piece called "Master Alan Watkins' Almanack", written in the style of a 17th-century seer and making tentative, and slightly tongue-in-cheek, predictions for the year ahead.

He was the author of A Short Walk Down Fleet Street, A Slight Case of Libel: Meacher vs Trelford and Others, Brief Lives and A Conservative Coup.


Watkins was in failing health for several weeks prior to his death at his London home on 8 May 2010 from renal failure. He was 77.[5]


  1. ^ Michael White (9 May 2010). "Alan Watkins obituary: Political colunmnist with a bloody-minded independent streak". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 9 May 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c Ciar Byrne (12 June 2006). "The Indestructible Journos", The Independent (London). Retrieved on 20 October 2008.
  3. ^ Ammanford, Carmarthenshire web site
  4. ^ Alan Watkins, A Conservative Coup. The Fall of Margaret Thatcher (Duckworth, 1992), pp. 6–7, n. 5.
  5. ^ David Connett (9 May 2010). "Alan Watkins, doyen of political commentators, dies at 77". The Independent (London). Retrieved 9 May 2010. 



  • Watkins, Alan (1982) Brief Lives, London: Hamish Hamilton ISBN 0-241-10890-X
  • Watkins, Alan (1990) A Slight Case of Libel: Meacher Versus Trelford and Others, London: Duckworth ISBN 0-7156-2334-6
  • Watkins, Alan (1991) A Conservative Coup: The Fall of Margaret Thatcher, London: Duckworth ISBN 0-7156-2386-9
  • Watkins, Alan (1998) The Road to Number 10: From Bonar Law to Tony Blair, London: Duckworth ISBN 0-7156-2815-1
  • Watkins, Alan (2001) A Short Walk Down Fleet Street: From Beaverbrook to Boycott, London: Duckworth ISBN 0-7156-3143-8


Further reading[edit]

  • Watkins, Alan (1991). A Conservative Coup: The Fall of Margaret Thatcher, London, Duckworth. ISBN 0-7156-2386-9.

External links[edit]