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Born in Islington, the son of a distinguished neurologist as a boy Critchley was brought up in Swiss Cottage, north London, and Shropshire, where he attended preparatory Brockhurst School in Church Stretton, and later Shrewsbury School. He returned to London to take his Higher Certificate, and was rejected from National Service after contracting polio. After a year living and studying at the Sorbonne Paris, he went up to Pembroke College, Oxford in 1951, where he read Politics, Philosophy and Economics.
He served as a Conservative Member of Parliament, firstly for Rochester and Chatham from 1959 to 1964 and then for Aldershot from 1970 until his retirement at the 1997 election. While out of parliament from 1964 to 1970, he worked as a journalist, including as a TV critic for The Times; he continued to be active as a journalist and author throughout the remainder of his career. Having lost Rochester and Chatham in 1964, he stood again for the seat in 1966 election, but was once again defeated by Labour's Anne Kerr.
He was considered to be on the left wing of the Conservative Party (one of the 'wets' in Thatcherite terminology), and never attained ministerial rank. He became identified as a prominent Tory critic of Margaret Thatcher. In 1980, he sparked controversy by writing an anonymous article in The Observer, signed 'by a Tory', in which he criticised Thatcher's 'A level economics' and called her 'didactic, tart and obstinate'. He was later forced to admit authorship. He also memorably referred to her as 'the great she-elephant' and claims responsibility for the currency of the phrase 'one of us', which she used privately to refer to colleagues whom she saw as loyal and supportive of her policies. It became used by Hugo Young as the title of his biography of Thatcher. Critchley was, however, supportive of Thatcher's stance at the time of the Falklands War.
Critchley was a long-standing friend of Michael Heseltine, having met him first at preparatory school. Both then went on to Shrewsbury and Pembroke College, Oxford, and Critchley was best man at Heseltine's wedding. Their friendship waned in the 1960s, but Critchley still supported Heseltine in the 1990 leadership election.
From the early 1990s, Critchley became severely restricted in mobility from complications arising from the polio from which he had suffered as a young man. Still, he successfully re-contested his Aldershot seat at the 1992 election but became an infrequent attender at the House of Commons until his retirement in 1997. He was knighted in 1995.
After his retirement he was expelled from the mainstream Conservative party for backing the Pro-Euro Conservative Party in the 1999 European Parliament election. He died the next year in Hereford from prostate cancer aged 69. He was married twice, and had four children. In later life he settled in Shropshire at Ludlow, and was buried in the parish churchyard at Wistanstow near Craven Arms. Critchley became highly regarded as a witty and acerbic political writer and journalist, increasingly so towards the end of his life. His 1994 volume of memoirs, A Bag of Boiled Sweets, was described by Jeremy Paxman as "the most entertaining set of political memoirs to have been published in years". He also wrote two mystery novels set in Parliament, Hung Parliament and Floating Voter, which feature an MP-turned-sleuth who was based on Critchley, and a mix of real and invented MPs (the latter providing the victims and suspects).
- Critchley, Julian, Westminster Blues, London, 1981
- Critchley, Julian, The Palace of Varieties, London, 1983
- Critchley, Julian, Heseltine - The Unauthorised Biography, André Deutsch, London, September 1987, ISBN 0-233-98001-6
- Critchley, Julian, A Bag of Boiled Sweets, Faber and Faber, London, 1994, ISBN 0-571-17496-5
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Julian Critchley
- Former MP Critchley dies
- Guardian Obituary
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for Rochester and Chatham
|Member of Parliament for Aldershot