Robert Armstrong, Baron Armstrong of Ilminster

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Robert Temple Armstrong, Baron Armstrong of Ilminster, GCB, CVO (born 30 March 1927), son of the musician Sir Thomas Armstrong, is a British Lord Temporal and former civil servant.


He was educated at the Dragon School, Eton College, where he was a King's Scholar, and Christ Church, Oxford, where he read Greats. In a long civil service career, Armstrong worked in several departments, including HM Treasury and the Home Office. From 1970 to 1975 he served as the Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister. He was knighted in 1978. From 1979 to 1987, he served as Secretary of the Cabinet under Margaret Thatcher.[1]

Armstrong was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1974,[2] a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in the 1975 Birthday Honours.[3] In the 1978 Birthday Honours he was promoted to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB)[4] and to Knight Grand Cross (GCB) in the 1983 New Year Honours.[5]

He was created a life peer as Baron Armstrong of Ilminster, of Ashill in the County of Somerset on 26 February 1988,[6] and sits as a crossbencher.[7][8]

He is credited with bringing the phrase "economical with the truth" into popular usage, after he used it during the Spycatcher trial in 1986 - his use of the phrase was subsequently included in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

From 1994 to 2006, Lord Armstrong was Chancellor of the University of Hull. He was chairman of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation until 2013.

Spycatcher Trial[edit]

In 1986, Armstrong was the key witness for the British Government as it sought to suppress the publication of Spycatcher, which it alleged its author, Peter Wright had attempted to disclose confidential information. At the time Wright was a retired high-ranking member of MI5 and was about to publish his book in Australia. The evidence given by Armstrong was widely ridiculed by the British press for its absurd ambiguity and seemly deceptive nature. Wright's lawyer, Malcolm Turnbull, who is now Prime Minister of Australia, was ultimately successful in lifting the publication ban. Turnbull described Armstrong as being like "Sir Humphrey Appleby" from Yes, Minister and said "[i]f he is an honest man, then he appears rather like a well-educated mushroom".[9]

Allegations of Child abuse cover-up[edit]

Armstrong was aware of Sir Peter Hayman’s paedophilia, and since leaving office, has commented “Clearly, I was aware of it at the time but I was not concerned with the personal aspect of it.”.[10]

Armstrong gave Margaret Thatcher what he calls a “veiled” warning not to sanction Jimmy Savile’s knighthood for charitable work, due to allegations around his sexual abuse of children. [11]

Armstrong was warned by the security services in 1986 that an MP had ‘a penchant for small boys’. But no action was taken and Armstrong, who refused to name the MP involved, insisted the allegations were just ‘shadows of a rumour’. He said he believed the decision not to investigate the paedophile claims was ‘correct at the time’. [12]

In popular culture[edit]

Armstrong has been portrayed by the following actors in film and television productions;

Styles of address and arms[edit]

Styles of address[edit]

  • 1927–74: Mr Robert T. Armstrong
  • 1974–75: Mr Robert T. Armstrong CB
  • 1975–78: Mr Robert T. Armstrong CB CVO
  • 1978–83: Sir Robert T. Armstrong KCB CVO
  • 1983–88: Sir Robert T. Armstrong GCB CVO
  • 1988–: The Right Honourable The Lord Armstrong of Ilminster GCB CVO


See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Offices held[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Alexander Isserlis
Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister
Succeeded by
Kenneth Stowe
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Peterson
Permanent Secretary of the
Home Office

Succeeded by
Brian Cubbon
Preceded by
Sir John Hunt
Cabinet Secretary
1979 – 1987
Succeeded by
Sir Robin Butler
Preceded by
Sir Douglas Allen
Head of the Home Civil Service
1981 – 1987