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The Right Honourable

The Lord Home of the Hirsel

KT PC
Lord Alec Douglas-Home Allan Warren.jpg
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
18 October 1963 – 16 October 1964
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Harold Macmillan
Succeeded by Harold Wilson
Leader of the Opposition
In office
16 October 1964 – 28 July 1965
Monarch Elizabeth II
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Harold Wilson
Succeeded by Edward Heath
Foreign Secretary
In office
20 June 1970 – 4 March 1974
Prime Minister Edward Heath
Preceded by Michael Stewart
Succeeded by James Callaghan
In office
27 July 1960 – 18 October 1963
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Preceded by Selwyn Lloyd
Succeeded by Rab Butler
Lord President of the Council
In office
14 October 1959 – 27 July 1960
Preceded by The Viscount Hailsham
Succeeded by The Viscount Hailsham
In office
29 March 1957 – 17 September 1957
Preceded by The Marquess of Salisbury
Succeeded by The Viscount Hailsham
Leader of the House of Lords
In office
29 March 1957 – 27 July 1960
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Preceded by The Marquess of Salisbury
Succeeded by The Viscount Hailsham
Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations
In office
7 April 1955 – 27 July 1960
Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden
Harold Macmillan
Preceded by The Earl of Swinton
Succeeded by Duncan Sandys
Personal details
Born (1903-07-02)2 July 1903
Mayfair, Westminster, England
Died 9 October 1995(1995-10-09) (aged 92)
The Hirsel, Coldstream, Berwickshire, Scotland
Nationality British
Political party Conservative (SUP)
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Douglas-Home
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford
Profession Member of Parliament
Lord Dunglass
Personal information
Batting Right-hand batsman
Bowling Right-arm fast-medium
Relations A Douglas-Home (nephew),
J Wolfe-Murray (son-in-law)
Domestic team information
Years Team
1926–27 MCC
1926 Oxford University
1924–25 Middlesex
First-class debut 3 May 1924 Middlesex v 
Oxford University
Last First-class 21 May 1927 Oxford University v Harlequins
Career statistics
Competition First-class
Matches 10
Runs scored 147
Batting average 16.33
100s/50s 0/0
Top score 37*
Balls bowled 688
Wickets 12
Bowling average 30.25
5 wickets in innings 0
10 wickets in match 0
Best bowling 3/43
Catches/stumpings 9/–
Source: CricketArchive, 25 April 2011

Alexander Frederick Douglas-Home, Baron Home of the Hirsel,[1] KT, PC (2 July 1903 – 9 October 1995), known as The Earl of Home from 1951 to 1963 and as Sir Alec Douglas-Home from 1963 to 1974, was a British Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from October 1963 to October 1964. He is the last member of the House of Lords to be appointed Prime Minister. In order to become Prime Minister, he had to disclaim his peerage and contest a by-election to enter the House of Commons. He is also the only Prime Minister to have played first class cricket.

Early life and family[edit]

Douglas-Home was born in Mayfair, Westminster, England, the eldest of seven children born to Charles, Lord Dunglass, (the oldest son of the 12th Earl of Home) and Lady Lilian Lambton, daughter of Frederick Lambton, 4th Earl of Durham. His mother was the great-great-granddaughter of the reforming Prime Minister Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. After his father's succession to the Earldom in 1918 he held the courtesy title Lord Dunglass. One of his brothers was the dramatist William Douglas-Home.

Education[edit]

Douglas-Home was educated at Ludgrove School, followed by Eton College and Christ Church at the University of Oxford, where he graduated with a Third Class Honours MA in Modern History in 1925. He was President of Vincent's Club in 1926. At Eton, his contemporaries included Cyril Connolly, who later described him as "a votary of the esoteric Eton religion, the kind of graceful, tolerant, sleepy boy who is showered with all the laurels, who is liked by the masters and admired by the boys without any apparent exertion on his part". Connolly famously concluded, "in the eighteenth century he would have become Prime Minister before he was 30: as it was he appeared honourably ineligible for the struggle of life".[2]

Life and career[edit]

In 1936 Douglas-Home married Elizabeth Alington, the daughter of Cyril Alington, who had been Douglas-Home's headmaster at Eton. They had four children: Caroline, Meriel, Diana and David.

Cricket career[edit]

Douglas-Home was a talented cricketer at school, club and county level, and is the only British prime minister to have played first-class cricket. Amongst other clubs, he represented the MCC, Middlesex CCC and Oxford University Cricket Club at first-class level, playing under the name "Lord Dunglass", his title at the time. Between 1924 and 1927, Douglas-Home played 10 first-class matches, scoring 147 runs at an average of 16.33 and with a best score of 37 not out. As a right-arm fast-medium bowler he took 12 wickets at an average of 30.25 with a best of 3 for 43. Three of his first-class games were internationals against Argentina on the MCC 'representative' tour of South America in 1926–27.

After Douglas-Home had retired as prime minister, he became president of the MCC in 1966. Between 1977 and 1989 he was Governor of I Zingari, the well-known nomadic cricket team.

Member of Parliament[edit]

Douglas-Home became the Scottish Unionist Party Member of Parliament (MP) for Lanark in 1931. His high birth gave him a head start in Parliament, and he served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Neville Chamberlain from 1937 to 1939, witnessing first-hand the latter's attempts to stave off World War II through negotiation with Adolf Hitler. Douglas-Home fell gravely ill with spinal tuberculosis in 1938, which kept him immobile on his back for two years and prevented him from taking an active part in World War II.

Home lost his parliamentary seat in the Conservatives' landslide defeat in the 1945 general election, but regained it in 1950. He was automatically disqualified from the Commons in 1951, and stepped down as MP, when he inherited his father's seat in the House of Lords, becoming the 14th Earl of Home.

Lord Home, as he then was, served not only as Commonwealth Secretary from 1955 during the time of the Suez Crisis but, from 1957, also as Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (the latter twice; briefly in 1957 and subsequently from 1959). Home traded all three for the Foreign Office in 1960. In 1962, he was created a knight of the Order of the Thistle, the highest Scottish honour and in the personal gift of the Monarch, which entitled him to be styled "Sir" after later disclaiming his earldom.

Appointment as Prime Minister[edit]

On 18 October 1963, Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan suddenly resigned following prostate trouble from which he feared he would not recover (though ultimately he lived another 23 years).[3]Macmillan was also facing a serious political crisis over the Profumo Affair, when his Secretary of State for War Sir John Profumo had had to resign shortly before, over allegations of patronizing the prostitute Christine Keeler who had Soviet naval attache / spy Yevgeny Ivanov as another client.

At the time, the Conservative Party had no formal procedure for selecting a leader, merely a series of informal soundings among MPs and senior party figures. Queen Elizabeth II was expected to choose a new Prime Minister on the basis of advice given her by the party's elder statesmen.

Douglas-Home did not originally seek the office of Prime Minister, being apparently quite content to serve in the House of Lords and hold the office of Foreign Secretary. Home was put forth by Macmillan as a compromise candidate and was persuaded to enter the race.[4] Though Rab Butler, effectively the "Deputy Prime Minister" (officially no such constitutional office then existed, with the title on its rare usages being an honorary one), was the favourite among Conservative MPs, Home was preferred by the elder statesmen, some of whom indicated that they would refuse to serve in Cabinet under Butler or the other potential candidate, Quintin Hogg. Macmillan was apparently determined not to allow Butler to succeed him.[4]

Macmillan's resignation took place at the time of the 1963 Conservative Party Conference, which became something akin to an United States presidential nominating convention, as various candidates and their supporters competed publicly for the position. Following a series of consultations to determine who could command support from across the party and prove the best compromise candidate, Macmillan advised Queen Elizabeth II. Although it was argued that he had no right to advise the Queen as to whom to invite to kiss hands as Prime Minister, and the Queen was under no obligation to accept his advice, the Queen duly invited the Earl of Home to become Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury. The Queen first invited Home to Buckingham Palace for a meeting and granted him 24 hours to determine whether he could successfully form an administration. Home determined that he could do so.[5]

Douglas-Home believed it would not be practical to serve as Prime Minister from the Lords. It was widely believed that Lord Curzon had not been invited to become prime minister in 1923 because of his seat in the Lords. Using the Peerage Act 1963, which had only been passed earlier in the same year after Tony Benn's campaign to disclaim his peerage, Home disclaimed his Earldom and other peerages on 23 October 1963. For the next two weeks he belonged to neither House of Parliament, a very unusual occurrence for a sitting Prime Minister. As "Sir Alec Douglas-Home", he contested and won a by-election in the safe seat of Kinross & West Perthshire.

Defeat and opposition[edit]

Linked as it was to the damaged former government's Profumo Affair of 1963, Douglas-Home's tenure as prime minister lasted only one year. The October 1964 general election was won by the Labour Party under the new leadership of Harold Wilson. The margin of victory proved narrow and the election thus provided a much sterner test for Wilson than expected. Indeed it was in this campaign that Home made his most famous remark. Wilson kept telling Douglas-Home that he was not a man of the people, as he was the 14th Earl of Home. Douglas-Home responded, "as far as the 14th Earl is concerned I suppose that Mr. Wilson, when you come to think of it, is the 14th Mr. Wilson".

Home remained leader of the party until his resignation in July of the following year. At this time, Douglas-Home himself revised the rules of the Conservative Party to allow the party leader to be selected by a series of ballots of all Conservative MPs.[6] The resulting leadership election was won by Edward Heath, who defeated Reginald Maudling and Enoch Powell. Over the following six years, Douglas-Home was notably loyal to Heath, comparing those who questioned his position with impatient gardeners who would keep digging up a tree to gauge its progress by examining its roots.

Return to government[edit]

In 1970, Heath became prime minister, and Douglas-Home returned to the post of Foreign Secretary. As of 2011, he is the last former Prime Minister to take a Ministry in someone else's Cabinet.

Retirement[edit]

In 1973, Douglas-Home announced his intention to retire from Parliament and government at the next general election but was overtaken by the calling of a snap general election in February 1974. Following the defeat of the Heath government by Harold Wilson in 1974, Douglas-Home retired from front-line politics and stood down from the Commons at the October 1974 election.

In the 1979 devolution referendum, Douglas-Home made a high profile statement arguing that an incoming Conservative Government would introduce a better Scottish Assembly. In fact, Margaret Thatcher's government introduced no Assembly at all for Scotland, instead repealing the legislation that resulted from the referendum.

From 1977 to 1980, he chaired the Bilderberg Group meetings, replacing Prince Bernhard.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Douglas-Home was restored to the House of Lords when he accepted a life peerage, becoming known as Baron Home of the Hirsel, of Coldstream in the County of Berwick.[8] The Hirsel was his family seat in Berwickshire, and he continued to appear in the House of Lords into his nineties. As of 2009, Douglas-Home ranks as the third-longest-lived British Prime Minister, behind James Callaghan and Harold Macmillan. His autobiography, The Way The Wind Blows, was published in 1976. He was also the author of Peaceful Change (1964) and Border Reflections (1979). His correspondence with his grandson Matthew Darby was published as Letters to a Grandson in 1983.

Death[edit]

He died on 9 October 1995 at his home, The Hirsel, in Berwickshire. He was 92 years old.[9] He was buried shortly afterwards at nearby Coldstream.[10]

He was succeeded as Earl of Home by his only son, David Douglas-Home. He also had three daughters, Lady Caroline Douglas-Home DL, Lady Meriel Darby (who married Adrian Darby OBE) and Lady Diana Wolfe Murray (who married James Wolfe Murray).[11]

Attempted kidnapping[edit]

A plot to kidnap Home in April 1964 was foiled by the Prime Minister himself. Two left-wing students from the University of Aberdeen planned to kidnap him. Home met the two students in public and gave them £1 for a charity in return for not kidnapping him, which he took as a joke. The students followed his car, intending to force it to crash or block it, and then kidnap the Prime Minister. They lost their nerve and instead went to the house of John and Priscilla Buchan, where Home was staying. He was alone at the time and answered the door, where the students told him that they planned to kidnap him. Home responded, "I suppose you realise if you do, the Conservatives will win the election by 200 or 300." After packing several things, he offered the kidnappers some beer, which they accepted. Home eventually convinced them to abandon their plot.

Home never publicly spoke of the kidnapping because he did not want to ruin the career of his bodyguard but told the story in 1977 to the former Lord Chancellor Quintin Hogg, who recorded it in his diaries.[12][13]

In July 2009, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a dramatisation of the event entitled The Night They Tried to Kidnap the Prime Minister, written by Martin Jameson and starring Tim McInnerny as Home.

Titles from birth to death[edit]

  • The Hon. Alec Douglas-Home (1903–1918)
  • Lord Dunglass (1918–1931, 1945–1950)
  • Lord Dunglass, MP (1931–1945, 1950–1951)
  • The Rt Hon. Lord Dunglass, MP (1951)
  • The Rt Hon. The Earl of Home, PC (1951–1962)
  • The Rt Hon. The Earl of Home, KT, PC (1962–1963)
  • The Rt Hon. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, KT (1963, 1974)
  • The Rt Hon. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, KT, MP (1963–1974)
  • The Rt Hon. The Lord Home of the Hirsel, KT, PC (1974–1995)

Nicknames[edit]

Douglas-Home was constantly referred to as 'Baillie Vass' by the satirical magazine Private Eye. This running joke began in 1964 when a provincial newspaper, the Aberdeen Evening Express accidentally used a picture of Douglas-Home over a caption referring to a baillie called Vass. Private Eye then affected to believe that Douglas-Home was an impostor whom the newspaper had unmasked, and the magazine maintained this conceit until his death.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home's Government, October 1963 – October 1964[edit]

Changes[edit]

  • April 1964: Quintin Hogg became Secretary of State for Education and Science. Sir Edward Boyle left the Cabinet

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Family name pronounced Hume
  2. ^ Connolly, Cyril (1938). Enemies of Promise. 
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ a b The Tarnished Crown, by Anthony Holden, London 1993, Viking Publishers, ISBN 0-670-84624-4, p. 209
  5. ^ Royal: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, by Robert Lacey, Little, Brown publishers, London 2002, ISBN 0-316-85940-0, pp. 215–216
  6. ^ The Tarnished Crown, by Anthony Holden, London 1993, Viking Publishers, ISBN 0-670-84624-4, p. 211
  7. ^ "Twenty-fifth Bilderberg meeting held". Facts on File World News Digest. 14 May 1977. Alec Douglas-Home, the former prime minister of Great Britain, chaired the conference, replacing Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, who had previously headed the Bilderberg invitation committee. (Prince Bernhard had resigned all public positions after the 1976 Lockheed scandal) 
  8. ^ London Gazette (24 December 1974) Issue 46441 pp 1–2
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ [3]
  11. ^ "Born". Time. 20 March 1964. Retrieved 4 August 2008. To Diana Wolfe-Murray, 23, youngest daughter of Britain's Prime Minister; and James Archibald Wolfe-Murray, 27, executive of Glasgow's James Buchanan Ltd., makers of Black & White Scotch: their first child, a daughter (and first grandchild for 60-year-old Sir Alec); in London 
  12. ^ "BBC Today Programme". 14 April 2008. Retrieved 2008.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  13. ^ Andrew Pierce (14 April 2008). "How Alec Douglas-Home foiled student kidnappers with beer". London: Daily Telegraph. A bungled plot by Left-wing students to kidnap Alec Douglas-Home, the Conservative prime minister, has been revealed for the first time in the coded diaries of Lord Hailsham, the former Lord Chancellor 

References[edit]

  • Dickie, J. (1964) The Uncommon Commoner: A Study of Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Pall Mall.
  • Douglas-Home, Alec, Sir (1964) Peaceful Change
  • Dutton, D. (2006) Alec Douglas-Home (20 British Prime Ministers of the 20th Century), Haus Publishing
  • Home of the Hirsel, Lord (1976) The Way the Wind Blows: An Autobiography, London: Collins
  • Home of the Hirsel, Lord (1979) Border Reflections, London: Collins
  • Home of the Hirsel, Lord (1983) Letters to a Grandson, London: HarperCollins.
  • Hughes, E. (1964) Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Housman
  • Thorpe, D.R. (1996) Alec Douglas-Home, Sinclair-Stevenson
  • Young, K. (1971) Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Fairleigh Dickinson

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Thomas Scott Dickson
Member of Parliament for Lanark
19311945
Succeeded by
Thomas Steele
Preceded by
Thomas Steele
Member of Parliament for Lanark
19501951
Succeeded by
Patrick Maitland
Preceded by
Gilmour Leburn
Member of Parliament for
Kinross and Western Perthshire

1963October 1974
Succeeded by
Nicholas Fairbairn
Political offices
Preceded by
George Henry Hall
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
1945
with The Lord Lovat
Succeeded by
Hector McNeil
Preceded by
Margaret Herbison
as Under-Secretary of State for Scotland
Minister of State for Scotland
1951–1955
Succeeded by
Tom Galbraith
Preceded by
The Viscount Swinton
Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations
1955–1960
Succeeded by
Duncan Sandys
Preceded by
The Marquess of Salisbury
Lord President of the Council
1957
Succeeded by
The Viscount Hailsham
Leader of the House of Lords
1957–1960
Preceded by
The Viscount Hailsham
Lord President of the Council
1959–1960
Preceded by
Selwyn Lloyd
Foreign Secretary
1960–1963
Succeeded by
Rab Butler
Preceded by
Harold Macmillan
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
20 October 1963 – 16 October 1964
Succeeded by
Harold Wilson
Preceded by
Harold Wilson
Leader of the Opposition
1964–1965
Succeeded by
Edward Heath
Preceded by
Christopher Soames
Shadow Foreign Secretary
1966–1970
Succeeded by
Denis Healey
Preceded by
Michael Stewart
Foreign Secretary
1970–1974
Succeeded by
James Callaghan
Preceded by
James Callaghan
Shadow Foreign Secretary
1974
Succeeded by
Geoffrey Rippon
Party political offices
Preceded by
The Marquess of Salisbury
Leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords
1957–1960
Succeeded by
The Viscount Hailsham
Preceded by
Harold Macmillan
Leader of the British Conservative Party
1963–1965
Succeeded by
Edward Heath
Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
Charles Douglas-Home
Earl of Home
1951–1963¹
Vacant
Title next held by
David Douglas-Home
Notes and references
1. Home disclaimed his peerage in 1963 in order to be eligible for election in the Commons