Otho Prior-Palmer

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Sir Otho Prior-Palmer

Member of Parliament
for Worthing
In office
5 July 1945 – 25 September 1964
Preceded byJulian Snow
Succeeded byTerence Higgins
Personal details
Born(1897-10-28)28 October 1897
Dublin, Ireland
Died29 January 1986(1986-01-29) (aged 88)
Honiton, Devon, England
Political partyConservative
Barbara Frankland
(m. 1926; div. 1936)

Sheila Weller-Poley
(m. 1940; div. 1964)

Elizabeth Mary Adams Henderson (m. 1964)

Brigadier Sir Otho Leslie Prior-Palmer, DSO (28 October 1897 – 29 January 1986) was an Anglo-Irish British Army officer and Conservative Party politician. He served for nearly twenty years as a Member of Parliament for Worthing. His main contributions were on the subject of defence, on which he was sometimes roused to outspoken criticism of the opposition Labour Party.

Early career[edit]

Prior-Palmer was born in Ireland where his father, Spunner Prior-Palmer, was a landowner in County Sligo. He was sent to Wellington College for his schooling, and joined the Army immediately on leaving school. In 1916 he was commissioned into the 9th Lancers. He trained at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Later his younger brother George Erroll Prior-Palmer (1903–77) followed him through Wellington and Sandhurst into the same regiment


During the inter-war period, Prior-Palmer took an interest in equestrianism while continuing in service with the Lancers. He owned a stud which bred horses for the Warwickshire Hounds,[1] although he sometimes had to sell up when his leave was cancelled and he was posted abroad.[2] He also enjoyed sailing in the late 1920s,[3] and was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron.

In July 1926 he married Hon. Barbara Frankland.[4] His interest in horses was also manifest in horse racing: he was at first a jockey. In the Sandown Park Grand Military Gold Cup of 1932, he rode "Master of Orange" and led in the early stages, before coming in second at the finish.[5] Later he was an active trainer of race horses.


In March 1936, Prior-Palmer was promoted Major.[6] However, he sued for and was granted a divorce in 1936 on the grounds of his wife's adultery with the 5th Earl of Normanton,[7] whom she subsequently married. On 11 May 1940 Prior-Palmer took as his second wife, Sheila Weller-Poley.[8] His second wife was to be active in politics later as a Conservative and as Chairman of West Sussex County Council Education Committee.[9]

Second World War[edit]

During the Second World War, Prior-Palmer was placed in command of the 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry in 1940. In March 1942, he was transferred to command the 30th Armoured Brigade, and in August he moved to the 29th Armoured Brigade; both of these units were stationed in Britain. In 1943 Prior-Palmer was put in command of the 7th Armoured Brigade in Italy; this involved heavy fighting. In October 1944 his brigade made a particularly effective contribution to fighting around the Savio River.[10] In 1945 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.[11]

Entry to Parliament[edit]

At the 1945 general election, Prior-Palmer was adopted as the Conservative Party candidate for Worthing, a new constituency which had been created in boundary changes just before the election. He was placed on retired pay by the Army in 1946 with the honorary rank of Brigadier.

In Parliament, Prior-Palmer began his career by voting (along with many backbench Conservative MPs) against the large loan from the United States which the Labour government had negotiated after the end of Lend-Lease. However, these were the only dissenting votes he ever cast against the Conservative whip.[12] In 1946 he argued for retaining conventional defence in addition to nuclear arms, because an answer would be found to the atomic bomb.[13]

Contribution to debates[edit]

With an interest in army training and the cadet services, in May 1947 Prior-Palmer moved a new clause to the National Service Bill which would give an incentive to those who were called up for National Service after achieving a level of efficiency in the cadets.[14] In March 1948 he went on a Parliamentary delegation to East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar).[15] Later that year he warned of the danger of invasion of the United Kingdom by air, and urged the creation of a force to tackle it.[16]


His constituency was safely Conservative and Prior-Palmer had a majority of over 21,000 in the 1951 general election. In the first month of the new Parliament, with a Conservative government once again, he was required to apologise after being overheard saying that the Labour frontbencher and former Minister Jim Griffiths "had never done a damned day's work in his life".[17] In May 1953 he launched a debate on the need for voluntary defence services.[18] In September 1954 he was named on a delegation to visit the Soviet Union.[19]


Prior-Palmer supported abolition of capital punishment in an unwhipped House of Commons vote in February 1956, one of only 48 Conservative MPs to do so.[20] He backed the Eden government on Suez, arguing that it took British and French intervention to get a United Nations force to come in.[21] Having served as Chair of the Conservative Backbenchers' Army sub-committee for most of the 1950s, he was made Vice-Chairman of the Defence Committee from 1958.

Elder statesman[edit]

Knighted in 1959, Prior-Palmer was regarded as an 'elder statesman'[citation needed] but could still be angered by pacifist sentiment. In February 1960 he claimed that the Labour Party had "sent one of their chief leaders to Swaythling to stop men making Spitfires". Despite uproar among Labour MPs present, he refused to withdraw.[22] In February 1961, Prior-Palmer signed, but later withdrew his name from, a motion critical of the constitutional development of Northern Rhodesia.[23]


On 7 November 1963, Prior-Palmer announced that owing to "personal reasons and reasons of ill-health", he would not be a candidate at the next general election.[24] He had in the meantime become involved in business in the field of commercial radio, as an investor.[25] In 1964 he divorced his second wife and married his third, Elizabeth Henderson. They had two sons in the mid-1960s.


  1. ^ "Tattersalls' Sale", The Times, 20 January 1925.
  2. ^ "Tattersalls' Sale", The Times, 9 February 1926.
  3. ^ "Thames Boat Sailing", The Times, 15 June 1926.
  4. ^ "Marriages", The Times, 7 July 1926.
  5. ^ "Racing", The Times, 12 March 1932.
  6. ^ "The Army", The Times, 4 March 1936.
  7. ^ "Probate, Divorce, And Admiralty Division", The Times, 22 December 1936.
  8. ^ "Marriages", The Times, 14 May 1940.
  9. ^ "Plea For Change In School Holidays", The Times, 24 June 1960.
  10. ^ "Swift Advance By Eighth Army", The Times, 23 October 1944.
  11. ^ "Army Awards", The Times, 18 September 1945.
  12. ^ Philip Norton, "Dissension in the House of Commons 1945-74", Macmillan, 1975.
  13. ^ "Mr. Attlee On Defence Policy", The Times, 5 March 1946.
  14. ^ "Competing Claims On Man-Power", The Times, 10 May 1947.
  15. ^ "M.P.'s visit to East Africa", The Times, 17 March 1948.
  16. ^ "House Of Commons", The Times, 24 November 1948.
  17. ^ "Government's Plans For Steel Industry", The Times, 13 November 1951. Griffiths had worked as a miner from the age of 13.
  18. ^ "Parliament", The Times, 16 May 1953.
  19. ^ "British Visitors To Moscow", The Times, 16 September 1954.
  20. ^ "Vote Against Hanging", The Times, 18 February 1956.
  21. ^ "House Of Commons", The Times, 7 November 1956.
  22. ^ "House Of Commons", The Times, 1 March 1960.
  23. ^ "More Conservatives Reassured", The Times, 25 February 1961.
  24. ^ "Worthing M.P. Not To Seek Reelection", The Times, 8 November 1963.
  25. ^ "Pressure Grows For Private Local Radio", The Times, 1 June 1964.


  • M. Stenton and S. Lees, "Who's Who of British MPs" Vol. IV (Harvester Press, 1981)
  • "Who Was Who", A & C Black
  • Thepeerage.com

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Worthing
Succeeded by
Terence Higgins