The tribute made by Sir John Major at the memorial service of the Rt. Hon. The Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville CH, held at St. Margaret’s at Westminster on 30 January 2024.
Peter Brooke was a friend to many, and a foe to few: truly, a man to be cherished. What he was not was the popular perception of a politician.
Peter was attractively innocent of black arts and slick deceptions. They disfigure political life and were never for him. He could find a kindly word for the worst of rogues and – if he ever did feel ill-will – he hid it.
Even so, he was shrewd about life and politics – except, perhaps, on one occasion.
When I met Peter over 50 years ago, he was seeking a candidacy for election to the then Greater London Council.
In those days he was very literal – too much so as it turned out. Upon asking the Selection Committee what he should talk about, he was told: “Anything you like”.
Peter took this at face value, and delivered an erudite address on the Battle of Waterloo – ending, by quoting Wellington, that the outcome “was a close run thing”.
This baffled the Committee, who – not unreasonably – had expected the “anything you like” to be about politics. As a result, the selection was not close run at all. Peter lost.
But politics was never going to lose Peter. It was in his blood, inherited from his distinguished parents.
In 1977, he was elected to Parliament and so began a Parliamentary career that would last 38 years – and leave a lasting legacy.
As Secretary of State for Northern Ireland he was charged to bring the political Parties to “talks about talks” – and he did.
He also made public – for the first time – the important truth that Britain “had no selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland”, and that the unification of North and South was dependent on the will of the people – not the diktat of the British Government.
Peter understood the fundamental truth that the hurdles to Peace were so many – and so varied – that the only way to proceed was to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving on.
He understood that – even if we didn’t get where we wished to go “we might, at least, get away from where we once were.”. And he was right.
As Culture Secretary – a role for which Peter was uniquely suited – he ushered through Parliament the legislation for the National Lottery.
At its birth, the Lottery had a raft of critics, who accused the Government of “encouraging the poor to gamble” – which we both thought a rather patronising view.
Peter shrugged and suggested the critics had just had a bad day at the Races. We ploughed on.
And I’m glad we did. When last I looked, the Lottery had distributed 46 billion pounds to good causes – notably the Arts, Sport and our National Heritage.
The public purse would have never been able to deliver that – but every part of the United Kingdom has benefited from it.
Peter also served at The Treasury and the Department of Education – and as Chairman of the Conservative Party. In the Lords, he was elected Chairman of the Conservative Peers.
All of this, of course, is but a thumbnail sketch of a long and distinguished political career, lived in parallel with a wide-ranging hinterland.
In that hinterland, Peter loved to visit churches and old buildings. He collected watercolours – and memorabilia of all sorts – and hoarded it all.
His love of cricket was legendary, and his knowledge of it encyclopaedic.
To talk with Peter about cricket was to enter an alternative world that, occasionally, embraced the present, sometimes the future but, most typically ….. the distant past.
Whenever Cabinet or a Government Committee was boring or interminable (or both – as they could be), a note from Peter would be selectively circulated with obscure questions about cricket.
“Was it true that women invented over-arm bowling because, when they played, their voluminous skirts impeded them from bowling under-arm?” Probably, yes.
In later years, his questions arrived by postcard – invariably picturing a venerable church he had visited, or an ancient print he had discovered.
For nearly every question, Peter had an answer – and an anecdote.
But not always.
“Which cricketing cleric,” he once asked, “scored a hundred before lunch, had only one hand, and delayed Evensong until the match was over?”.
I searched for days, but eventually gave up.
“Yes”, said Peter, “I couldn’t find that either. I don’t think it can be true.” I nearly brained him.
* * * * *
Peter was a cultured man: always a joy, and never a bore. To talk to him of the Arts and Literature was an education as well as a pleasure. #
He was a human face in politics: an old style Tory – sometimes patrician, but never partisan.
He had the ability to understand and empathise with views that were not his own – a form of politics less prevalent today than one would wish it to be.
He brought humour and compassion to all around him: his family, his friends, his profession – and the nation he served so well and so faithfully.
Peter loved life and enhanced it for others.
In recent years, Peter was unwell, and frustrated with mind and body.
It was unfair – as fate so often is.
But Lindsay – who brought him not only happiness but contentment – cared for him with the devotion he deserved. In this – and in the love of his family – Peter was a lucky man.
He leaves us all – most especially Lindsay, Jonathan, Daniel and Sebastian – (and the wider family) with a hole in our lives, but a lifetime of memories which will, in time, help fill it.
Peter and I – as cricket tragics – would sometimes quote random lines to each other from the most famous of all cricket poems, written in 1861 by the bohemian, William Jeffrey Prowse:
This morning, its closing lines seem appropriate:
“Proudly, sadly, will we name him – to forget him were a sin;
lightly lie the turf upon thee, kind and manly, Alfred Mynn.”
And on you Peter, my dear friend. And on you.