SIR PERCY CRADOCK KGCMG (1923 – 2010)
The obituary that appeared in The Times on 28th January 2010 was so short that even avid readers of that erstwhile publication may well have either missed it, or else passed over it quickly, judging it as ‘unimportant’. It simply informed readers: ‘The Rt Hon. Sir Percy Cradock, GCMG, died after a short illness on 22nd January 2010, aged 86 years. Funeral Service at St Mary’s Church, Twickenham, Wednesday 3rd February 2010 at 1.30pm, followed by cremation’. Why should anyone care? These are the reasons why…
Percy Cradock was born on 26th October 1923 into a family of small farmers in Byers Green, and became a fervent Labour supporter. He won a scholarship to Alderman Wraith Grammar School and, after spending the wartime years in the RAF, was the first from his family to go to university.
At St John’s College, Cambridge, he won all the prizes, got double starred Firsts in English and Law, and fell under the spell of Arthur Waley’s Translations from the Chinese, later becoming an Honorary Fellow of the College. In 1950 he was elected president of the Cambridge Union, which has, since its founding in 1815, developed a worldwide reputation as a noted symbol of free speech and open debate, beating his Conservative opponent Norman St John Stevas into second place. Cradock’s victory is said to have owed less to his politics than it did to his reputation as the Union’s best speaker by far. Later, he would write a history of the Union.
He stayed on at Cambridge for a time to teach Law, then, having been called to the Bar by Middle Temple in 1953, he left Cambridge, married Birthe Marie Dyrlund, and joined the Foreign Office as a late entrant in 1954. Subsequent to that he served as: First Secretary, Kuala Lumpur [Malaysia], 1957-61, Hong Kong, 1961, Peking [China], 1962; Foreign Office, 1963-66; Counsellor and Head of Chancery, Peking, 1966-68; Chargé d’Affaires, Peking, 1968-69; Head of Planning Staff, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 1969-71; Under-Secretary, Cabinet Office, 1971-75; Ambassador to German Democratic Republic, 1976-78; Leader, UK Delegation to Comprehensive Test Ban Discussions at Geneva [Switzerland], 1978.
He was then posted back to Beijing, this time as British Ambassador, succeeding Sir Edward Youde, and he led the negotiations on the Hong Kong Joint Declaration which prepared for the handing back of the Province to its owners, the Chinese Government, earning himself the soubriquet ‘Maggie’s Mandarin’.
On his previous appointment to Beijing he had been caught up in the Cultural Revolution, witnessed the burning of the British Chancery and had even been forced to run the gauntlet of rioting mobs. This time he led the British team during difficult, often tense negotiations over the better part of two years; though by the time the Joint Declaration was signed in December 1984, he had been appointed Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and was working from a desk in Number 10 once again. A year later he was also appointed Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, duties which he continued to fulfil until his retirement from government service in 1992. In 1993 he was made a member of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, a body of advisors to the reigning sovereign.
After his retirement, Cradock, who had always been pro-Chinese, became the most outspoken critic of Chris Patten, the last British Governor of Hong Kong, and of his liberalising policies, which he insisted would force the government of the People’s Republic to take strong action to reign in personal freedoms when it took back control on 1st July, 1997.
He was the author of a long article published in ‘Prospect’ on 20th April 1997 with the title ‘Losing the Plot in Hong Kong’, in which he wrote scathingly of ‘…the story of a bad mistake, which has left Hong Kong worse off in terms of protection and democracy than it need have been’. He went on to say ‘It has gone unacknowledged, as government errors tend to do, and has been almost buried under the powerful emotions stirred up by the loss of our last great colonial possession and the inevitable political-cultural clash…’
So this Spennymoor born man, who served his country to the best of his ability, as an advisor, both to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and to her Prime Minister; who was awarded the GCMG (Cross of St. Michael and St. George) in 1968; raised to KCMG (Knight of the Cross of St. Michael and St. George) in 1980 and finally to KGCMG (Knight of the Grand Cross of St. Michael and St. George) in 1983, passed away on 22nd January after a short illness, at the age of 86.
Knights have always been regarded, since time immemorial as men of courage and valour. We humbly record the passing of one of our own – the death of a Spennymoor Knight.
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