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In the third of an occasional series about people who are now sometimes forgotten, but who have a connection with Guildford in one way or another, Bernard Parke recalls Bruce Bernard Weatherill.
Bruce Bernard Weatherill.
Despite his international fame in later years, many Guildfordians will claim Bruce Bernard Weatherill as one of their own.
Lord Weatherill will be remembered as a popular Speaker of the House of Commons during the Thatcher years.
He was born in 1920, and in his formative years lived in Nightingale Road, Guildford, before moving on to Malvern College. He had hoped to go on to university, but his father wanted him to learn the trade of tailoring.
Bernard Weatherill Snr was far from being a Tory. He was an active Fabian Socialist whose activities forced him to leave employment and set up his own business. From its beginnings in Sunninghill, Berkshire, in the business blossomed from its Saville Road base, and soon a royal warrant was obtained.
Lord Weatherill, was known to family and friends as ‘Jack’. He was one of twins, whose sibling was christen Jill, Hence the pair became known as Jack and Jill and so the name of Jack stuck.
With the coming of the Second World War. his love of horses lead him into the Royal Dragoon Guards. But he was not happy serving with them and so transferred to the Indian Army and became proficient in Urdu.
After the war, he returned to Guildford and became a Young Conservative; and so on to becoming divisional Young Conservative chairman for the Guildford constituency.
Membership rose dramatically under the chairmanship of this very handsome ex-cavalry officer. His ambition was to become Guildford’s MP. But perhaps he was too successful, for politics is a strange business.
He was an applicant for the Woking seat, but Cranley Onslow was selected instead.
Just a week before Guildford MP Richard Nugent decided to stand down, ‘Jack’ Weatherill had been chosen to fight Croydon North East for the Tories. Evidently he was greatly disappointed that he missed out on being a candidate for the Guildford seat in Parliament. David Howell, now Lord Howell, was selected and became Guildford’s MP.
‘Jack’ entered Parliament after the 1964 election at which the Tories were swept away in favour of the Wilson Government.
Back in 1949 he married to Lyn Eatwell. They had met on board a ship as it was leaving for the USA. Jack noticed a tear rolling down her cheek as the ship slipped its moorings. He offered her a handkerchief and from that simple beginning, a lifelong union was formed.
For a time they rented a house in Downside Road, Guildford, until they moved into Tyting Farm a short distance away.
‘Jack’ was a talented and much loved figure, but in dong so one will realise that he was “his own man” and not just voting lobby fonder. He was not adverse about telling stories of himself.
Perhaps the story that seems to be reported more than most is the one where he was asked by a rather crusty old Tory what he did in life. He replied: “I am a tailor, Sir.” With that back came the response: “One of the Shropshire Tailors?”
His tact in dealing with difficult people led him to become a party whip and on the accession of Margaret Thatcher to the premiership in 1979, chief whip.
He was an obvious choice to succeed George Thomas as Speaker in 1983. Unlike his predecessor, the late Lord Ponypandy, who was a lay preacher, his voice did not command the same effect, but the relaxed manner of this gentleman soon counterbalanced that of George Thomas.
He was always prepared to fight for the under dog. He abhorred what he saw as the unforgivable attention given to statements made to the press and the television cameras when they first should be aired in The House itself.
Perhaps the saddest thing about him is that, when he died aged 86 in 2007, we in Guildford lost a sincere friend who would have been a fine MP for us.
In fact, it could be said that we shall never see such unbiased statesman again who stood firmly for what he believed to be right.
Editor David Rose adds: The above photo shows staff of Bernard Weatherill outside a shop. This photo appeared in my first book, Images of Guildford, co-written with Graham Collyer and published in 1998.
It was reproduced from an original picture postcard and on the reverse side someone had written: “Bernard Weatherill tailor’s shop, Bridge Street, Guildford.”
A few years after the book was published I took a phone call one morning from Lord Weatherill. He wanted to know where he could obtain a copy of the book as he was interested in the picture of the family business. I think I put him in direct contact with the publishers, but before he rang off I asked him whether he knew anything about the photo as we were now a bit unsure if his father ever had a shop in Bridge Street – although he did have premises elsewhere in Guildford.
Without making any fuss he said: “No, that was taken at South Ascot.” He didn’t appear to be bothered that a picture in a Guildford book was not taken in the town. Perhaps he was being extremely polite. Furthermore, once he had obtained a copy of the book, he wrote me a nice letter of thanks on House of Commons notepaper!