What exactly Carrington believed, what he sought to achieve, is left largely unsaid by his biographer. Carrington glides through the pages of this book as though he were largely unconnected to it. Perhaps this reflects the public persona of the man, but for a biography it seems hardly satisfactory...Occasionally, Carrington gives the impression that the author compensated for a dearth of biographical matter by padding the narrative with background materials. Some economy would have been welcome here...Lord Carrington was an intriguing man with a fascinating career in twentieth-century British politics. He still awaits his biographer.
We all have to play the cards that life deals us and Lee notes that Carrington had a strong hand from the start. However, he played it extraordinarily well to the benefit of his country, our allies and the whole notion of public service... Lee recounts all this very fairly in a readable way. This is not overwritten hagiography. If anything, it downplays Carrington’s wit, charm and occasionally acerbic yet accurate descriptions of others. Carrington spoke frankly to Lee, on the understanding that some of the juicier things he said would neither be published in his lifetime, nor even be available outside the archives of Churchill College, Cambridge... What is therefore kept under wraps is Carrington’s humour... Carrington will probably always be remembered above all for the qualities he brought to the political adventure... We must hope that honour, bravery, decency, courtesy and generosity of spirit still have a place in political life. Peter Carrington stood for these qualities. He was a good man and he lived a long and good life.
Lee’s book benefitted from the co-operation of his subject and has been produced immediately after his death. A less hurried edition would have eliminated a number of unimportant but irritating errors, and the first and second chapters fail to give a lucid explanation of a complicated family history. Nevertheless, the subsequent account of Carrington’s life is clear and fair. It is far from being a hagiography. Lee discusses carefully the things that did not go well: Crichel Down, Vassal, the former Yugoslavia, the chairmanship of the Conservative party, the Department of Energy, the Victoria and Albert Museum. However, he also sees Carrington as an honourable man... Carrington was a private man, blessed in the closeness of his marriage, who enjoyed being a public figure. All who knew him were happy to brag about their friendship with him. He served his country and its institutions for three-quarters of a century as a practical man of affairs. Like the late Duchess of Devonshire, he became a national institution, because, like her, he was a class act. Christopher Lee conveys much of this.
Although Lee’s biography has its longueurs (I could have done without the detailed history of the Carrington family and why the name is sometimes spelt with one “r”), it is hugely enlivened by the fact that its subject, who died this year at the age of 99, was a superb gossip and passed his hoard of vignettes to Lee.
The themes of his life are extraordinarily pertinent, yet the book lacks the urgency and immediacy that the best political biographies have. At times it reads as if it were written in a previous era and had been sitting in a drawer — which perhaps it was, since the author started it 20 years ago and agreed not to publish until after his subject’s death. There are glimmers of insight that are not properly explored in a meticulous, sometimes repetitive account.