Brooke, Henry, Baron Brooke of Cumnor 1903-1984, Conservative politician, was born in Oxford 9 April 1903, the younger son (there were no daughters and the elder son was killed in action in 1918) of Leonard Leslie Brooke, author and illustrator of the Johnny Crow childrens books, and his wife Sybil Diana, daughter of the Revd Stopford Augustus Brooke [qv.]. He was educated at Marlborough College, to which he had a lifelong devotion, and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he captained both the cricket and hockey XIs and where he obtained a first class in classical honour moderations (1924) and second classes in mathematical moderations (1924) and literae humaniores (1926). Balliol offered him a fellowship in philosophy but he declined. The master, A. D. Lindsay (later first Baron Lindsay of Birker, qv.), encouraged him to work for a spell (1927-8) at a Quaker settlement for the unemployed in the Rhondda Valley—an experience which made a deep impression. After a year on the Economist he became one of the original members of the Conservative Research Department (1930-8) under its first director, Sir G. Joseph Ball [qv.]. The special areas legislation of the prewar national coalition government stemmed partly from a series of unsigned articles—Places without a Future—which he wrote for The Times in 1934. He was for a short while editor of Truth.
     He gained his first knowledge of practical politics as a member of the London county council, and entered Parliament at a by-election in Lewisham West in 1938, retaining the seat till the Conservative débâcle of 1945. From 1946 to 1948 he was the last deputy chairman of the Southern Railway before nationalization. In 1950 he returned to Parliament as member for Hampstead till 1966. In 1954 Sir Winston Churchill appointed him financial secretary to the Treasury under his old Marlborough friend, R. A. Butler (later Baron Butler of Saffron Walden, qv.). His headmaster, (Sir) Cyril Norwood [qv.], had given him two pieces of advice: to answer all letters by return of post, and never to be afraid of unpopularity. He never was—which was just as well since fate brought him a series of posts whose functions were not calculated to endear him to the public or the party. In 1957 he entered the cabinet of Harold Macmillan (later first Earl of Stockton) as minister of housing and local government. His success in eliminating London smog was balanced by the task of implementing the much disliked Rent Act of his predecessor, Duncan Sandys (later Baron Duncan-Sandys).
     In October 1961 Macmillan appointed him to the newly invented office of chief secretary to the Treasury, whose unenviable task was to play the role of Scrooge towards popular proposals for public expenditure. In 1962 he became home secretary. He had to take a number of decisions in the field of immigration and deportation, which infuriated libertarians. He seemed to display a certain insensitivity in these cases—an impression enhanced by his somewhat pedantic way of speech. In 1966 he lost his seat and on the nomination of Harold Wilson (later Baron Wilson of Rievaulx) entered the House of Lords as a life peer. He spoke frequently and effectively on the Conservative front bench until the progress of Parkinsons disease made it impossible. In 1983 he wrote a charming book about his father. Brooke was appointed privy councillor in 1955 and CH in 1964.
     He married in 1933 Barbara Muriel, daughter of the Revd Alfred Augustus Mathews, of Great Milton, Llanwern. She was appointed DBE in 1960 and made a life peer as Baroness Brooke of Ystradfellte in 1964. She was one of his sponsors at his introduction in the Lords. They were the first couple in parliamentary history to sit on a front bench together in either House. They had two sons and two daughters. The elder son, Peter, became secretary of state for Northern Ireland in 1989, the younger, (Sir) Henry, a High Court judge in 1988. Brooke died 29 March 1984 at his house in Mildenhall, Wiltshire.

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Contributor: Blake

Published: 1993