AS A biographer John Campbell, below, is a man who certainly likes to get close to his subjects.
He has laboured for five years over his new life of Lord Jenkins of Hillhead – the late Chancellor of Oxford University and former Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer, who figures in most lists of ‘the Best Prime Minister We Never Had’.
After being invited to undertake the official biography of the former Labour and SDP politician, who died in 2003, by his widow Dame Jennifer, Mr Campbell was to all but move into the Jenkins’ family home in East Hendred, near Wantage.
The home of Lord Jenkins, St Amand’s at East Hendred, pictured in 1991
There he found a huge archive of papers, diaries, documents and letters carefully stored in the attic, all subsequently handed over to Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Mr Campbell said: “I was able to stay in the house, with only Jennifer there.
“It is something not every biographer is able to do, being able to live in his footsteps, as it were.”
Roy Jenkins pictured by Oxford Mail photographer Antony Moore in 1987
Mr Campbell, who has previously written biographies of Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher, was an obvious choice to write the official life, having been “an enthusiastic foot soldier in the SDP”, the centralist party Roy Jenkins created and was to lead.
He and Jennifer bought St Amand’s House, in East Hendred, at auction in Abingdon, in 1965.
Roy Jenkins walks past anti-Common Market pickets outside the Oxford Town Hall in 1975
Lord Jenkins was perfectly situated to become Chancellor of Oxford University in 1987, allowing him to attend all sorts of university and college events and still sleep in his own bed every night.
But a year before his death, aged 82, Lord Jenkins told Mr Campbell: “Of all the offices I have held, the university chancellorship has given me the greatest ratio of pleasure to pain. You do not rule the university, as some image; you reign over it.”
On his gravestone in East Hendred, Jennifer chose the simple epitaph ‘Writer and Statesman’.
Roy Jenkins: A Well-Rounded Life by John Campbell is published by Jonathan Cape, price £25.
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