Private Secretaries to the Prime Minister: Foreign Affairs from Churchill to Thatcher (Hardback) book cover

Private Secretaries to the Prime Minister

Foreign Affairs from Churchill to Thatcher

Edited by Andrew Holt, Warren Dockter

© 2017 – Routledge

214 pages

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The importance of the Prime Minister in British foreign policy decision-making has long been noted by historians. However, while much attention has been given to high-level contacts between leaders and to the roles played by the premiers themselves, much less is known about the people advising and influencing them. In providing day-to-day assistance to the Prime Minister, a Private Secretary could wield significant influence on policy outcomes. This book examines the activities of those who advised prime ministers from Winston Churchill (1951–55) to Margaret Thatcher during her first administration (1979–83). Each chapter considers British foreign policy and assesses the influence of the specific advisers. For each office holder, particular attention is paid to a number of key themes. Firstly, their relationship with the Prime Minister is considered. A strong personal relationship of trust and respect could lead to an official wielding much greater influence. This could be especially relevant when an adviser served under two different leaders, often from different political parties. It also helps to shed light on the conduct of foreign policy by each premier. Secondly, the attitudes towards the adviser from the Foreign Office are examined. The Foreign Office traditionally enjoyed great autonomy in the making of British foreign policy and was sensitive to encroachments by Downing Street. Finally, each chapter explores the role of the adviser in the key foreign policy events and discussions of the day. Covering a fascinating 30-year period in post-war British political history, this collection broadens our understanding of the subject, and underlines the different ways influence could be brought to bear on government policy.

Table of Contents


1. Managing a Giant: Jock Colville and Winston Churchill

Churchill’s Private Office

The Special Relationship

The Cold War

Churchill and Eden

Churchill’s health



2. Advising the Un-advisable: The Number 10 Private Office and the Suez Crisis

The Eden succession

The Number 10 Private Office

The policy context

Freddie Bishop and Suez

Guy Millard and Suez

The aftermath of Suez



3. Philip de Zulueta

Working under Eden

Working under Macmillan

The turn to Europe

Nuclear relations



4. Oliver Wright


Relations with the prime minister

Relations with other policy-makers and departments



5. Michael Palliser

Appointment to Downing Street

Day-to-day routine

Downing Street diplomacy

Spying on the Foreign Office

The ‘second try’

Edward Youde



6. ‘Sound and Comfortable Men’: Peter Moon, Lord Bridges and Britain’s Entry into the EEC

Moon, Bridges and the role of the private secretary

The EEC negotiations



7. Patrick Wright and Bryan Cartledge

Patrick Wright and Bryan Cartledge

Appointment to Number 10

The Role of the Private Secretary (Overseas Affairs)

The Number 10 Private Office

Foreign policy: Continuity and change

From Wilson to Callaghan



8. Margaret Thatcher’s Private Secretaries for Foreign Affairs, 1979–1984

Michael Alexander

John Coles



Conclusion: The Prime Minister’s Private Office from John Martin to Chris Martin

The Foreign Affairs Private Secretary

The PPS and FAPS room, 1945–1999

The Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister (PPS)

The five phases of the Private Secretary for Foreign Affairs




Appendix I: Private Secretaries to the Prime Minister with responsibility for foreign affairs, 1945–2015

Appendix II: Principal Private Secretaries to the Prime Minister, 1945–2015

About the Editors

Andrew Holt taught at the University of Nottingham, King’s College London and the University of Exeter, and held a visiting fellowship at Churchill College, Cambridge, before joining the Civil Service. He is the author of The Foreign Policy of the Douglas-Home Government: Britain, the United States and the End of Empire (2014).

Warren Dockter is a Lecturer in International Politics at Aberystwyth University, having previously been a Junior Research Fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge. He is the author of Winston Churchill and the Islamic World: Orientalism, Empire and Diplomacy in the Middle East (2015) and edited Churchill at the Telegraph (2015).

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Modern British History

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General