Sadly last month another of our oral history project interviewees passed away: former Conservative MP Sir Clive Bossom. Here we take a look back on our interview with him…
Sir Clive Bossom, who died last month aged 99, was one of our older interviewees. He has been fondly remembered both as a hardworking backbench MP for Leominster (1959-74) and for his involvement in motorsport.
Bossom was born in New York in 1918, although his father – architect and later politician Sir Alfred – brought the family back to England when Bossom was a child. It was as a teenager that the “great sadness” of Bossom’s life occurred: the loss of his mother and older brother in an aeroplane crash.
That changed my life in a way, because I became much closer to father, and I was a type of wife and a PA for the rest of his life.
During his interview Bossom explained how his early ambitions to become a diplomat changed due to World War II. He served in Europe and the Far East in the Royal East Kent Regiment, and on leaving the army in 1948, with the rank of Major, he decided to enter politics.
The elder Bossom’s political influence in Kent helped him become a Councillor and then Conservative candidate for Faversham, but after two narrow defeats the 1950s he found a seat in Leominster, Herefordshire. He entered the Commons as his father, already a Baronet, was made a life peer. Bossom recalled feeling “overawed” when he became an MP, but reflected that his father’s reputation, as a well-liked Conservative backbencher, had “left a nice feeling” for him as he entered Westminster.
Many of Bossom’s obituaries described his family’s close relationship with a rising star of the Conservative party at the time: Margaret Thatcher. Here Bossom describes his father’s role in encouraging the young Margaret Roberts, as she was when they first met, into politics:
Thatcher, who had entered the Commons first, chose Bossom to be her PPS when she was first made a junior minister. This, Bossom remembered, was in part to “please” Sir Alfred.
Bossom’s interests in Westminster included agricultural matters, largely due to his large rural constituency, and transport issues. He will also be remembered for the Antarctic Treaty Bill, Bossom’s private members’ bill which ratified the 1964 agreement by 12 countries to protect the continent’s environment. Bossom told our interviewer that the initiative for this bill actually came from the sitting Labour government, running out of parliamentary time to pass the measure. He had to convince his own party’s whips to let him take it on, but once he did so he received the full support of the Foreign Office. He told us he was “thrilled” to have been responsible for such a “serious bill”, and because of it was later invited on to the council of the Royal Geographic Society who arranged for him to visit the continent.
Bossom has been remembered as being ‘devoid of personal ambition or intrigue’ [Times, 15 March 2017]. In our interview he described being content with life as a backbencher and PPS, modestly remarking that he “knew [his] capabilities”. He also reflected that with a young family he did not want to live the busy political life his father had followed. He chose to stand down in 1974 and pursue a business career to support his family, although he retained a “love of talking politics,” if not “giving speeches”.
Bossom is survived by four children and his wife, Lady Barbara (née North). At many points in our interview he acknowledged the support she gave him throughout his career, and that she would have made a good MP herself. Here he describes his, perhaps unconventional, proposal to her during the 1951 campaign, one which the couple “never looked back” from:
The full interview with Sir Clive Bossom is available to hear as part of the British Library’s sound archive.