Geoffrey Parkhouse died on 12 May 1997 at the age of 63. His obituary appeared in a number of broadsheet newspapers at the time: one of these was written by Tam Dalyell MP, by 2004 the “father of the house”. His memorial service at St. Margaret’s Westminster on 29 July 1997, which was attended by George Hill (OJ), was packed, a tribute to the esteem in which Geoffrey was held. Those present included The Speaker, Mr. John Major, many eminent members of the Garrick Club and a host of Members of Parliament.
The following is reprinted from The Scotsman of 14 May 1997.
Geoffrey Parkhouse, one of the outstanding political writers of his generation, had been political
editor of the Herald newspaper since 1975. On July 29th George Hill attended his memorial service at St. Margaret’s, Westminster. The church was packed and the attendance, which included the Speaker, Mr.
John Major, many eminent members of the Garrick Club and a host of Members of Parliament, was a tribute to the esteem in which Geoffrey was held.
Born in Glasgow of English parents and educated at Hurstpierpoint, Sussex, he graduated Bachelor of Arts at St. Edmund Hall. Oxford, where he played centre-threequarter for the college rugby team.
He entered journalism in 1959 when he joined a news agency in Fleet Street. London. After a spell with the old Daily Herald, he moved to the Daily Mail as a member of its parliamentary press team.
In 1965 he became special writer on politics for the Sunday Express, contributing profiles of leading
politicians and covering by-elections. During his years as political editor of the Herald, he was Chairman of the Parliamentary Press Lobby from 1988 to 1989.
Alan Cochrane writes:
“Sir” Geoffrey Parkhouse was the doyen of parliamentary lobby correspondents – discreet, all-knowing and with a panache for the way he went about his business which was often mistaken for a lack of zeal. Those who thought that way underestimated the man. The truth is that Parkhouse didn’t like to give the impression of unseemly haste or undue diligence. He affected a patrician air and tried to give the impression that he was somehow above the common herd.
It was all a wonderful act. Parkhouse was, indeed, an out of the ordinary journalist. He was a superb writer with an incisive turn of phrase, but he was also a prodigious worker – as the number of his by-lines in the Herald testified over the years. And, what’s more, he never stopped working.
He loved politics and, perhaps uniquely among journalists, loved politicians. He spent most of his time in their company. He loved all of their vanities, all of their foibles and all of their pretensions. He knew all their secrets and kept most of them.
He gleaned much of his information at the Garrick Club in London, where, together with close friends such as lan Aitken of the Guardian, Alastair (Lord) McAlpine, the Tory party treasurer, novelist Kingsley Amis and others, he lunched almost daily. It was an ever-so-slightly louche atmosphere in which Parkhouse revelled – a Silk Cut never far from his lips and a gin and tonic always at his elbow (before lunch at any rate – it was whisky in the evenings).
He counted members of both Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet amongst his close friends, as well as the most senior officials of both Houses of Parliament. They knew that he knew when he could publish the stones about affairs of state which they shared with him.
He had a sharp sense of humour, much of it self-deprecating, and it was never more in evidence than when he was addressed by his unofficial prefix of ‘Sir”. This nickname probably came about because of the way Parkhouse displayed his love of the Commons and the pride he showed in the part he and other lobby journalists played in its daily life. He was a stickler for the protocol of the place and zealot about upholding its tradition. He was a familiar Figure in the Member’s Lobby, stalking his “prey” and then engaging them in conspiratorial conversations. The talk may only have been about where they planned to dine that night, or it might have been a front-page story – they all looked the same.
He was a strict adherent of the parliamentary lobby’s “non-attributable” ethos and never believed in the confrontational approach to political journalism, reckoning that his trusted sources would always supply him with the story he wanted without any undue fuss being created.
He travelled the world with prime ministers, most notable and on many occasions on the infamous “Thatcher’s Tours” – the breakneck, punishing foreign visits to which the then prime minister subjected herself. Parkhouse, filing later and more copiously than most of us and loitering at the dinner table to the very end, never wilted.
His private circumstances took an unexpected turn when he became a father again, late in life, but he took a great joy in both his children and his partner, Julia Langdon, also a well known political journalist. The last time I saw the couple, at a reception last year at Dover House in London, Julia was proudly showing off her engagement ring and telling everyone: “Look, Parkhouse is making an honest woman of me.”
His long and painful illness and the fortitude and good humour with which he bore it, made him a whole host of new friends and confirmed in his old ones the affection they long felt towards him. He will miss the development of this new Labour Government – and they will miss Parkhouse; for a start, he would have had something extremely sharp to say to Chancellor Gordon Brown about his refusal to wear white tie and tails to dinner at the Mansion House.”