Norman St John-Stevas

The Right Honourable
The Lord St John of Fawsley
Minister of State for the Arts
In office
5 May 1979  5 January 1981
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by The Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
Succeeded by Paul Channon
In office
2 December 1973  4 March 1974
Prime Minister Edward Heath
Preceded by The Viscount Eccles
Succeeded by Hugh Jenkins
Leader of the House of Commons
In office
4 May 1979  5 January 1981
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Michael Foot
Succeeded by Francis Pym
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
4 May 1979  5 January 1981
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Harold Lever
Succeeded by Francis Pym
Shadow Leader of the House of Commons
In office
6 November 1978  4 May 1979
Leader Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Francis Pym
Succeeded by Michael Foot
Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Science
In office
28 February 1974  6 November 1978
Leader Edward Heath
Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by William van Straubenzee
Succeeded by Mark Carlisle
Member of Parliament
for Chelmsford
In office
15 October 1964  11 June 1987
Preceded by Hubert Ashton
Succeeded by Simon Burns
Personal details
Born Norman Anthony Francis Stevas
(1929-06-18)18 June 1929
London, United Kingdom[1]
Died 2 March 2012(2012-03-02) (aged 82)
London, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Alma mater Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge
Christ Church, Oxford
University of London
Yale University
Middle Temple
Religion Roman Catholicism

Norman St John-Stevas, Baron St John of Fawsley, PC, FRSL (/ˌsɪnən ˈstvəs/ sin-jən-STEE-vəs; 18 May 1929 – 2 March 2012) was a British politician, author, and barrister. A member of the Conservative Party, he served as the Leader of the House of Commons in the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from 1979 to 1981. He was a member of parliament (MP) representing the constituency of Chelmsford from 1964 to 1987, and was made a life peer in 1987. His surname was created by compounding those of his father (Stevas) and mother (St John-O'Connor).

Early life

Stevas was born in London. His birth certificate gave his Christian names as Norman Panayea St John and his father as Spyro Stevas, a hotel proprietor, suggesting a Greek background. His Who's Who entry gave his father as Stephen Stevas, an engineer and company director. His mother was Kitty St John O'Connor. They later divorced, and she then hyphenated the name St John. He was closer to his mother than his father.[2][3]

Stevas was educated at St Joseph's Salesian School, Burwash, East Sussex, and then at the Catholic school, Ratcliffe College, Leicester. He was active in the Young Conservatives and as a speaker on Conservative and Catholic platforms. He was a contemporary of Gordon Reece and once reported him to his superiors for atheism.[4]

Afterwards he was for six months enrolled at the English College, Rome, a seminary for the Roman Catholic priesthood but found he had no vocation. He remained a lifelong Catholic, however.[2] He then read law at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. As an undergraduate, he lived at St Edmund's House (now St Edmund's College[5]) and served as President of the Cambridge Union in 1950.[4] He graduated with first class honours and won the Whitlock Prize.

He studied also at Oxford University, where he gained a Second in the examination for the BCL degree at Christ Church and was the Secretary of the Oxford Union.[2] He obtained a PhD degree with thesis titled A study of censorship with special reference to the law governing obscene publications in common law and other jurisdictions (on the early work of Walter Bagehot)[6] from the University of London and a JSD degree from Yale University. He was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple in 1952.

St John-Stevas was appointed as a Lecturer at Southampton University (1952–1953) and King's College London (1953–1956). He then went to Oxford University to tutor in Jurisprudence at Christ Church (1953–1955) and Merton College (1955–1957). He also lectured in the United States and held a visiting professorship at the University of California, Santa Barbara. From 1954 to 1959 he was legal adviser to Sir Alan Herbert's Committee on book censorship.[2]

Stevas also won many prizes and scholarships: the Blackstone and Harmsworth Scholarship (1952); the Blackstone Prize (1953); The Yorke Prize of Cambridge University (1957); a fellowship at Yale Law School (1958); a Fulbright award; and a Fund for the Republic fellowship (1958).[2]

In 1956 appeared his Obscenity and the Law. This "became a key work of reference during subsequent reforms"[2] and also "reflected an intellectual shift toward the law's retreat from the pulpit".[6] He also wrote Life, Death and the Law (1961), The Right to Life (1963) and The Law and Morals (1964). These were "earnest...with a liberal Catholic lawyer addressing difficult questions in a thoughtful spirit".[6]

In 1959, he joined The Economist and became its Legal and Political Correspondent. Stevas edited the collected works of the Victorian journalist and politician Walter Bagehot. Between 1965 and 1986, The Economist itself published[7] his edition "to great acclaim",[4] what have been called fifteen "beautifully produced and highly regarded volumes".[2] These volumes have been labelled Stevas' "memorial".[6]


A founding member of the Conservative Bow Group,[8] in 1951 St John-Stevas stood unsuccessfully for the safe Labour seat of Dagenham. He was later elected as Member of Parliament for the safe Conservative seat of Chelmsford in Essex at the 1964 general election holding this seat until stepping down at the 1987 general election.

He had opposed Sir Anthony Eden's invasion of Suez in 1956, was a long-standing opponent of capital punishment and immigration restrictions based on race, and favoured a relaxation of the obscenity laws.[4] Owing to his Catholic views, he opposed Leo Abse's Divorce Bill and David Steel's Abortion Bill. In 1966, he was a co-sponsor of Abse's Private Member's bill to reform the law to permit homosexual acts between consenting adults,[9] which became the Sexual Offences Act 1967.

In the later stages of Prime Minister Edward Heath's government, St John-Stevas was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Education and Science (where Margaret Thatcher was the Secretary of State), and the Minister for the Arts (1973–1974).

After the defeat of Heath's government, St John-Stevas supported Heath in the first ballot of the 1975 Conservative Party leadership election but switched his vote to Thatcher in the second ballot.[4] He then served as a member of the Shadow Cabinet from 1974 to 1979, being the Shadow Spokesman for Education between 1975 and 1978. His deputy was Sir Rhodes Boyson, a working-class Thatcherite from Lancashire. Stevas and Boyson did not get along and loathed each other.[6] Stevas gave Boyson the ironic nickname "Colossus".[2] He became Shadow Leader of the House of Commons in 1978. When the Conservative Party was returned to power at the 1979 general election, he was appointed as Minister for the Arts for a second time from 1979 to 1981, while simultaneously holding the roles of Leader of the House of Commons and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

In his role as Leader of the House, he has been credited with the creation of the House of Commons' system of select committees. These committees enable backbench MPs to hold ministers to account, and exert considerable influence within Parliament. In January 1981, St John-Stevas was the first of the Tory "wets" to be dismissed from the Cabinet by Margaret Thatcher (whom he had previously nicknamed "Tina" for her "there is no alternative" rhetoric).

Now on the back-benches, Stevas remained loyal to Thatcher whilst criticising Thatcherite economic policies: "He was a One Nation Conservative who looked to Disraeli rather than Milton Friedman".[4] In 1984 appeared his book The Two Cities in which he claimed that Thatcher could see "everything in black and white [but] the universe I inhabit is made up of many shades of grey".[4]

St John-Stevas stood down from the House of Commons at the 1987 general election, being created a life peer in the House of Lords with the title Baron St John of Fawsley of Preston Capes in the County of Northamptonshire on 19 October 1987.[10]

Chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission

He was Chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission from 1985 to 1999. His tenure was wracked by controversy. It was hoped that his appointment would revitalise and popularise the Commission, which had not even produced an annual report for many years. Stevas succeeded in "inject[ing] a bit of panache and excitement" into the Commission.[2] However it also became a mouthpiece for Lord St John's own views and preferences (most prominently in the annual Building of the Year award). Lord St John adorned his office with paintings from national collections, documents were presented in red boxes and he was served by a chauffeur and ex-civil servants, in accommodation more lavish than that of most secretaries of state: prompting one commentator to quip that "if he cannot have power, he must have the trappings". This was all criticised in a savage government review by Sir Geoffrey Chipperfield.[11]

The Commission strongly criticised the plans for the Millennium Wheel on London's South Bank even though three of the Commissioners were enthusiastic about it. After an ill-tempered meeting in which Stevas was allegedly rude to the Wheel's architects, Sherban Cantacuzino, the Commission's secretary, wrote to the architects saying: "I am sure that he enjoys putting people down, all of us have suffered from his bullying".[2]

Despite all predictions, in 1995 Stevas was reappointed for a third term as chairman.[2]

Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge

His tenure as Master of Emmanuel College at Cambridge University (1991 to 1996) was equally controversial. He built a new conference centre (the Queen's Building) at the cost of some £8 million, the costs of which were pushed upwards by Lord St John's insistence on re-opening the quarry in Ketton, Rutland, to obtain limestone from the same source from which the college's Wren chapel was built.[12] The dons apparently first had doubts about the wisdom of appointing Stevas when several of his friends were caught naked one night in the Fellows Garden swimming pool.[2]

Stevas succeeded in promoting the College through House and Garden and Hello!, although some Fellows were angered when Mohammed al-Fayed, who had donated £250,000 to a new extension of the College, was rewarded with a "Harrods Room" and an honorary membership of the College, an honour Stevas invented. The relationship between Master and College worsened to the point that "one tutor started handing out copies of the Master's pronouncements in his role as 'constitutional expert' with a prize for the student who spotted the greatest number of legal mistakes".[2]

Stevas's critics alleged that he spent too much time with a small clique of public school-educated young men who "were favoured with introductions to royalty and captains of industry, to dinners at White's, private theatrical performances at the Master's Lodge and long, affectionate letters".[2] Stevas would also cut undergraduates off in mid-sentence with a cutting remark in Latin and to members of other colleges Emmanuel gained the nickname "Mein Camp".[2]

He maintained his ties with Emmanuel College, which he used from time to time as a venue for events of the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust.[13]

Personal life

Lord St John was a prominent Roman Catholic. He was also Patron of the Anglican Society of King Charles the Martyr, and Grand Bailiff for England and Wales of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus (statuted 1910).

His partner of over fifty years was Adrian Stanford. They met each other in 1956 at Oxford, where Lord St John taught Stanford law. They entered into a civil partnership shortly before Lord St John's death in order to avoid paying inheritance tax, which would have taxed 40% of his £3.3 million estate.[14]

He was noted for his many personal affectations, including proffering his hand in papal fashion, lapsing into Latin whilst speaking, and deliberately mispronouncing modern words.[11] A loyal monarchist, Lord St John enjoyed a close relationship with the British Royal Family.[15] Soon after his elevation to the Lords, photographs of him in purple bedroom slippers appeared in Hello! magazine while he lounged in the bedroom of his Northampton rectory with a signed photograph of Princess Margaret prominently displayed. All personal notes were written in purple ink. After his elevation to the Lords he used only official House of Lords headed stationery. He lived in Montpellier Square, Knightsbridge, had a house in Northamptonshire[16] and was an active member of the House of Lords. The Catholic Herald , a newspaper that St John - Stevas had contributed to on many occasions wrote on his death that 'Unlike a lot of people who have trodden the corridors of power, he was not in the least secretive about his experiences. He loathed Mrs Thatcher, and he idolised the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and Pius IX. His house in Northamptonshire was filled with relics and pictures of all three. He even had a cassock which was supposed to have belonged to the Blessed Pius, and .... that on occasions he wore it to fancy dress parties'.[17]

He died in March 2012 from undisclosed causes, aged 82.[2] His homosexuality was summarised by Simon Hoggart in The Guardian obituary note: "He lived in that period where gay politicians never came "out", yet were happy for everyone to know. He lived life as a camp performance."[18]



By Norman St John Stevas

Edited by Norman St John Stevas


  1. Barr, Robert (5 March 2012). "Norman St John-Stevas, British politician and Thatcher foe, dies at 82". The Washington Post. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 "Obituary: Lord St John of Fawsley". The Daily Telegraph. 5 March 2012. Archived from the original on 27 August 2012.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Dennis Kavanagh (6 March 2012). "Lord St-John of Fawsley: Flamboyant politician who fell foul of Margaret Thatcher". The Independent. Archived from the original on 11 April 2012.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Edward Pearce (5 March 2012). "Lord St John of Fawsley obituary". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 11 April 2012.
  7. "The collected works of Walter Bagehot / edited by Norman St. John-Stevas", National Library of Australia
  8. "The Passing of Baron St. John of Fawsley, 18 May 1929 – 2 March 2012". Bow Group News. Bow Group. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  9. McSmith, Andy (6 March 2012). "Tributes paid to Lord St John of Fawsley, a political 'one-off'". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 8 April 2012. Retrieved 6 March 2012.
  10. The London Gazette: no. 51098. p. 13011. 22 October 1987.
  11. 1 2 "Master of the fine arts of survival. Profile: Lord St John of Fawsley". The Sunday Times. 26 May 1996. p. 3.
  12. Werran GR & Dickson MGT. "Prestressed ketton stone perimeter frame: The Queens Building Emmanuel College, Cambridge" (PDF). Retrieved 6 January 2009.
  13. Gledhill, Ruth (27 November 2008). "Gallery masterpiece is a work of faith that should be in church, says Cardinal". The Times. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2009.
  14. Ben Ellery (17 March 2013). "Partners for 50 years... but Lord St John tied the knot only to save money: Tory dandy married gay lover in secret to avoid £1.2million inheritance tax bill". Daily Mail. Archived from the original on 18 March 2013.
  15. Pierce, Andrew (21 August 2001). "People by Andrew Pierce". The Times. London. Retrieved 6 January 2009.
  16. McSmith, Andy (6 March 2012). "Tributes paid to Lord St John of Fawsley, a political 'one-off'". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 8 April 2012. Retrieved 6 March 2012.
  17. Catholic Herald, article by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, March 7, 2012
  18. "Simon Hoggart's week: Norman St John Stevas, a friend in the Tory camp". The Guardian. 9 March 2012. Archived from the original on 9 August 2014. Retrieved 10 March 2012.


Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Hubert Ashton
Member of Parliament for Chelmsford
Succeeded by
Simon Burns
Political offices
Preceded by
The Viscount Eccles
Minister of State for the Arts
Succeeded by
Hugh Jenkins
Preceded by
Michael Foot
Leader of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
Francis Pym
Preceded by
Harold Lever
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Preceded by
The Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
Minister of State for the Arts
Succeeded by
Paul Channon
Academic offices
Preceded by
Charles Wroth
Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
John Ffowcs Williams
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