Obituary Lord St John of Fawsley: ‘A dandy and top Conservative who reformed House of Commons’
PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 March 2012
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Lord St John of Fawsley, leader of the House of Commons under Marageret Thatcher and Hampstead Square resident, has died aged 82.
The showy but mannered Conservative MP and arts minister made one of the biggest contributions of his peers to strengthen the House of Commons and hold ministers to account.
His introduction of the select committe system, under which each government department answers a committee of backbench MPs, remains in use today.
But he is perhaps best remembered for his witty remarks.
He famously said: “One should not be a name-dropper, as Her Majesty remarked to me yesterday.”
And he complained: “Because I am burdened with a capacity for wit, people have sometimes had the impression that I am not serious in my approach. Nothing could be farther from the truth.”
Born Norman Anthony Francis St John-Stevas to engineer and company director Stephen Stevas and his wife Kitty in London on May 18, 1929, he lived in Elm Row, just off Hampstead Square, for 20 years from the 1970s.
Gerald Moran, owner of Gerald Moran Interiors, was a friend of the Conservative MP who came to open his shop in 1988.
Mr Moran said he got to know Lord St John through his promotion of young designers.
He said: “He was a highly cultured man. He was a brilliant speaker and I was honoured that he performed the opening of my show room. I think he was a great monarchist and he was a charming gentleman.”
At the launch Lord St John praised Hampstead Heath as a “holy ground” and also revealed he read the Ham&High with religious dedication.
After his political career ended, Lord St John followed his passion for the arts and became the chairman of the Royal Fine Arts Collection.
His lifelong passion for the monarchy was borne out in his home decor.
Retired Ham&High editor Gerald Isaaman remembers seeing a framed pair of Queen Victoria’s flannel bloomers at his house.
Mr Isaaman said: “He was a man of true wit, charm – a dandy out of his time who added a real touch of dazzle to the House of Commons.”
Lord St John was apparently the only person who was allowed to tease then prime minister Mrs Thatcher, calling her “the Blessed One”, “the Leaderene” and, mysteriously, “Heather”.
But he was dismissed from the the ranks of the Conservative elite in Mrs Thatcher’s 1981 cabinet reshuffle.
He went on to become Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and received a peerage in 1987.
Before entering politics, he lectured at universities and worked for The Economist.