The end of Amery

After nearly five years, and over 700 boxes, work has finally ended on the Julian Amery papers. This was actually my second encounter with the Amery family, as previously I had catalogued the archive of Julian’s father Leo Amery, a close contemporary of Churchill’s, Secretary of State for India during the war, and an invaluable source for the 1920s-1950s. His archive was rather smaller (a mere snip at 444 boxes), and hadn’t taken me that long, so I confidently thought that I wouldn’t have too much trouble polishing off the son as well. Famous last words …

Julian Amery’s career started with a bang, while he was still at Oxford, and took a few months off as a war correspondent in the Spanish Civil War, just as his father had done before him in the Boer War.

Souvenir from the Spanish Civil War.

He followed this up by knocking happily round the Balkans for SOE during the war (where the family self-confidence and habit of circumventing officialdom did not go down too well with his superiors), then took part in an abortive attempt to overthrown the Communist regime in Albania shortly afterwards, before heading home to launch a political career.

Photograph of Partisans in Albania, taken by Julian Amery, c 1943

Rather like Leo Amery, again, Julian never quite reached the political heights which he and his friends thought he deserved, but his official archives begin very much where Leo’s leave off, starting in the 1950s, when he enjoyed himself very much at the War Office, particularly in relations with the Middle East, and the Colonial Office, where he was instrumental in negotiations over Cypriot independence. He reached ministerial level in the early 1960s, first as Secretary of State for Air and then as Minister of Aviation, where his primary success was ensuring that the Concorde project was kept alive (despite the best efforts of both the British and American governments).

A change to a Labour Government put Amery out of office at this point, and though he did briefly return to a ministerial position in the early 1970s, first as Minister of Public Building and Works, then Minister for Housing and Construction, and finally as Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, his public career had come to an end. He never really got on with the new Conservative Party leader, Margaret Thatcher, and became a grand old man on the back benches instead. His archive however, is in great demand, just as good a source for the 1950s-70s as his father’s is for the earlier years of the twentieth century.

Concorde in flight, 1976. Reference: Amery Papers, AMEJ 1/10/8

Catalogue to the Julian Amery Papers


— Katharine Thomson, March 2016