The not-so-great and the not-so-good, no. 30: “George Smiley”

No, not really: try John Michael Ward Bingham, 7th Baron Clanmorris of Newbrook. Same difference?

Malcolm doesn’t pretend to omniscience, quite. [In passing, he ventured “omniscient” in a Sixth Form essay at the High School, Dublin, and had it crossed out as a spelling error. It still rankles.]

cover_9781849545136The spur for this one came out of a book review, by Stella Rimington (no less)  in the current Spectator. The book under review is Michael Jago’s The Man Who Was George Smiley: The Life of John Bingham. To his discredit, Malcolm only made the connection fully when he read:

Born in 1908, the heir to an Anglo-Irish barony, [Bingham] saw his ancestral home sold for a pittance and his parents living in genteel poverty. The French and German families with whom he had become friends in the 1920s were broken up or turned into enemies by a war which destroyed the Europe he knew. He was still in the Service when the situation in Northern Ireland  began to raise new security threats, but he retired before he saw the radical change that terrorism was to bring to agent-running and everything else about the Service. He would not have liked it.

Note that Mrs Rimington does not say that “agent-running” is a matter of history, merely that the practice has been “changed”. She is also explicit about what the practice had originally been:

When I was a new MI5 recruit, working in Leconfield House in 1970, there was a group of middle-aged men who came and went at unusual times of the day, often gathering in the late afternoons, talking loudly and cheerfully. They were the F4 agent runners and I envied them; they seemed to be having a lot more fun than I was.

F Branch, the counter subversion branch, was responsible, amongst other things, for monitoring the activities of the Communist Party of Great Britain and in particular for identifying its members, in support of Clement Attlee’s 1948 ‘Purge Procedure’, excluding communists and fascists from work vital to the security of the state. By 1970, the F4 agent runners, of whom John Bingham was one, had done a pretty thorough job. The Party’s King Street headquarters was penetrated by long-term agents, the membership records had been regularly covertly copied and the building was thoroughly bugged.

Malcolmian asides:

Clement Attlee’s 1948 ‘purge procedure’ is covered by Peter Hennessy in The Secret State, and, more sensationally and subjectively, by (but natch) Chapman Pincher in Treachery: Betrayals, Blunders and Cover-Ups. The accepted version seems to be that, in mid-1947, the Whitehall in-crowd were pressured by MI5 to set about excluding “communists” from sensitive work — on the basis that such “communists” might have divided loyalties. “Communist”, of course, increasingly became a very elastic term, allowing the right-wing governments that followed to spook on all and any “enemies within”, who were inevitably on the left.

Attlee went public on the “Purge Procedure” on 15 March 1948. In April 1950, after  the conviction of Fuchs, Attlee authorised the further development of “positive vetting”.

Both the ‘purge procedure’ and ‘positive vetting’ are spun out of MI5 files: no more, no less. Donald Cameron Watt, reviewing The Secret State for The Political Quarterly has a tart, but pertinent observation about:

British security policy towards the ‘enemy within’, that fifth column which had turned out to be so mythical in its nature during the 1939-45 war with Nazism, and still has to be properly assessed for the forty-five years of the Cold War.

Our value of those MI5 files might be enhanced did we not know:

      • that Jack Straw, of worthy citizens, was the subject of one of them [while an interview Malcolm had in 1994 suggested someone in the Home Office had information on his alter ego from the early 1960s];
      • that Charlotte Bingham (Lord Clanmorris’s author daughter, and also employed  in “intelligence”) once “mislaid” 29 of them,
      • and that David Cornwall (later “John le Carré”) was recruited as an undergraduate at Lincoln College, Oxford, presumably to report on his contemporaries.

Be all that as it may, Bingham’s name crops up sequentially in the “usual sources”, such as half-a-dozen mentions in Guy Liddell’s Diaries (interviewing a Polish émigré about approaches from the Germans; posing as a German secret serviceman to wind in a suspected enemy agent — and being denounced by her as a Gestapo man; “baby-sitting” a “safe house”).

The Bingham heritage

366027_ce254bd9North-east of Dorchester, on the River Piddle (stop sniggering!) is the ancient seat of the Bingham family. As these things go, it is Bingham(‘s) Melcombe (above). In the time of Henry VIII, one Robert Bingham had a prolific marriage to Alice Coker. Their third son, Richard, distinguished himself in Elizabeth’s Irish wars, and in 1598 was appointed Marshal of Ireland and governor of Leinster. Richard’s next younger brother, Henry, followed and set up shop at Castlebar []: this is the line we shall shortly follow. Meanwhile …

Three generations, and five successive baronets, later we arrive at Sir John Bingham. He married Charlotte Sarsfield (sister of the more famous Patrick) — who was a niece of the Duke of Monmouth, and a grand-daughter (albeit by one his many irregular connections) of Charles II.

By now the more genealogically-sensitive will have spotted where this is leading. Sir John Bingham’s second son, Charles, became Baron Lucan of Castlebar in 1776, and the first Earl of Lucan in 1795.When Charles popped his well-heeled clogs in 1799, the title passed to an earlier Richard Bingham.


What else would one expect of this family?

The 1838 edition of Debrett has it succinctly, if baldly:

married 26 May 1794, Elizabeth Belasyse, da. and co-h. of Henry, last duke of Fauconberg, (whose marriage with Bernard-Edward, duke of Norfolk, had been dissolved by act of parliament the same year,) and by her had issue, — 1. Elizabeth, b. 1795.

Do the sums. The divorce was passed in May 1794, She married Bingham forthwith. In due course, a decade later,  they separated, and she went to life in Paris. Anyway, something wrong: “Duke of Fauconberg”? Err, no: daddy was Sir Henry Belasyse and 1st earl of Fauconberg: mummy was Charlotte Lamb.

Five generations on we arrive at the infamous Lord Lucan.

“Baron Clanmorris”: who he?

Ah! Someone’s paying attention!

We have to start with Henry Bingham, whom we met above, the younger brother of Sir Richard — who was last seen setting himself up in state at Castlebar []. Sadly, he was on 22 July 1691 decapitated at the Battle of Aughrim.

His son, Henry, was Lord Justice of Ireland, and — in turn — his great-grandson, John Bingham, was created the first Baron Clanmorris on 30 July 1800. Mark that date, and consider the politics. This Bingham was M.P. for Tuam, one of the rottenest of two-seater boroughs:

Tuam, 3150 inhabitants; electors, a Sovereign and 12 Burgesses — a venal and rotten borough under the patronage of Mr. Bingham.

 For £8,000 cash he sold those two votes for an Irish peerage — and for supporting the Union.

Three generations on, we arrive at the 5th Baron Clanmorris of Newbrook (also a John, no great imagination at work here), who was an aide-de-camp to the Viceroy of India, and came home to be a J.P. in County Down and Galway. The sixth Baron was an Arthur (some originality at last), who served in the Boer War, went out to be  aide-de-camp to the Governor-General of New Zealand, and was a captain in the First World War. And so we arrive at the seventh Baron, the subject of this demolition job.

Of my nation? What ish my nation?

So, reviewing the career of this Anglo-Irish succession — 1801 and all that followed, let us try to find room in our hearts for Stella Rimington’s punch-line:

… the book is very readable for its main character: novelist, patriot and moderate man in a world of extremes.


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Filed under Dublin., High School, History, Ireland, Literature

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