John Barnes, Historian

Sir Antony Buck QC (1928 - 2003)

Although he served briefly as the junior minister responsible for the Navy in the Ministry of Defence from 1972 until 1974, Antony Buck was the quintessential Conservative backbencher - loyal, dependable, for the most part mainstream in his opinions - and rather more of a middleweight than his earlier career might have suggested.

However, he is likely to find a place in the history of the Major administration for contributing to the downfall of a Chief of Defence Staff. He had the ill-fortune to come to public notice, not for his work for his constituency or party, but because of the activities of his second wife, Bienvenida Perez Blanco. Buck's first marriage, to an Australian, Judy Grant, ended in divorce in 1989 after 34 years. "Judy fell in love with somebody else. The strains of political life didn't help," Buck claimed, but his own infidelity did not help. "She wasn't keen to come to London, so one got lonely." Stories vary as to how Buck met his second wife, late in 1989, but they were married within months, and in March 1990 honeymooned in Barbados. Afterwards they spent a considerable time in France. Bienvenida Perez Blanco's background was not what it seemed. She appears to have decided shortly after she came to London in the early 1970s that there was a future in offering love and companionship to successful men rather older than her. Embarking on marriage, however, was a new departure. She described their meeting in her autobiography, Bienvenida: the making of a modern mistress (1996):

“Sir Antony struck me as an infectiously kind and positive man, with an extraordinarily retentive memory, who reminded me a little of my father. I was keen to get to know him, since he was clearly a man of stature - now nearing the end of his career as a politician, after earlier taking silk as a prominent criminal lawyer.

We started to meet regularly for lunches and dinners, usually at the Houses of Parliament, though I would sometimes invite him to my flat as well. He seemed very popular with other MPs, though no one took him terribly seriously because he drank heavily.

I could see he was a lonely man. In return, I think he found me an amusing companion and a wonderful distraction.”

It is difficult to know how much credence to put in Bienvenida's claims that she paid for their honeymoon and holiday, although it is clear that divorce from Judy had cost Buck his Georgian country house outside Colchester. It is evident from the many variants in the stories Bienvenida tells that she is a far from reliable witness and the second divorce, in 1993, left Antony Buck greatly impoverished. What is clear is that she quickly tired of the marriage.

There is equally no doubt that, like many MPs, Buck drank rather more than was good for him or for their marriage. Bievenida Buck not only resorted to the bottle herself but sought solace in other men's arms. Two of her affairs became public knowledge, one to a businessman cousin of the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, the other to the Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Peter Harding. While it was not the direct cause of the break-up of the Bucks' marriage, the discovery of letters between Harding and Bienvenida allowed Antony Buck to sue for divorce in 1993. Harding was not mentioned by name, but in the following year Bienvenida sold her story to the News of the World, and he was forced to retire after only 15 months in the job.

Buck's period in the headlines was not quite over. A Russian teacher, Tamara Norashkaryan, claimed political asylum in Britain apparently with the sole purpose of marrying Buck. The marriage took place in 1994. Shortly afterwards Buck was in hospital with minor injuries after a tempestuous quarrel with his new wife. He did not prefer charges.

Buck deserved a better press. He was part of a Conservative mafia from Cambridge that included Geoffrey Howe from his own college (Trinity Hall), Patrick Jenkin, Denzil Freeth and Douglas Hurd. Reflecting on their abilities, Howe recalled Freeth's career as meteoric. Within a decade he was a junior minister, but he left the Commons for good in 1964. Buck's career, too, was "sadly incomplete", said Howe: "a successful Navy Minister with Ted Heath, one of my backers for the leadership in 1975, he never hit it off with Margaret Thatcher".

Philip Antony Fyson Buck was born on19 December 1928, the son of a farmer, A.F.Buck, who died in 1968. His mother, Laura Fyson, was a founder member of the Royal College of Nursing. His father developed his business as agricultural merchants and packers and Tony Buck was later to take up directorships in the family firms of A.F. Buck Ltd and A.F. Buck (Packers) Ltd, returning to them after his brief spell in office. His shareholdings and directorships in the family firm provided him with a financial cushion for life.

He was educated at the King's School, Ely, and after doing National Service in the Army - he was in Berlin at the time of the Soviet blockade - he went up to read History at Trinity Hall, a Cambridge college well-known for producing lawyers. Buck was amongst them: Following a first in Prelims with a Second in Part I History, he switched to law in the second part of his degree and was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1954. He made his mark by successfully appealing on behalf of the parents of a six-year-old girl who claimed that their daughter had been adopted without their agreement. The following year he married an Australian, Judy Grant, with whom he had a daughter and eventually settled in a Georgian house in Essex. His criminal law was practised largely in East Anglia and he combined it with his parliamentary career, taking silk in March 1974.

But the law always took second place to politics. Buck chaired both the Cambridge University Conservative Association in succession to Geoffrey Howe and the Federation of University Conservative Associations in 1951-52 and he served two years as secretary of the think-tank the Bow Group. He acted as legal Adviser to the National Association of Parish Councils 1957-59, later serving as a Vice-President 1970-74. He tried for the Cambridgeshire seat in 1960, but Francis Pym was preferred. However, in February 1961, the elevation of Cub Alport to the House of Lords led to a by-election in Colchester, which Buck won comfortably. He retained the seat in the face of a steadily increasing Labour challenge until it was split. Buck took solidly Tory Colchester North in 1983 and held it until 1992, when he stood down in favour of Bernard Jenkin, son of his old Cambridge friend.

Tony Buck supported the caning of criminals and called for grants to replace the diseased local oyster beds during his first election campaign. When he made his maiden speech, he advocated relief for the victims of Nazi persecution as well for Service pensioners and widows. He was spotted by the Whips office and made a promising first step in his parliamentary career when he was appointed PPS to the Attorney-General in 1963. He added to his reputation by piloting through the Commons the Limitations Act, which permitted those suffering from the delayed effects of injury or disease to bring an action outside the Statute of Limitations.When Labour returned to power in 1964, he was one of half dozen MPs who attacked the government for suggesting that international agreements required a lowering of barley prices. He also took up the cause of an au pair who was being refused an extension of her visa to remain in Britain. "The idea of the Hungarian government filling up this country with little au pair Mata Haris seems utterly absurd," was his caustic verdict. He upset Labour MPs after a visit to Sweden with a parliamentary delegation by noting publicly that there was much less Socialist regulation there than in Britain. He was to show rather more gullibility in 1968 when he took the view that the loyalty of the Greek Colonels to NATO made them an acceptable regime. Ironically, he was later to give support the Turkish occupation of North Cyprus.

He briefly became secretary of the Conservative backbench Science and Technology Committee, before being elected joint secretary of the party’s Home Affairs Committee 1964-70. After two years as vice-chairman, he took over the chair in the autumn of 1972, only to find himself in government when Heath appointed Peter Kirk to take charge of the first British delegation to the European Parliament. Defence policy was no longer really a matter for the service departments, he found, and more than half his time was spent on the agreeable task of visiting ships and shore establishments. But his ministerial apprenticeship came to an abrupt end when Heath precipitated a General Election in February 1974 and his career henceforth was to be largely that of a backbencher.

He had been appointed to sit on the select committee that oversaw the work of the Parliamentary Ombudsman in 1967 and, after his brief but successful spell as a junior minister and a period on the opposition front bench as deputy defence spokesman, he returned to that committee, chairing it from 1977 until his retirement in 1992. He also served on the Liaison Committee from 1980. From 1974 to 1976 he served on the parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe and Western European Union.

In 1975 he was one of the principal organisers of Geoffrey Howe's campaign for the Conservative leadership, promising him 25 votes - in the event he got 17. He was unfortunate also in his effort to retain his place on the 1922 Executive, tying for last place in 1976 and losing out when the coin was tossed. However, he was re-elected in the following year and retained his place until he left Parliament in 1992. By now his principal concern was defence and he chaired the Conservative backbench defence committee conscientiously from 1979 to 1989. In this capacity he proved a vocal supporter of NATO and the Anglo-American alliance and was one of those who gave support to President Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" project.

There was some thought of making him Navy Minister when Keith Speed resigned in 1981. However, Mrs Thatcher did not think him “one of us” and he had to content himself with offering support for her defence policies from the backbenches. His influence was particularly beneficial at the time of the Falklands war and he was rewarded for his services with a knighthood in 1983.

Both in May and again in July 1981, however, he had warned that cuts to the Navy and in BAOR had gone as far as Conservative MPs would tolerate and he led the campaign against the selling of Invincible in 1982. In general loyal, he continued to rebel at times, most notably over the Government's refusal to let councils spend the income received from council house sales and he gave support to Michael Mates' attempt to band the "poll tax" and to Richard Shepherd's bill to reform the Official Secrets Act.

He continued to be held in high regard by his constituency party and his constituents felt well-served. His efforts to preserve the town’s military hospital were recalled and his eccentricities cherished. When he died in 2003 the then constituency chairman noted that “His picture still hangs in the Conservative Club in Colchester High Street where he was patron and apparently every Saturday he used to walk round there with chips in a bowl, giving them out while he talked to people about local politics.” His successor, Bernard Jenkin, recalled that, when he arrived in Colchester as the new candidate, Buck “was incredibly well known and everyone said 'I know Mr Buck', even though he'd been Sir Antony for years and years. I expect I was a thorn in his flesh because he hated the idea of retirement and loved being MP for Colchester North. He did get in some scrapes but he will be remembered fundamentally as a good man who looked after his constituents.”

Tall, balding and bony, with a smile that could lighten any room, Buck was a man of considerable charm and humour, who did not really deserve to figure, even as the innocent party, in one of the sex scandals of the Major years. But the smile, as Andrew Roth observed “was powered both by good nature and gullibility.”1 What did much to tarnish his reputation within two years of his retirement from the Commons was an almost incredible gullibility about women. Within weeks of his divorce in 1989, he met a smouldering Spanish blonde, Bienvenida Perez-Blanco, at a fund-raising event for a pro-nuclear lobby group. The daughter of an impoverished watch repairer, Bienvenida was some 30 years Buck's junior. She claims to have realised from the start that this genial man of the world was drinking too much and that the end of his public career was approaching. More probably attracted by his apparent wealth than for any of the reasons given in her autobiography, they started to meet regularly for lunch and dinner, and she began to invite him back to her flat.

Despite warnings from his friends, Buck married her three months after their first meeting.. Even as they set off by Concorde for a long honeymoon in Barbados and France, trouble began. She claimed that he started drinking heavily on the aircraft and made lewd remarks about some of the other female passengers; later his attempts at water-skiing proved an embarrassment. The relationship was already in decline when they returned home and it was not long before Buck was accusing her of having affairs. Divorce proceedings ensued and the marriage came to an end after three years.

The matter only came into the public gaze, however, because Bienvenida, advised by Max Clifford, sold her story to the News of the World in 1994. The paper verified it by deliberately attracting the Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Peter Harding, who had not been named in the divorce proceedings, to a lunch at the Dorchester Hotel, with journalists armed with cameras on hand to record the meeting He promptly resigned. Throughout Buck made no complaint of his treatment by the press and retained much of his dignity. When a tabloid reported that his former wife had been a prostitute charging £1,000 a night, he declared that her revelations were "sad and sordid" but that she was behaving "irrationally".

The humiliation clearly told on Buck’s health and his finances, but he was soon married for a third time. Tamara Norashkaryan, the 55-year-old widow of a Russian diplomat, had seen him pictured in a magazine with his two King Charles spaniels, and, a month later, flew from Moscow to London, where she knocked on his door. His third marriage had a rocky start. Buck was taken to hospital after the couple had fought; but he declined to press charges, and declared that all was well. Although it went through further vicissitudes, the marriage was still in being when Buck died.

Despite his misfortunes, Buck remained a convivial and optimistic figure, always ready to recount a stream of amusing anecdotes and talk of writing his memoirs. None appeared.

Buck died in London on 6 October 2003, survived by Louisa, his daughter from his first marriage. There were obituaries in The Times, Telegraph, Guardian and Independent.2

1 Guardian obituary 11 October 2003

2 This account is an expanded version of the obituary written for the Independent 10 October 2003.