John Grigg

John Grigg in 1957
Lord Altrincham in 1957
BornJohn Edward Poynder Grigg
(1924-04-15)15 April 1924
London, England
Died31 December 2001(2001-12-31) (aged 77)
London, England
Pen nameLord Altrincham (1955–63)
  • Historian
  • journalist
Alma materNew College, Oxford
  • Biography
  • history
Patricia Campbell
(m. 1958)
Children2 (both adopted)
ParentsEdward Grigg
Joan Grigg
RelativesJohn Dickson-Poynder (grandfather)
Military career
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1943–1950
Service number302263
UnitGrenadier Guards

John Edward Poynder Grigg FRSL (15 April 1924 – 31 December 2001) was a British writer, historian and politician. He was the 2nd Baron Altrincham from 1955 until he disclaimed that title under the Peerage Act on the day it received Royal Assent in 1963.

Grigg edited the National and English Review (1954–1960) as his father had done. He was a liberal Tory but was defeated at the 1951 and 1955 general elections. In an article for the National and English Review in August 1957, Grigg argued that Queen Elizabeth II's court was too upper-class and British, and instead advocated a more "classless" and Commonwealth court. His article caused a furore and was attacked by the majority of the press, with a minority, including the New Statesman and Ian Gilmour's The Spectator, agreeing with some of Grigg's ideas.

He left the Conservative Party for the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1982.

Early years

Born in Westminster, Grigg was the son of Edward Grigg, 1st Baron Altrincham and his wife, Joan, daughter of politician John Dickson-Poynder, 1st Baron Islington. Edward Grigg was a Times journalist, Liberal, and later Conservative, MP, Governor of Kenya, and member of Winston Churchill's wartime government.[1] His mother organised nursing and midwifery in Kenya.[2]

From Eton, Grigg joined the British Army and was commissioned as a second lieutenant into his father's regiment, the Grenadier Guards, in 1943 during the Second World War (1939–1945). While in the British Army, Grigg served as an officer of the Guard at St James's Palace and Windsor Castle, Berkshire, and saw action as a platoon commander in the 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards, part of the 5th Guards Armoured Brigade of the Guards Armoured Division, against the German Army in France and Belgium. Towards the end of the war, he became an intelligence officer.

After the war, Grigg read Modern History at New College, Oxford. While at Oxford University, he gained a reputation for academic excellence, winning the University Gladstone Memorial Prize in 1948. In the same year, after graduating with second-class honours,[3] Grigg joined the National Review, which was owned and edited by his father.

Political career

A liberal Tory, and later a supporter of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, Grigg sought election to the House of Commons. He stood for election for the recently created Oldham West at the 1951 general election, but was defeated by the sitting member Leslie Hale. Grigg contested the seat again in the 1955 general election but was similarly unsuccessful. With his father's death in December 1955, Grigg inherited the title of Baron Altrincham, which seemingly ended any hope of him being able to stand again as a candidate. Nonetheless, Grigg refused to apply for a writ of summons to exercise his right to a seat in the House of Lords.

When Tony Benn (the Viscount Stansgate) succeeded in obtaining passage of the Peerage Act, Grigg was the second person (after Benn himself) to take advantage of the new law and disclaim his peerage. In 1997, he wrote that he was "entirely opposed to hereditary seats in Parliament" and added that at that time in 1963 he "felt honour-bound to disclaim, though it was a bore to have to change my name again".[4] Grigg never achieved his ambition of election to the Commons, and he subsequently left the Conservative Party for the SDP in 1982.


As his father's health failed during the first few years of the 1950s, Grigg assumed most of the managerial and editorial duties of the now-renamed National and English Review. By the time of his father's death in December 1955, Grigg had taken over the editorship formally, and began to edit the Review into a publication more reflective of his views.[5]

In 1956, Grigg attacked Anthony Eden's Conservative government for its handling of the Suez Crisis, and pressed for an immediate withdrawal of British forces from Port Said. He followed his father in championing reform of the House of Lords, although he added that, in lieu of reform, abolition might be the only alternative. He also advocated the introduction of women priests into the Anglican Church.[5]

"The Monarchy Today"

Grigg was a committed monarchist. When talking to the journalist Robert Lacey about his public criticisms of the Royal Family, Grigg defended himself against the idea that he was an anti-monarchist: "That is like saying that an art critic is anti-art. I love the monarchy. Constitutional monarchy is Britain's greatest invention."[6]

In an August 1957 article, "The Monarchy Today", Grigg argued his opinions on the young Queen Elizabeth II and her Court.[7] Of the Royal Family, he said: “They have to perform the seemingly impossible task of being at once ordinary and extraordinary”:

There is much to admire in the Royal Family as we see them today, and they are indeed very widely admired. But it would be a disastrous mistake to feel anything like complacency about their hold upon the allegiance to the mass public... The Coronation induced a mood...which of its very nature was superficial and impermanent. Those who care for the Monarchy as an institution should look beyond the hideous coloured photographs of a glamorous young woman in sparkling attire to the more testing realities of twenty years hence. The Monarchy will not survive, let alone thrive, unless its leading figures exert themselves to the full and with all the imagination they and their advisers can command.

At the same time the Monarchy cannot now rely, as it once could, upon the unquestioning support of those who effectively govern the country. The Whig magnates ignored or despised the Royal Family, but exalted the institution of monarchy. Nowadays the position is reversed. Many influential people, of varying political opinions, are able to combine a high regard for the Royal Family with a fundamental scepticism as to the viability of the institution. This is not the militant republicanism of the young Joseph Chamberlain, but as a state of mind it is more dangerous, because it is so mild and elusive. In Chamberlain’s day monarchies were the rule, republics the exception; it was therefore safe to flirt with republican theory. Today republics are the rule, and monarchies very much the exception.

When she has lost the bloom of youth the Queen's reputation will depend, far more than it does now, upon her personality. It will not then be enough for her to go through the motions; she will have to say things which people can remember, and do things on her own initiative which will make people sit up and take notice. As yet there is little sign that such a personality is emerging. But time, though no longer clearly on her side, is not yet her enemy.

If it is vital that the Monarchy should transcend race, it is hardly less necessary that it should transcend 'class'. The relatively 'class-less' character of George V has been mentioned; unfortunately it is not to be seen in his grand-daughters. The Queen and Princess Margaret still bear the debutante stamp. Why is this? The most likely reason is that they were given a conventional upper-class education. This is, perhaps, the price which had to be paid for the Queen Mother’s many services, and for the matchless charm which she has brought to her high position. 'Crawfie', Sir Henry Marten, the London season, the racecourse, the grouse-moor, Canasta, and the occasional Royal tour – all this would not have been good enough for Queen Elizabeth I! It says much for the Queen that she has not been incapacitated for her job by this woefully inadequate training. She has dignity, a sense of duty and (so far as one can judge) goodness of heart - all precious assets. But will she, above all, see to it that Prince Charles is equipped with all the knowledge he can absorb without injury to his health, and that he mixes during his formative years...not merely with future landowners or stock-brokers?

Grigg was critical of the Debutantes' Parties: "... a grotesque survival from the Monarchy's 'hierarchical' past": "These Parties should certainly have been quietly discontinued in 1945. They pander to snobbishness and give the Queen the appearance of standing at the apex of an aristocratic and plutocratic pyramid. People have a right to 'bring out' their daughters in whatever way they please, but the Crown's benison should be reserved for those who have qualified for it by public service."

Continuing on with the theme of aristocracy, he wrote: "The present composition of the Court emphasizes the social lopsidedness to which the Monarchy is still prone. The Queen's entourage – those who serve her from day to day, who accompany her when she travels and sit with her when she eats – are almost without exception people of the 'tweedy' sort. Such people may be shrewd, broad-minded and thoroughly suitable for positions at Court, but the same is true of many who are not 'tweedy'; and the fact that the Queen's personal staff represents almost exclusively a single social type creates an unfortunate impression... The Queen should surely now be surrounded by advisers and companions with as many different backgrounds as possible. A truly classless and Commonwealth Court would not only bear eloquent witness to the transformed nature of the Monarchy, but would also give the Queen and her Family the advantage of daily contact with an interesting variety of personalities and points of view."

Grigg was critical of the Queen's style of public speaking, describing it as "frankly 'a pain in the neck'":

Like her mother, she appears to be unable to string even a few sentences together without a written text - a defect which is particularly regrettable when she can be seen by her audience... Phrases such as 'I am deeply moved' sound very hollow when they are read from a typescript. But even if the Queen feels compelled to read all her speeches, great and small, she must at least improve her method of reading them. With practice even a prepared speech can be given an air of spontaneity. The subject-matter must also be endowed with a more authentic quality. George V, for instance, did not write his own speeches, yet they were always in character; they seemed to be a natural emanation from and expression of the man. Not so the present Queen's. The personality conveyed by the utterances which are put into her mouth is that of a priggish schoolgirl, captain of the hockey team, a prefect, and a recent candidate for Confirmation. It is not thus that she will be enabled to come into her own as an independent and distinctive character.

Reaction and controversy

Grigg's article was featured in the national press,[6] and caused an international furore in which he was criticised by, amongst others, Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury.[8] Within the first two days of the controversy that followed its publication, Grigg was invited to discuss his article with Martin Charteris, the Queen's assistant private secretary. During a political meeting at Eton thirty years later, Charteris publicly thanked Grigg for his work: "You did a great service to the monarchy and I'm glad to say so publicly."[6]

At the time in 1957, as Lord Altrincham, Grigg was denounced by Altrincham Town Council for his views. A statement issued by the Council on 6 August stated: “We the elected representatives of the ratepayers of this Ancient Town of Altrincham present at this informal meeting most strongly deplore the article written by Lord Altrincham and wish to completely disassociate this borough from the comments and statements contained in that article. At the same time we desire that it should be known by her Majesty the Queen that no town has a greater sense of loyalty and devotion to the Crown than the borough of Altrincham.”[9]

At the start of the controversy, Grigg was invited by Granada Television to be interviewed on their news programme Impact.[10] The interview took place on the evening of 6 August 1957, and was conducted by Robin Day. Grigg defended his article in front of Day, stating that he did not wish to apologise or retract what he had written, but saying that he did regret that anyone should have thought he was hostile to the Queen. He said that his aim had been to bring about a change in the atmosphere which surrounded the Queen and the Monarchy across the whole country.[11]

After the interview, Grigg left Television House in the company of Ludovic Kennedy.[6] As the two of them came out onto the street, Philip Kinghorn Burbidge, a member of the far-right, extreme-nationalist League of Empire Loyalists, came up to them and slapped Grigg's face,[12] saying: "Take that from the League of Empire Loyalists." Burbidge, who was 64 years old, was taken away by the police. Grigg said of the incident: "There was no strength behind the blow. I have not had to have any attention. There were quite a lot of bystanders who saw this happen. They all seemed tremendously friendly towards me."[13]

Burbidge later pleaded guilty to a charge of using insulting behaviour. He was fined 20 shillings. The Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Sir Laurence Dunne, said of him: "I suppose 96 per cent of the population of this country were disgusted and offended by what was written, but I suppose that 99.9 per cent recurring of these would hesitate to select you as their champion. Your action only made a most unsavoury episode more squalid. In a case like this the weapon to be used is the weight of public opinion and not to make it the excuse for a gutter brawl."[14]

Burbidge himself said: "Such actions are foreign to my nature. Due to the scurrilous attack by Lord Altrincham I felt it was up to a decent Briton to show resentment. What I feared most was the overseas repercussions and publication in American newspapers. I thought our fortunes were at a low ebb and such things only made them more deplorable."[14]

Robert Menzies, the Prime Minister of Australia, was publicly critical of Grigg, describing his article as "shocking criticism": "It is a pity that it should have been lifted out of a journal with not a very great circulation and given an audience of many millions in the world Press. I think the Queen performs her duties in the Royal office with perfection, with great poise, great character, and great intelligence. If it is now to be said that she reads a speech I might say that many of the great statesmen of the world will have to face the same charge and had better be criticised for it."[15]

Grigg responded to Menzies' criticism in a front page interview with the Melbourne Herald. "He is stuffily subservient... typical of the worst attitude towards the Crown... he puts the Queen on a pedestal and genuflects. He simply blindly worships the Sovereign as someone above criticism. Far from doing the Queen service he is doing her a disservice. I regard his attitude as disgusting, and if it were accepted by most of the Queen's subjects - ordinary people like you and me – the monarchy would be in grave danger.[16] Please don't think I haven't great respect for Mr. Menzies. In the sort of Commonwealth court I visualize I would like to see men of Mr. Menzies' brilliance around the Queen, but not men of his particular view - by that, I don't mean his political view, but his approach towards the Monarchy."[17]

Grigg also commented on the advice Menzies had given to the Queen during her 1954 tour of Western Australia. He said there had been a mild outbreak of poliomyelitis at the time. Although the risk of the Queen catching polio was minute, especially when compared to that for the thousands of people who crowded into the streets to see her, as a result of Menzies' advice, the Queen did not shake hands with anyone during her entire visit there. Of the Queen, Grigg said: “I feel that if the situation was put to her properly she would have seen that it wasn't the way a Sovereign acts.”[17]

Grigg took part in another Granada broadcast, Youth Wants To Know, this time from Granada Studios in Manchester.[18] He stood by his criticism of the Queen spending a whole week watching racing at Goodwood: "She takes quite a lot of holidays as it is... If this were pointed out to her, I'm sure she would be the first to see it." Grigg also stated his belief that "the reason that our monarchy is so strong is that it is subject to comment and criticism." He said that he had not foreseen his article gaining "such very large publicity" and declared: "One can be clumsy and nevertheless have convictions."[19]

Looking back, Grigg was critical of 1950s royal coverage, citing what he called its "blandness and servility":[6] "I was rather worried by the general tone of comment, or the absence of comment really in regards to the monarchy - the way we were sort of drifting into a kind of Japanese Shintoism, at least it seemed to me, in which the monarchy was not so much loved as it should be and cherished, but worshipped in a kind of quasi-religious way. And criticism of the people who were actually embodying it at the time was completely out."[20]

After 1960

The National and English Review closed in June 1960, with its 928th and last issue.[21] At the same time, Grigg started working at The Guardian, which had just relocated to London from its original home in Manchester. For the rest of the decade he wrote a column, entitled A Word in Edgeways, which he shared with Tony Benn.[3]

Work as a biographer and historian

At that same time, in late 1960s, Grigg turned his attention to the project that would occupy him for the remainder of his life: a multi-volume biography of the British prime minister David Lloyd George.[22] The first volume, The Young Lloyd George, was published in 1973. The second volume, Lloyd George: The People's Champion, which covered Lloyd George's life from 1902 to 1911, was released in 1978 and won the Whitbread Award for biography for that year. In 1985 the third volume, Lloyd George, From Peace To War 1912–1916, was published and subsequently received the Wolfson prize. When he died in 2001 Grigg had nearly completed the fourth volume, Lloyd George: War Leader, 1916–1918; the final chapter was subsequently finished by historian Margaret MacMillan (Lloyd George's great-granddaughter) and the book published in 2002. In all the volumes, Grigg showed a remarkable sympathy, and even affinity, for the "Welsh Wizard", despite the fact that their domestic personalities were very different. Historian Robert Blake judged the result to be "a fascinating story and is told with panache, vigour, clarity and impartiality by a great biographer."[23]

Grigg also wrote a number of other books, including: Two Anglican Essays (discussing Anglicanism and changes to the Church of England),[24] Is the Monarchy Perfect? (a compendium of some of his writings on the Monarchy),[25] a biography of Nancy Astor;[26] Volume VI in the official history of The Times covering the Thomson proprietorship;[27] and The Victory that Never Was, in which he argued that the Western Allies prolonged the Second World War for a year by invading Europe in 1944 rather than 1943.[28]

Personal life

Grigg married Belfast native Patricia Campbell, who worked at National and English Review, on 3 December 1958 at St Mary Magdalene Church, Tormarton, Gloucestershire. They later adopted two boys.[29][30]

In popular culture

Grigg is portrayed by John Heffernan in the Netflix series The Crown.[31] The show’s historical consultant, Robert Lacey said, “I am very glad we’ve got this whole episode on Lord Altrincham, who is a well-known figure in England, and now will become so around the world."[32]


  1. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  2. ^ Williams, Susan (2004). "Grigg [née Dickson-Poynder], Joan Alice Katherine, Lady Altrincham (1897–1987), organizer of maternity and nursing services in Africa". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/76425. Retrieved 24 January 2021. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ a b Geoffrey Wheatcroft, 'Grigg, John Edward Poynder, second Baron Altrincham (1924–2001)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Jan 2005; online edn, Jan 2011
  4. ^ Grigg, John (16 August 1997). "Punched, Abused, Challenged". The Spectator. p. 3. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  5. ^ a b "John Grigg". The Telegraph. 2 January 2002. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e Lacey, Robert (2002). Royal: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. pp. 200, 201.
  7. ^ Altrincham, Lord (1958). "The Monarchy Today". Is The Monarchy Perfect?. pp. 3–13.
  8. ^ "Archbishop of Canterbury reaction to anti-Queen article; INT Geoffrey..." Getty Images. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  9. ^ "Peer's article on Queen deplored". The Guardian. 7 August 1957. p. 10.
  10. ^ "Lord Altrincham interviewed about his controversial article; 2-shot..." Getty Images. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  11. ^ "Lord Altrincham declines to retract". The Guardian. 7 August 1957. p. 10.
  12. ^ "TV House MS Man slaps the face of Lord John Grigg". Getty Images. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  13. ^ "Lord Altrincham In Incident". The Guardian. 7 August 1957. p. 1.
  14. ^ a b "Man Struck Lord Altrincham: Empire Loyalist fined". The Guardian. 8 August 1957. p. 11.
  15. ^ "Peer's Attack Shocks P.M.". The Sydney Morning Herald. 8 August 1957. p. 3.
  16. ^ "The Singapore Free Press, 9 August 1957, Page 3". Retrieved 29 September 2021.
  17. ^ a b "Now Peer Is Critical of Mr. Menzies". Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail. 8 August 1957. p. 3.
  18. ^ "Brandishing a fist and umbrella, Lord Altrincham, critic of the Queen..." Getty Images. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  19. ^ "Royal Holidays: Lord Altrincham Still A Critic". The Guardian. 9 August 1957. p. 1.
  20. ^ "The World Today - Queen's 80th Birthday marked by popularity". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 1 September 2021. Archived from the original on 1 September 2021. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  21. ^ "Monthlies". The Spectator Archive. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
  22. ^ Lloyd George. Faber & Faber. April 2011. ISBN 9780571277490. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  23. ^ Blake, Robert (28 October 2002). The Evening Standard.
  24. ^ Grigg, John (1958). Two Anglican essays. London : Secker & Warburg.
  25. ^ Grigg, John (1958). Is the Monarchy Perfect?. London: J. Calder.
  26. ^ Grigg, John (1980). Nancy Astor: Portrait of a Pioneer. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 978-0283986314.
  27. ^ Grigg, John (1993). The History of the Times: Volume VI The Thomson Years 1966–1981. London: Office of the Times. ISBN 978-0723006107.
  28. ^ Grigg, John (1980). 1943: The Victory That Never Was. London: Eyre Methuen. ISBN 978-0413396105.
  29. ^ "2nd Baron Altrincham weds Patricia Campbell" retrieved 27 April 2017
  30. ^ "Altrincham, Baron (UK, 1945)" Cracroft's Peerage retrieved 27 April 2017
  31. ^ Power, Ed (9 December 2017). "The Crown, season 2, episode 5 review: the 'priggish' Queen comes under media attack". The Telegraph. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  32. ^ Hallemann, Caroline (16 November 2020). "How Lord Altrincham Changed the Monarchy Forever". Town & Country. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
Peerage of the United Kingdom Preceded byEdward Grigg Baron Altrincham 1955–1963 DisclaimedTitle next held byAnthony Grigg