Sir Patrick Nairne

I promised Sandy Nairne that I would buy a copy of the book he has produced, The Coincidence of Novembers: Writings from a life of public service by Sir Patrick Nairne, if only to read the chapter about his father’s friendship with Jan Morris, who was a friend and near contemporary. I now have. It’s a wonderful study of the ethos and values of a post-war civil servant with such a strong sense of duty, an ability to write English prose as well as to do good watercolours (his father, ‘the Colonel’, had been at the Slade as well as in the army), a belief in Christian stoicism, wholly lacking in self-interest, and with good skills of succinct analysis. He served in the army, then went to Oxford and into the Admiralty; ended up as Permanent Secretary in the Department of Health and Social Security and then Master of St. Catherine’s College, Oxford; served on the Franks’s Committee. He had all the values which are now apparently looked down on in civil servants – hard work, independent mindedness and an ability to work with Ministers of all parties. It’s clear that his shrewd acumen was an asset, not a handicap, to good government.

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