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Friday, September 25, 1998 Published at 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK

UK Politics: Talking Politics

A very singular man

Sir Edward Heath with a well-loved piano in the background

Declaring his 'unease' while commanding a World War II firing squad is just one of the previously unknown chapters of the very private personal life that the former prime minister Sir Edward Heath has now divulged.

[ image: Heath: the execution made him
Heath: the execution made him "uneasy"
Now 82 and the longest serving MP in the Commons, Sir Edward described to Michael Cockerell in his television profile of the former prime minister A Very Singular Man, how he took charge of the execution of a Polish soldier convicted of rape during the war.

Talking about the incident over 50 years after the event the former premier said: "I didn't sleep particularly well that night.

"The Polish man was taken by the guards and tied up, blindfolded. Then the firing squad marched out and I gave the orders for them to fire. I obviously felt uneasy."

Ted Heath talks about what it was like to order a firing squad
Sir Edward, who served in the Royal Artillery, said: "It is one thing to be in the war when you see the enemy on the other side and you bombard them.

"Then later on when you pass over their ground you see dead bodies lying around. But it is very different when you see an individual."

The former Labour chancellor Lord Healey, an old friend, was certain Sir Edward had been profoundly affected by the war.

[ image: Heath wins his first election, 1950]
Heath wins his first election, 1950
"He was enormously changed by his experiences as a gunner," Lord Healey said.

"He had a toughness which had not actually been visible - I don't say he didn't have it before the war but it was very visible after the war."

Match making

Mr Cockerell's profile of the former prime minister even revealed some details from his privates life that Sir Edward himself had not been fully aware of, even though he claimed not be shocked when told that an executive member of the Tory MPs' 1922 Committee once tried to find the party's then leader a bride.

[ image: Dame Moura: 'I would do anything for Ted']
Dame Moura: 'I would do anything for Ted'
Sir Tufton Beamish - lampooned by Private Eye magazine as the Tory archetype Sir Tufton Pufton - feared that a bachelor prime minister was an electoral liability.

Without Sir Edward's knowledge he approached his close friend the pianist Dame Moura Lympany and popped her the question on his leader's behalf.

Dame Moura Lympany: "I think he's a very romantic person"
"Tufton Beamish came to see me one day and he said to me: 'Moura, Ted must get married. Will you marry him?' But I said I was in love with so and so. If Ted had asked me to marry him himself I should have considered it a great honour."

She added: "He's a very romantic person, he's charming and attractive.... I would do anything for Ted."

Sir Edward's bachelor status provoked rumours over the years that his lifelong friend Ken Hunt lost no time in quashing.

"People said he was queer. People do say that. Actually he is just wedded to his politics and that's it. There is no place for anybody else."

On Dame Moura, Sir Edward said: "I liked her and apparently she liked me. We had a common interest in good food and wine."

But having failed to marry, the most important woman in Sir Edward's life was his mother who died of cancer during the 1951 general election campaign.

Sir Edward, a gifted musician, was visibly moved when he recalled how he would arrive home from a day spent campaigning to play his mother's favourite pieces on the piano as she lay dying.

On more familiar territory Mr Cockerell quizzed Sir Edward over his well known differences with the woman whom succeeded him as Tory leader, Margaret Thatcher.

Mr Cockerell asked Sir Edward if it was true that when he learnt Thatcher had been removed from power he rang his office and said: "Rejoice! Rejoice!"

Sir Edward denied it. He said he didn't say it twice, he said it three times.

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